4 Checks for Understanding You May Have Forgotten

Have you ever been grading a stack of papers and found yourself wondering, “How did my students perform so poorly? I really thought they knew this material!” I have found that moments like these can often be answered with the recognition that I did not check for understanding (CFU) enough throughout the unit or within each lesson.

By the time we arrive at the unit assessment, we should be able to predict each student’s score with a high level of accuracy. Master teachers are not only able to predict each student’s score, but the exact areas on which each student needs additional practice. They are able to do this because they have incorporated checks for understanding (CFUs) throughout each lesson cycle and have assessed student comprehension of the key points with brief lesson assessments. This ensures the unit assessment is never a surprise, but rather a confirmation of what the teacher already knows to be true.


Effective CFUs

  • Occur frequently and are integrated throughout the lesson
  • Push students to process and check what they are learning by summarizing, connecting, demonstrating, asking and answering questions, etc.
  • Make each student’s thinking visible to the teacher.
  • Give the teacher the ability to probe deeper to understand student thinking.

✅  Here are 4 CFUs that will allow you to assess student understanding within a lesson.

⏲  Minute Paper

Strategy & Description

  • A quick summary of learning.
  • Each student writes for exactly one minute on a prompt that you give the class.


Give the students a writing prompt, such as, “List as many examples as you can of words that include the phonetic blend ‘cr’.” Circulate and quickly scan as students write in order to adjust instruction in the moment. If time permits, ask students to share their responses with the class or a partner. Collect and review the responses to make modifications to future instruction. To adapt for very young students or varied learning modalities, have them draw a “minute picture” in response to a prompt.

❓ Sticking Point

Strategy & Description

  • Provides feedback on what was not achieved during the lesson.
  • You should use this information to inform changes in your instruction for the following day.  


At the end of the lesson, each student provides you with a question that was left unanswered or a concept that was not clarified. Give the students a writing prompt such as, “What about jurisdiction do you still have questions about after today’s lesson?” Alternatively, after teaching your students the concept of a sticking point, you may just ask, “What is a sticking point for you after today’s lesson?” If time permits, ask students to share their responses with the class.

➡️  Make a Metaphor

Strategy & Description

  • Asks students to connect what they have learned to something else within their knowledge base.
  • It is particularly effective for closing a lesson in which a difficult or complex concept has been introduced.


Place students in pairs or small groups. Hand them a sheet of paper or some other object that they can manipulate (such as Legos or pipe cleaners). Give them no more than 4 minutes to do something with that paper (or object) so that it serves as a metaphor for the concept they have just learned. For example, you may assign each group of students a different branch of government and ask them to use only that sheet of paper to represent the various ways that their branch can impact an election. Each group then explains their product and gives their rationale for the metaphor.

📝  KWL Chart

Strategy & Description

  • Sparks student learning at the beginning of a lesson and summarizes student learning at the end of a lesson.
  • KWL charts are commonly used organizers of information.


Ask students to make three columns on a piece of paper. Label the left column as “Know,” the middle column as “Wondering,” and the right column as “Learned.” At the beginning of the lesson, have students fill in everything they already know or think they know about the topic in the “Know” column. At the beginning or throughout a lesson, ask students what questions have arisen for them about this topic of study, and have them place those questions in their “Wondering” column. At the end of a lesson, have students find something in their “Wondering” column that they can now answer in their “Learned” column.

Final Tips

Lastly, in order to ensure that students learn more as a result of a CFU, successful teachers:

  1. Clearly tell the student whether they are right, wrong, or somewhere in-between (and why).
  2. Strategically choose whether to:
    1. continue with the lesson
    2. stop and re-teach
    3. probe deeper

Choose one of the above and try them out in your classroom this week!

meghan thompsonMeghan Thompson joined Teach For America in 2008 and began her career in education as a 9th-12th Special Education Teacher in Charlotte, NC. In 2010, she was a member of the founding team at Henderson Collegiate (a school that has ranked in the top 3.5% of all NC public schools for the past 4 years). In 2014, she was a member of the founding team at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge and throughout her time at DPBR served as a middle school ELA teacher, middle school math teacher and the Middle School Campus Director.


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