Here's a simple little exercise that is useful for a lot of reasons - the 6 question term quiz.
I find it is easier to talk about literature if we understand the same terms. I use these terms and sometimes add to them if a particular term comes up in class discussion.
Step 1 - Keep it simple
I keep it just six questions. Typically, I ask four or five questions that are just a definition that they should write the term to (for example: A comparison using like or as - they just write down SIMILE). For the remaining question or two, I sometimes give questions from the Daily Dose of EOC - simple and short reading comp and literary term identification practices.
Step 2 - Keep it safe (grade-wise)
This is meant to be a practice (despite my quiz wording) so I keep the weight of this low and as non-punitive as possible. This is my scale:
The fact that they could miss a few and not fail gets them to buy into it and try a little. I typically teach the lowest level and the highly unmotivated students, so the buy-in is where most of my work comes in. I also capped the grade of 40 for trying to answer all six, even if they get it wrong, back when I taught 9th graders. I noticed many freshmen developed a "if I don't try, then I didn't fail" mindset. This gives them a reason to participate.
Step 3 - Make it fun
Once we complete question #6, I give them a quirky extra credit question and then have them turn their papers face down and draw a smiley face. The first time I do that, they usually don't draw or just put dots and a smile. I started using the smiley face method long ago to prevent people from looking onto other people papers since I would always have a few kids ask me to repeat questions. When I took the time to repeat, other students took the time to look around for answers. Now, I know some teachers have a real problem with extra credit and if that's you, then more power to you. My philosophy is that a few points here or there doesn't do a lot in the grand scheme, but can do wonders for a kid who doesn't normally score high on school work. When we grade it, I say, "If the smiley face has..." and then insert whatever I feel like that day - a nose, teeth, hair, shoes, etc. If there is a question about if what the kid drew was actually the correct feature, I always allow the grader to decide. I'll have kids miss all the questions, but they get excited when they get the 3 points because they included freckles! Plus, once I see that everyone is working on a smiley face, I know that we can move on to the grading. If one of my answers is onomatopoeia, I always have the grader throw in an extra 3 points if it is spelled correctly - but I never take off for spelling on these as long as we can figure out what term the kid was trying to spell.
Step 4 - Make it easy on you
Have the kids switch papers and grade it right there in class. I always have them write their own name at the bottom of the paper they received. Do some kids try and cheat with their friends? Possibly. It's not much and usually I can spot that pretty easy. Having the kids grade it in class does three things:
- It gives the kids instant feedback. This is super valuable for them and helps them to remember the term better, especially if you repeat a few particular terms often over several quizzes.
- Adds a little, not a lot, of peer pressure. That sounds like it would be a bad thing, but they tend to trade papers with people they feel comfortable with, so I'll hear friends encouraging/ribbing each other, which increases their performance.
- Makes it a quick grade for you! These things take about 15 minutes or less, so they are also great time fillers if you realize that your planned lesson didn't take as long as you thought it would.
I also do not worry about making these up. If a kid misses the quiz, it just goes down as an exempt or omit. Why? I give so many of these things that it is not worth scheduling a make up. The more of these a kid does, the better it is for their grade because it provides more grades to fill out their average.
Step 5 - Make it tied with sports
I live in North Carolina and if you know anything about that, then you know that this is college basketball country! In my neck of the woods, you are pretty much either a UNC fan or a Duke fan. I love the best, so I am a Tarheel through and through! So, during basketball season, the students know that when UNC plays, that determines if we have a quiz the very next school day. When UNC wins, no quiz the next day. If, by some odd chance, they lose, then take out that sheet of paper!
It's simple, but it works wonders for the students and for me. Give it a shot and let me know if you have similar exercises.