Jump down to the top 10 list if you already know why it’s important to check for understanding. Don’t know why? No problem—start here!
Misconceptions about checking for understanding
I am. You are. He is. How hard can it be, right? Let’s explain the concept, do a worksheet, and move on to chapter 2.
Me: “Ok Sergio, I’m Bayard. Who are you?”
Sergio: “I am Sergio.”
Me: “Awesome. Who is she?”
Sergio: “She are Alejandra.”
Me: “Wait…What? No dude… We talked about this… Look on the board. Check your notes. You guys remember this, right? You guys understand?
[Silence from entire class. María nods her head. I call on María.]
María: “She is Alejandra.”
Me: “Yeah—Ok, just wanted to make sure everyone understood. Nobody has any questions, right?”
[I give out the quiz, expecting everyone to get an 100%.]
-Me, “Making sure my students all understood” before their quiz on the 3rd person singular. (Everyone failed except María) October 4th, 2009
Unfortunately, this is how many teachers see if their class gets it or how they check for understanding: The good old “Do you understand?” There are many reasons why this question doesn’t work:
Students might not know that they don’t understand
The teacher doesn’t give them enough thinking time to raise their hand and say “no” or ask a question
Students don’t want to look dumb in front of others
Students aren’t paying attention or aren’t interested in participating
Yet “Do you understand?” continues to be used in classrooms throughout the world. Why? Because it’s fast, and it sounds good. After all, you’re giving all of your students a chance to ask you questions if they need to…
But, auxiliares de conversación, it’s not as simple as that. Only you can prevent “Do you understand.” Are you up to the task?
Making Sure Your Students Understand Is More Important Than Covering Material Quickly
Not “checking for understanding” may seem to speed things up in the classroom (especially in college when your History professor said “any questions” like an auctioneer). But speeding through the chapters of your textbook in an attempt to “win” the curriculum race means nothing if you’re the only one who gets it.
It’s our job to constantly evaluate where our students are. If they understand—awesome, let’s keep going. If they don’t—you need to stop and help them progress. If almost all of them understand, that’s where the real value of having two teachers in the auxiliar de conversación model comes into play: the main teacher could take over for those students that understand, and you can help the students who still don’t understand.
You need 100% Participation During Checks for Understanding
Unless you’re Bob Ross, most people don’t enjoy making mistakes. That’s why a lot of your students will try not to respond when you check for understanding. The list below makes that impossible. They will either feel awkward because they aren’t participating and everyone else is, or you will quickly see who isn’t participating and tell them to do so.
A key to successful language learning is to check for understanding quickly and often. Don’t teach something and wait for the exam to correct misconceptions. Teach it, and immediately see if your students understand. Students need repetition, and neither you nor they should be surprised by their results on an exam.
My top 10 checks for understanding below are designed to ensure you can get 100% participation while also minimizing potential anxiety about being wrong in front of the class. The work you did at the beginning of the year to encourage growth mindset thinking will also come in handy here. Why 100%? This way you are able to help each student immediately.
The List: Top Ten Checks for Understanding (CFU) for Auxiliares de Conversación
By each CFU, you’ll see approximately how long it takes and what percent of the class it assesses.
10. Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down / Thumbs Sideways
Situation: Teacher explains directions for an activity and wants to know if students understand. Or, students completed math problems #1-5 in the book and checked their answers against the answer key on the board and the teacher wants to know how they did.
CFU: Students give a thumb up if they understand or did well, thumb sideways if they have a question or did so-so, or thumb down if they do not understand or did poorly.
9. Four Corners
Situation: Teacher wants to check for understanding of a grammar concept (e.g. 3rd person singular conjugation).
CFU: Teacher assigns each corner of the room an answer choice: “I sings,” “she sings,” “we sings,” “they sings” and then asks the class to stand and move to the corner of the correct answer. Once students are in a corner, the teacher asks them to explain to a partner why that answer is correct and then calls on a student to explain why. This can also be used as a quick “student choice” activity: ask ”Which instrument would you rather play: banjo, piano, guitar or violin?” and have students explain their choice to a partner.
8. Show me your color
Situation: Same as #10 (Teacher explains directions for an activity and wants to know if students understand. Or, students completed math problems #1-5 in the book and checked their answers against the answer key on the board and the teacher wants to know how they did. )
CFU: Students hold up a small red paper if they do not understand, a small yellow paper if they mostly understand but need to review with a partner or ask a question, or a small green paper if they completely understand. I love this CFU because I can quickly tell if 100% of students are participating and see at a glance what percent of students understand. I can also use this as a quick way to answer multiple choice questions (e.g. red if this is a verb, yellow if it is a subject, and green if it is an adjective).
7. “I’m going to wait for 5 hands”
17-25% of class
Situation: Teacher explains instructions, poses a question to the class, or reviews a homework question and asks a student to respond. Nobody (or only one student) has raised their hand after three seconds.
