Sunday, March 26, 2017

4 Simple Daily Routines that Will Ease Test Prep Stress

Testing season is always stressful.  I don't know about you, but it seems that statewide testing always makes me doubt everything I've taught all year.  Please tell me I'm not the only one!  That being said, I feel like I've had a certain peace with the readiness of my students this year.  After thinking about it, I really think that it stems from great routines that require my students to demonstrate their ability to complete various skills all year rather than cram them in right before testing.

Mentor Sentences

Each week, we have a sentence that we really study, dissect, and recognize throughout the week.  I began using Jivey's Mentor Sentence routine, but I've made several changes this year to make it even better.  One of my newest additions is to require my students to seek examples of our mentor sentence.  I allow them to use their AR book or a textbook of their choice.  They search and search for examples and record them in their Mentor Sentence Notebook.

After searching for examples, I have them use Google Classroom and Google Docs to write ten sentences of their own.  Since beginning this routine about three months ago, I have seen their grammar knowledge skyrocket!  As they are writing, my classroom assistant and I roam the room and help them correct any errors.  I can also "spy" on them using Google Classroom to help them make changes, offer advice, or give compliments.  I have noticed MAJOR lightbulb moments when they are required to write their own sentences with correct commas, quotation marks, or apostrophes.

Every year, it seems like my kids struggle to with multiple choice grammar questions.  You know the kind I'm talking about---"Choose the sentence that is not written correctly."  Your kids panic!  Suddenly, all of the sentences look wrong!  It had seemed that my kids didn't always have the knowledge to choose an answer with confidence.  This year, when we practice the same types of questions, my kids seem bored with this seemingly obvious skill. 

Guided Reading

I have made some serious changes to my Guided Reading routines this year.  Wait a minute....that's not even the truth.  I can't say that in previous years I have really HAD a Guided Reading routine.  This year, I've spent a lot of time and energy developing a routine that works well for my kids and repeatedly covers critical skills.

Each Wednesday, my students are given two open-ended questions about their Guided Reading book.  At the beginning of the year, their answers were embarrassing.  I'm not even kidding.  They were horrible, but they were honestly giving it their best.  Through working in small groups and guided practice, my kids can write the answer to an open-ended question, while supporting their claims with evidence from the text, with ease.  It really allowed my students to enter the testing season with a sense confidence.  After all, they do this on a weekly basis!

Math Notebook

This year, I have a really large class.  On top of being a large group, they are the chattiest bunch of kids on the planet.  My typical math routine just wasn't working, and I knew I had to do something to change it up.  After several failed attempts, I found success with a math notebook.  It isn't anything fancy or genius at all.  When I began this, I gave each of them a spiral bound notebook and three Post-it notes.  We counted pages and divided our notebook into three sections---Word Problems, Computation, and Weekly Math.  Each day, we would work our way through a multi-part word problem, a computation problem, and several problems about whatever topic we were currently covering, such as finding the area area or classifying angles.

Usually, I really stress over my students' ability to organize and answer word problems.  Because of this routine, I'm honestly not worried.  Testing will either confirm my reason to be confident or make me look like a total loser!  Only time will tell.  At this point of the school year though, nearly all of my students tackle the word problem of the day independently and correctly.  

Problem of the Day

My last routine is my far my favorite and one that I have been using for years.  It is tested and proven to be effective.  Each day, I give my students one computation problem.  They range from adding fractions to multiply decimals.  They must answer the problem independently and drop it into a bucket.  While working on our Math Notebook from above, we complete the problem of the day together.  Anyone who has incorrectly answered the problem will work through a few additional problems with me in their notebook.  Then, they will have a page with twelve questions for them to complete on their own.  Students who are able to correctly answer the question are off the hook and can begin working on math centers.

I have an entire blog post about this routine, plus I've included data to support the routine.  During test prep time, I NEVER spent time on computation.  We focus on more difficult things like finding the area of a trapezoid and the complex vocabulary of ordered pairs (because the words horizontal and vertical are hard!).

What routines do you have that help ease the stress of test prep?  


  1. I've just started using Mentor Sentences from Jivey. What sort of changes did you make? I really like them so far, but could see my group getting "bored" in a few weeks. Thanks!

    1. Hi Karen!

      My weekly routine looks like this:

      Monday: Read story, "Notice" the sentence, and label it.
      Tuesday: Imitate the Sentence
      Wednesday: Revise the Sentence
      Thursday: Find Examples in Text & Write Sentences on Google Classroom
      Friday: Mentor Sentence Quiz