The Last Minute

Thursday, March 26, 2015
With STAARs on my horizon, Lori

Here in the great state of Texas, our assessment is upon us. In a matter of days...single digit DAYS...our 4th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th graders will engage in high-stakes STAAR testing that is the culmination of much of our work. Like it or not, it simply is. How can you spend your final day or two without overloading your kids while still providing the skills-based practice they need? Here are a few suggestions to help.

Literary Terms--Play a game of HEADBANDS. Make quick cards with high-frequency literary devices on one side. These cards do not need to be beautiful. Set up a table in MS Word and go to town with your scissors. Forget the laminator. In small groups, a student draws from the deck and places the card on his forehead so he can't see it, but his group can. Group members must give appropriate clues to help him guess the term. Yes kids can use a dictionary on this test, but there are some words kids should absolutely not have to look up!

Academic Vocabulary--Many of the students I've worked with this year have a difficulty in distinguishing between genres. Have students complete a STEM SORT. Print off released question stems and cut them into strips. This is the last minute, friends. These strips do not need to be beautiful. Ask pairs of students to sort the question stems into genre categories. Fiction questions ask about character and figurative language while expository questions tend to focus on claims and support. Some questions--like vocabulary--apply to either genre.

Essay Graffiti--Post prompts around your classroom and instruct students to tag the prompt with appropriate examples to fit that prompt. With this activity, you can help students discover their POWER STORY by encouraging students to "recycle" examples and help them see the versatility of their ideas. When a student is able to use the same idea more than once, let them know they have found their power story. If they get stuck on test day, the power story is their life raft. 

All of these last-minute activities are tried and tested on real live children. They produce results and help ease the tension that the day before testing is likely to create. 

Take care of yourself this weekend. Now is the perfect time to get that hair cut that you've been putting off to get the pedicure that you've been saying can wait. You've officially done all you can do. Focus on something that will recharge you before you open that manual early next week.

Much love, teacher pals. You are truly the best. 


  1. Tell me more about "Power Story"...

    1. Hi Theresa, the Power Story is that one story that most kids know or that personal experience that they have that is incredibly versatile. For example, most kids who play sports can get lots of mileage (pun totally intended) out of the lessons they've learned and experiences they've had through sports. Whatever prompt is thrown their way, they are likely able to make that story fit.


  2. Love the "Power Story" idea!! I've been focusing on that this week. I took prompts we wrote to this year - narrative and expository - and we did a sort with leads, lessons, and controlling ideas (thesis) and then they sorted them. When we found that the lesson learned, or the lead might fit more than one prompt, we began to see the value of "recycling" our stories or examples. I love your Power Story term; it's perfect!!

    1. Teresa, I love your sorting lesson--very Curly! Thanks for sharing! Best of luck this week!

  3. Awesome ideas! I'm going to adapt some of your ideas into stations!