Engage students through low-stakes comprehension checks

Did students learn what you think they learned? How do you know? Use these low-stakes comprehension checks at various points throughout your class to check in with your students and to get a picture into what they’ve understood. Find ways to adapt these comprehension checks to an online environment where indicated. Generally this can be done through email, the chat function in online teleconferencing tools, or online word processors.

Here are some concrete suggestions:

Freewriting: Give students a prompt and ask them to respond in writing. You can collect these and respond to them, or just ask students to read from them. For online-only classes, you can also have students post parts of their free-write to a shared Google Doc.

3-way summaries: After a section of your lecture, ask students to write a summary using 100 words, and then 50 words, and then 20 words. Have them compare these with a partner.

I noticed and I wondered: Ask students to write down 3 things that they noticed during the class discussion and 3 questions that this brought up for them. Or ask students to write down 3 things they didn’t know, 2 things that surprised them, and 1 things they want to do with what they’ve learned. For online-only classes, you can ask students to share these in a Google Doc, Sheet, or Form.

Classroom polls: Use a tool like Poll Everywhere to check student understanding. Students can “vote” for their answer by texting a number. They don’t need to use a smart phone to do this.

Exit / admin tickets: Pose a question that students answer before you begin class or after you’re finished with class. Ask something like, “What did we talk about today that will keep you up at night? What should we have talked about today that will keep you up at night?”

Ink shedding: This can be used to help students draw connections between readings. Have each student write their name and a quote from a passage that was particularly interesting, provocative, unnerving, etc, and then a short response. The student should fold over the quote so that only the response is visible, and then pass it to another student in the class. Without looking at the quote, that student should respond with another quote from course reading(s) that makes them think of the response and then write a response to that. They fold the paper again so that their quote isn’t visible but their response is, and keep passing it until the paper is filled up. The original student gets their original paper back and reads through the entire synthesis to find a common theme or an unusual connection that they hadn’t made yet and writes a short response about it (they can turn this in or read it out!). This may be more complicated to enact in an online environment, but can also be done by having each student create their own Google Doc, and linking to it in a shared “class” Google Doc; instead of folding over the paper, the student would highlight the text and make the background black, so the next student couldn’t see the previous quotation/response.


Haven’t used Google Docs before? Here’s how to get started.


Credits: Original post by Lindsey Albracht, Christina Nadler, and the students in the Macaulay Honors Program at Queens College; updated and remixed by Charlotte Thurston.

Featured image from The Pattern Library.

Last updated: July 13th, 2020.