Test Prep Room Transformation

Can You Defeat the Puzzle Master?

This room transformation was easy, cheap, rigorous, and highly engaging! I centered the theme around growth mindset and mindulness strategies that, when used together, are the puzzle pieces to success. We’ve focused on these concepts all year long in the classroom, so it made perfect sense to “put the pieces together” for test prep. The mindset concepts I used are grit, dedication, perseverance, effort, mindfulness, strategy, positivity, attitude, commitment, confidence, critical thinking, and growth mindset. I’ve added pictures of the puzzle pieces I made and hung on the walls in my classroom below.

These were pretty big, so they pretty much cover all of the free wall space in my classroom, which meant that I didn’t need to do any extra decorations. To me, the minimal decorations were also the right choice because I wanted my focus to remain on the work and being able to use these concepts and strategies for state testing.

I also hung some multi-colored dollar store table cloths on the ceiling to add some “pretty” to the room.

For the work, I needed mixed review of everything we’ve done throughout this year. I used the Reading Skills puzzle centers pictured below from TPT. These are just the right amount of challenging and confidence building for my 4th graders! My students also really enjoyed using them. (You could also use any other task cards or test questions for your subject.). These centers come with answer keys that could be used for self-checking, but I wanted my students to have to correct their thinking and try again, so I created Google Forms Quizzes (that showed a score and if the question was right/wrong, but not the correct answer). My students worked in pairs and had to get an 80% or higher to show mastery and move on to the next step. There were 9-10 pairs working on separate skills during the class time so the Google Forms were extremely helpful for keeping the students accountable (I get grades and know they did the work necessary for the group) and moving at their own pace because they didn’t have to wait on me to check their work.

Once the pair had shown mastery they got one of the following “treat puzzles” to put together (shown in the pics below). If the students were able to put it together completely they got the candy or treat that was referenced in the pun/riddle on the treat puzzle. I made these out of poster board that I got in the school section at Walmart for about $3.00 for a set of five posters. I made the same number of treat puzzles as the reading skills puzzles that I used, so the students got a different treat each time they mastered a skill. I did this for a little extra motivation, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

In my two hour class, with a mini-lesson focused on each of our puzzle piece mindset and strategy concepts, my students were able to complete two to three reading puzzles per class.

To complete the transformation and theme, I gave each of my students these blank puzzles that I ordered from Amazon to design and keep. I could have had my students focus on a design that used our mindset concepts and success as the theme of their picture, but for destressing after testing (we did this part during the afternoon after state testing in the morning), I allowed my students full creative rights for their puzzles.  You can get the puzzles from the link here.

I had actually worried that it wouldn’t be as exciting to them as I hoped, but they absolutely loved these puzzles.

Creative Reading Review


This review project is a favorite in my class!  I was looking for a way to assess my students’ fictional comprehension of ALL of the skills I teach in our fiction unit. The problem with assessments, though, is that they aren’t always fair to all students. You reading teachers know what I mean! We differentiate our instruction to make learning fair for all of our readers, so assessments should also be fair! With this project, I can assign leveled text, individually or by group, allowing me to actually assess their comprehension skills without questioning if the real problem was that they couldn’t read the passage. As the teacher, you can even choose whether you assign the pages with graphic organizers or blank pages for students who need more of a challenge.

While working on this project, my students are given free rein, meaning they are completely in control of how they show their understanding. Text dependence is easy too. With digital text, students can take a snapshot or copy/paste exactly what they need to prove their thinking. Altogether, I’m assessing their understanding, giving my students opportunities to use creativity, critical thinking skills, and their communication skills. If not being used for assessment purposes, it also makes for a great collaboration project for group assignments.

If you want to check this out for your own students click the link below.

Fiction Book Analysis Project

Giraffes Can’t Dance

giraffes can't dance growth mindset

After weeks of test prep I’ve gotten bored.  I actually realized that I was out of great ideas early last week.  My students were doing great, but we’d done so much and still had more time to keep on going.  I couldn’t make a decision.  After a few years of teaching 4th grade I’ve accumulated A LOT of great stuff from other teachers, and I was using all of my favorites, but it was time for a new challenge.  For the students … and for me.  I had a few thoughts in mind.  I wanted to get back to reading good books.  I wanted to continue the growth mindset theme I’d picked back up on.  I needed to continue the momentum we’d gained with so much time doing individual review practice, remediation and test-taking instruction.  And I wanted talking, happy students who were excited to continue learning.  So I came up with this Growth Mindset Test Prep Activity that works with any set of task cards or test questions for any subject and skill, and adds a fun challenge to your review.
It works with the book Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae.  Basically, I read the book (yay) and the students shared their own goals they’ve had to work on and find their own strategies for in reading.  Then, I grouped the students into trios and gave each group a small set of review task cards.  For my needs I used the Fictional Skills Review and the Informational Text Review Skills task cards from Teaching With a Mountain View, however, you could use any set of task cards or questions.  For each correct answer I gave the group a point.  Once they’d earned all of the points for their task cards, they were given a mystery word in the form of a bag of letters.   I used my growth mindset related words, but I’ve included a blank page for the option to use subject-related words.  The group had to figure out their word.  They were so excited to get to this challenge that their skill review work was amazing.  They crushed it!  (Yep, we’re also building confidence for the big day here!)  Last, they earned a fun coding reward that also goes along with the theme.  This activity worked.  It’s not completely conventional, and it’s not at all quiet.  It’s fast-paced, engaging, confidence-building, perfect for one-on-one remediation as needed throughout the activity, peer teaching and learning, and has high impact.  I’ll definitely use this one again!  If you’re interested, you can get it at  Mrs Gentry’s Class on Teachers Pay Teachers here.
thanks for reading!