CFU: Instead of calling on one student, cold calling, or using “equity cards” to call on a student at random, say “I’m going to wait for 5 hands.” Then, wait for that many students to raise their hands before moving on. Call on any of those students, or better yet, call on a few of those students. I love this, because it double-downs on the idea of “no opt out.” Your expectation is that students participate; not participating isn’t an option.
6. Quiz / quiz / trade (Onion Ring Style)
1 min-10 min
Situation: Teacher wants students to practice asking and answering questions about identity orally, but doesn’t want to use a worksheet or have students sitting because the class energy is low. He also wants to raise the rigor of class, as students showed 100% mastery on the last CFU.
CFU: Each student writes their own question on a slip of paper. They check it with a peer and walk outside. At the door, the teacher rechecks, makes corrections, and divides students equally into A and B. A students form a circle and face outward. B students form a larger circle facing inward and line up face to face with an A student partner. The teacher now puts two minutes on a time right and says “person a, ask your question and person b respond in full sentences. Then person b do the same. When the buzzer rings, exchange questions and person b- move one person to the right and we will start again.” Make sure students read their questions and don’t show them to their partners instead. Also- you’re spot is right in the middle of the circle, so you can walk up to any of the groups to provide feedback.
5. 3 / 2/ 1
Situation: You just finished an awesome presentation about the differences between how the British, Australians and Americans celebrate Christmas and want to close with an interesting activity that will show you what each student remembers. Unfortunately, you only have two minutes left.
CFU: Have 1 student per group of 4 take out a piece of paper and rip it into 4 pieces. Each student writes their name, class and period. Then, have them write the 3 most interesting things they learned, the 2 biggest differences they identified, and 1 question they still have. To ensure 100% participation, stand by the door and collect these as students leave the room. You can change these to be anything (e.g. write 3 uses of the subjunctive using desire, 2 uses using doubt, and 1 using a command).
4. Sort exit slips
Situation: An auxiliar de conversación just gave a great lesson on the future tense. She thinks she nailed it, but wants to make sure that’s the case.
CFU: The auxiliar writes a prompt on the board—“What will you do this weekend?”—and gives students 5 minutes to answer the question on a 1/4 sheet of paper. She then collects and sorts them into three piles: got it, kind of got it, didn’t get it. The next day, she returns the slips with a “check +,” “check,” or “x.” Students with a “check +” watch a YouTube video using the future tense and then discuss it. Students with a “check” complete a Kahoot review lead by a student. Students with an “x” are emailed a flipped video the night before to review the topic. During class, they complete an additional guided practice activity using whiteboards (see #2 below). Note: when I google “exit slip,” the first things that come up are custom templates with pretty colors and borders and boxes with 12 formats depending on how many questions you’re asking. Now, this is just a personal opinion, but I think these miss the point and restrain teachers too much. Give yourself the freedom to let students rip out a piece of paper, write an answer, and hand it to you in 30 seconds flat.
Additional Reading: quickly sort exit slips.
3. think, pair, share
Situation: Teacher asks a question requiring critical thinking in English and wants to then call on a few students to get a variety of answers.
CFU: post the question in addition to saying it. Next, give students time to silently plan what they will say. Do not let anyone start talking for 30 seconds. Next, have students turn their desks so they are facing their partners, and only then let them share their responses. Next, instead of asking students what they think, ask students what their partners think. This procedure ensures introverts have processing time during the thinking phase, adds listening comprehension because you are responsible for reporting what your partner said, and encourages more participation because students get to review their answer with a peer first.
2. mini-whiteboard responses
Situation: The teacher just taught how to spell numbers up to 100 and wants to see if students are getting it. She doesn’t want them using computers, but also doesn’t want them to do a worksheet that’s will take a day to get back to them.
CFU: Students take out mini-whiteboards and dry erase pens. The teacher says “95” and students spell the number on their boards, then turn them around so they face the teacher. The teacher quickly nods or shakes her head at each student, pointing out common errors. After seven seconds, she ask she a student with the correct answer to explain why he wrote what he did. All students erase and she repeats with a different number. You can do this with one whiteboard per group as well. Don’t have whiteboards? Put a piece of paper in a 3 ring clear plastic page protector.
my favorite mistake
3 min-5 min
Situation: Students keep saying “they is” in a conversation activity. You taught them about the 3rd person plural being “are” 20 times this year! What gives? You also noticed a few students mispronouncing “since.”
CFU: Have them take out a piece of paper and write “Mr. [insert name here]’s favorite mistakes today.” Then write “#2 Since: some students said SIGN-SSS because there is an e at the end of the word. But, it should be pronounced SIN-SSSS.” And, “#1 they are: some students wrote ‘they is’ because each verb form is ‘is’ except for the 3rd person plural.” This is awesome because it keeps class positive, even when a repeated mistake keeps occurring.
These are my top 10, auxiliares. What would yours be? What CFUs did I miss? Which of these have you tried and liked? Which have you tried but don’t work in your classroom? Which do you want to try again?
If after reading an explanation or watching a video, you still aren’t quite sure how to implement one, just let me know—I’d be happy to send you an example!