Unconventional Quizzes that Liven Up My Classroom

  • Unconventional Quizzes that Liven Up My Classroom

    By Susan Zielinski, posted September 12, 2016 —

    Math quizzes can be engaging, affirming, and even fun! These quizzes are collaborative (group work), formative (identifies what still needs work), or full information (students have complete prior knowledge of the questions). These quizzes can boost self-confidence, reward persistence, and encourage a growth mindset.

    Some issues to consider

    •    Will the assigned groups be random, heterogeneous (strong-weak groups), homogenous (groups of same strength), or self-selected? There are pros and cons to each, so I mix it up.

    •    I don’t tell students who their partners are ahead of time so they can’t divvy up the preparation.

    •    You can assign grades individually, by group, or by using a combination. Check out this Carnegie Mellon page for advice.

    •    Collaborative assessments should be challenging, because groups can often figure out harder problems than individuals can. If it’s too easy, the class will find it boring.

    The Quizzes

    1. Snowball quiz (collaborative)

    Each student works through the entire (relatively short) quiz. Then two students are paired to collaborate. Next, two pairs are joined to make a group of four; then two groups of four are joined to make eight, and so on until the entire class is collaborating. Every student hands in a quiz, and the lowest quiz grade becomes the grade for the entire class, which encourages students to check one another’s work carefully. They groan, but it works. This typically takes an entire class period and is a lot of fun, especially if there is controversy over challenging questions.

    2. Teach Your Team quiz (collaborative)

    On day 1, a group of four students gets a four-question practice quiz to complete as a team. Each team member must ensure that the other team members understand every question. On day 2, a similar four-question quiz is divided into four separate slips of paper with one question each. Each group member completes one slip individually. The four individual slips are combined into one group quiz grade (see fig. 1). Students will protest this grading method. The stronger students often don’t want to rely on or teach the weaker students, and the weaker students worry about letting the group down. However, I’ve never had a bad outcome; everyone typically steps up and comes through for the team.

    2016_09_12_Zielinski_4fig 13. Power of Two quiz (collaborative)

    Students complete the entire quiz alone. They then get a partner and may no longer write on their original quiz. Next, they get a clean copy on different-color paper to complete with their partner. (You could require a change from pencils to pens to reduce cheating.) You could count the individual and pairs quizzes as separate scores, or you could count each as part of one quiz grade (1/2–1/2 or 1/3–2/3). By combining individual and partner work, students must prepare for the quiz and think through every problem rather than splitting them with or relying on their partner.

    4. Comprehension Check quiz (formative)

    The first attempt is graded traditionally. If they scored 90 percent or better, they can correct the quiz up to 100 percent. If they scored less than 90 percent, they can correct the quiz up to 90 percent. So, the only way to get an “A” is to do well on the first attempt. For corrections, students must accurately correct the original quiz question and write and correctly solve a similar problem. This takes additional time to grade but is valuable for students. I set clear expectations for the similar problems to avoid having students make unacceptably trivial changes to the original question.

    5. Follow-Up quiz (full information)

    Because I do not allow summative test corrections, I always give this mandatory, stand-alone, follow-up quiz to ensure that students actually look at their graded test and fix their errors. When grading their summative test, I mark missed points only, then return it with a blank copy of the same test on different-color paper. On the new copy, students must correct all problems on which they lost points. The quiz grade is the number of corrected points divided by the number of missed points. They have one week and are encouraged to get help from me, other teachers, other students, and so on. If students aren’t careful, they can do worse on the follow-up test than they did on the original test. This grade is completely within their control, so I am always amazed at how many students do not ensure that their corrections are actually correct.

     These unconventional quizzes have livened up my class and improved my teaching. They give students real control; they know if they prepare, work well together, and are persistent, they will be successful—and they might even have fun in the process!


    Carnegie Mellon University (n.d.) “Enhancing Education: Assessment: The Whys and Hows: Assess Student Learning: Grading Methods for Group Work.” From Winchester-Seeto, T. Assessment of Collaborative work—Collaboration versus Assessment. Invited Paper Presented at the Annual Uniserve Science Symposium, The University of Sydney, April 2002. http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/howto/assesslearning/groupWorkGradingMethods.html

    2016-07 Zielinski AupicSusan Zielinski, szielinski@sps.edu, teaches mathematics at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. She is currently a doctoral student at Northeastern University, researching collaboration and power sharing in the classroom, algebraic misconceptions, and engaging assessments. Before her teaching career, she served in the Air Force, worked as an industrial engineer, and homeschooled her children. In her free time, she loves to travel, spend time in the woods, and ballroom dance.

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    Danielle Caton - 5/22/2019 8:59:42 PM

    These are great ways to have students work together on an assessment and help one another understand the content.  By reading this blog, I am completely rethinking how I give formative assessments in my classroom.  This post has me thinking outside of the box.  I love all of the variations you have come up with for students to be held accountable for their work but also work collaboratively with group members in an effective way.  I will definitely implement these ideas into my classroom instruction.  I also wanted to mention that Quizlet Live is another great way for students to work in teams to complete math problems (or any subject) because each student is accountable for their own work.  They also want to help one another understand the concepts because the better their team members understand the math, the better their team performs in the game.  It is always a fun day when the kids hear the Quizlet Live music playing in my classroom.  

    Cathy McDonald - 11/10/2018 11:57:13 PM

    I like your idea of having students teach and help other students learn.  Most of my students love to do this and as we know, the best way to learn something is to teach it.  I had to laugh the other day when I had a student tell me he doesn't enjoy teaching or learning from other students. He prefers the "old method" of the teacher teaching everything.  Wouldn't you know that you are going to run into this!  I hope by the end of the year he feels different about it!

    Nicole Schneider - 9/29/2018 6:20:55 PM

    I am currently a second year at Wartburg college and I was recently talking about this in my methods class. We were talking about the fact that when students have test anxity it is often because of they way tests are given. I really enjoy your ideas of how to test students differently because it will help relieve a lot of the stress students have with testing. I would agree that students will struggle and not like this type of testing at first but as a class it will help them grow. When I become a teacher in the future I will use this type of testing because I believe it will make sure every students understands the lessons being taught.

    Melissa Donham - 9/17/2018 12:48:44 PM

    These are great ideas!  As a teacher, I was always trying to find new ways to encourage students to collaborate instead of one person in the group doing all the work.

    Rachel Smith - 4/29/2018 10:48:12 PM

    Thank you for posting all of the different ideas for quizzes.  I am in school for education and running out of formative test ideas and I definitely come back to a few of these next time I plan a lesson.  

    Joelle Terrell - 4/24/2018 3:27:46 AM

    Thanks for posting this Information.

    it's pretty good


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