Main Idea Test Prep Review and Enrichment

Just like many fourth graders, determining the main idea and identifying supporting details is a “heavy hitter” review topic in my classroom right now.  My students can easily identify “right there” main ideas in informational text, but when it comes to inferring, our skills are much less consistent.  As a teacher, I struggle with making my writing lessons compliment my reading test prep review.  Unfortunately, at this time of year, writing often gets put on the back burner to make more time for test practice and review before state testing begins.  I’ve found what I think is a great solution to these two problems.

Main Idea & Details mini-book project cover & link - 4th5th

This project works great as a quick review of the purpose of supporting details and inferring main idea.  I use this Google Slides activity in small group first to introduce it and give the students a chance to read the supporting details.  I even have a differentiated version for my 2nd and 3rd grade level readers.  You can get both projects here.  So, we read the details and then review the process of determining main idea and the role of the supporting details.  I tell my students to think about that strategy while rereading to themselves.  Right away the students are able to sort the supporting details by their topic.  The hard part is figuring out the point the author is trying to make based on those details.  This part of the task requires much  more in-depth analysis of the given supporting details.  How are they related?  What is the purpose of the language used?  These questions lead to the implied main idea, which the students must write as a leading sentence to the paragraph they are writing based on their details.  This also, of course, to finish the “hamburger paragraph”, leads to also writing a closing sentence for their paragraph.  And there you go, reading and writing combined.  I like this activity because the reading is short and quick, and the activity is more focused on the skill and strategy of determining the implied main idea.  It’s challenging and to the point, exactly what the students need for remediation.  And, to make it even better, I add the challenge of creating text features such as diagrams, charts, graphics, etc. that will clarify the paragraph’s meaning and main idea.  My students are so engaged by this part of the activity that the demanding critical thinking and creativity required to complete it isn’t a struggle.  They are excited to dig deeper and challenge themselves.  If you’d like to try this with your own students, just click this link to get the two leveled projects for your own classroom.

thanks for reading!

The Journey Begins

Black and White Classroom Quote Social Media GraphicThanks for joining me!  It’s spring break at my school and with the little bit of “free time” from working, I’ve finally found the courage to do something I’ve wanted to do for a LONG time … MY FIRST POST!

In my school we are in crunch time for state testing.  I’ve been in a “testing” grade for three years now, and wow, the amount of stress on the teachers and students is CRAZY.  I’ve been teaching for over 12 years now.  I spent 9 years in a second grade classroom and the difference in how you get to spend the end of the year with your students is SO UNFAIR.  So … what does a teacher do?  I make every possible effort to keep my students as stress-free as possible.  I encourage, praise, practice (practice, practice, practice … I’ll come back to that), and tell my students the truth about what to expect and what they need to do to meet their goals (individually, one student at a time, of course).  Most of all, I tell my students that we are in this together and that I believe in them, DAILY.

Let me back up a little.  It’s my philosophy that every lesson, assignment, and task should be meaningful.  Every decision I make as a teacher counts and must help my students meet their yearly goals, and some of my own a long the way.  There’s a lot to keep in mind.  For example, does the lesson/task require higher level thinking, how can it be differentiated to meet all students’ needs, is it doable within the time-limits as set by the daily schedule and pacing guide, what’s the next step and how does it fit into the process towards mastery, is it engaging (allow for choice, creativity, etc.)?  These questions, and more, drive the decisions I make from day one to the end of the year.  This includes test prep, which we’ve been working on, in some way or another, for the entire year if I’m honest.  It’s my belief that students must feel safe and cared for when they are in the classroom in order to be successful academically.  For that reason, I work hard, daily, to promote respect and kindness.  One of my own goals each year is to create a classroom family, in which students can speak honestly with me and their peers, and everyone feels safe to be themselves.  We spend time every morning getting to know each other with a Morning Meeting.  My school started Responsive Classroom training last year and I use the ideas to help encourage my students to accept and appreciate their own unique qualities and each other’s.  I take the time to show my students that I love and respect them (no matter what).  I do these things in front of the other students, and in effect, my students learn to love and care for each other like family and feel safe to be themselves, mistakes and all.  Success starts here.

Back to spring break.  We all needed it.  We’ve been working really hard, and even though it’s early April in VA (and the weather can’t decide if it should be slightly warm or freezing), we all needed time to rest and play in the sun (or clouds/rain depending on the day) and NOT think about testing.  On Monday, we’ll meet back refreshed, optimistic, and ready to continue challenging ourselves to meet and exceed our goals and expectations.

I’ll share more about test prep in my classroom when I get back to school:)  For now, it’s time to watch a movie and snuggle with my kiddos.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton