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Common Formative Assessments for First Grade

by Dana Tuffelmire, studioD

Assessing student progress in a first grade classroom can be a challenge because students have limited ways to show what they know. Formative assessment refers to all the ways teachers check the students for progress as they learn new concepts and skills. Formative assessments allow teachers to adjust lessons or reteach concepts based on how the students are doing. First grade teachers must employ a variety of strategies to monitor progress to ensure all students are meeting the grade-level standards and benchmarks.


Journals let first graders show what they know in pictures, words, numbers or diagrams. They complement any subject from reading comprehension to math and science. Although not all first graders can write complete, coherent sentences, journaling provides an opportunity for students to organize thoughts, ask questions and summarize information into their own words. Teachers can assess student progress by reading students' journals regularly or by meeting with each student to discuss what he wrote or drew.


Observation is a powerful tool for first grade teachers. Observing students while they practice a specific skill allows teachers to see first-hand which students understand the concept and which students need help. Teachers can make notes while they observe or give assistance to individual students while they are completing the task. Observation also gives teachers the chance to keep careful notes on each student. Teachers can organize observational anecdotes on sticky notes and then place them in individual files, note cards kept in a small file box, or in a notebook with several pages for each child.


First graders often know more than they can express in writing, making written assessments a difficult task for students and the teacher. Sometimes the best way for teachers to gauge students' understandings is by meeting with individuals or small groups for a short conference. Teachers can ask students to demonstrate a skill, or lead a question and response session about a specific topic. A small-group setting allows the teacher to clarify misunderstandings for students while gaining important feedback on student knowledge.

Interactive Response

Interactive response gets students involved in the lesson. Instead of sitting passively while the teacher delivers information, the teacher asks the students to respond to questions. It is an effective teaching strategy because it provides immediate feedback to the teacher, who can adjust instruction as necessary. Many methods of interactive response are available to use with first graders. Students can write or draw responses on individual whiteboards when the teacher poses a question, students can respond by giving a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," or teachers can ask students to turn to a partner and whisper the answer.

About the Author

Dana Tuffelmire has been writing for DMS for three years. She taught elementary school for seven years and earned a master’s of education degree with a specialization in literacy. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two sons. Her dream is to one day write a children's book.

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