6 Practical Ideas for Successful Test Prep This Season

Sunday, March 12, 2017
Is your test prep game in need of a rebound? Sure, March Madness is starting this week, but for us teachers, it's testing season. With standardized state assessments and AP exams right around the corner, I worked on my game plan for test prep, and I'm sharing it today.

1. Card Challenge Quizzes

I was first introduced to this strategy by a former co-worker, and since then, I've used it every year with so much success. She came up with the idea of using a quiz bank to combat students sharing questions with later periods in the day. If you teach the same class more than once a day, this type of sharing is sure to happen. However, using a bank method with a random draw for questions minimizes the likelihood that they'll share answers. If nothing else, it works because they don't know which questions they'll receive on quiz day. To make the stakes a bit higher and since we're using cards anyway, the quiz is also a game of chance. If students pull a straight (it doesn't have to be in order) with Ace being high or low, they don't have to take the quiz and everyone gets a perfect score!

Here's how it works:
1. Make a quiz bank of at least 13 questions. (You could add up to 52 questions in one set; one question for each card.)
2. Add the questions to PowerPoint presentation giving each question a card in the suit. 
3. Separate one suit of cards Ace to King (13 in all).
4. Select five different students to pick one card from the suit.
5. Use those cards for your questions. Ask the questions that correspond to those cards.

This quiz "game" can work with any short quiz. I use it for reading check quizzes to check comprehension after independent reading. It also works great for test prep. I make a bank of literary terms examples and use this method for literary terms speed quizzes in preparation for the AP Literature and Composition exam.

My students enjoy playing this "game," and I am happy to know that the integrity of the quiz is maintained (or at least improved). It's so exciting when a class finally pulls that straight! It usually only happens about once in a school year for one class. If you're worried about them pulling it too often, don't! The probability of them pulling the straight from 13 cards a in single suit is 1 in 128.7 attempts or .7% of pulling the straight.

2. Prompt-Essay Writing Prep

When it comes to acing high-stakes, on-demand writing, the first and, in my opinion, most important factor is understanding exactly what the prompt asks you to do. Because standardized writing is graded holistically, it is impossible for students to score above average if they do not directly answer the prompt. If a student writes an essay with advanced diction, pristine organization, and an insightful analysis but doesn't directly answer the prompt, their effort was all for naught. Even though students do not have time to complete developed prewriting on timed tests, the skills that are required for this analysis can be practiced and perfected. Conducting a prompt analysis is a great way to practice these skills. Here's how we do it:

1. I give them 30 seconds to read the prompt.
2. Then, I ask them to turn the prompt over and immediately write down what the prompt was asking them to do.
3. We review their responses. It's not surprising with such a short reading that students miss something from the prompt. During this discussion, I make the point that hurried reading of the prompt when I time them or they're under pressure result in the same problem: lack of understanding.

We use a prompt essay writing process notebook to practice these skills in conjunction with organization. I've found that practicing these skills in a low-stakes environment gives them confidence and "brain-memory" to be able to do it on demand.

3. Scorer Training 

I had an epiphany after I attended an AP training. I was learning how to score these essays, so I can help my students, but wouldn't it also help them to learn what the AP readers are looking for? I decided it was important for them to learn about the grading process, so we do intensive grading training, just like the scorers of standardized tests. They learn that holistic scoring means their writing will be scored as a whole rather than individual sections. I show them the difference between a holistic rubric used for standardized tests and an analytical essay that breaks down each category for scoring with a set number of points. You can read about my "scorer training" through peer review below or on my Instagram.
This is how I set up peer review for AP, but it could work for any class. I number across desks with sticky notes (you know I love them! ๐Ÿ˜‚) for how many students I have in class. I use washi tape to cover the names because it comes off easily afterwards, and it's not see-through (but most of all bc it's pretty!). Then, I give each paper two sticky notes. I distribute the papers and the holistic rubric, and the students read and provide comments on the sticky notes. Once they're done, they put their numbered sticky notes back on the original table under the same number. We repeat for the second reviewer. This works really well because the second reviewer isn't influenced by the first reviewer, but we can stick them all back together at the end for the owner. Finally, the owner reviews his/her own after now having read two other papers and becoming familiar with the rubric. Not only does this process give them valuable feedback, but it really helps them understand what the scorers need to see for a high scoring essay. ๐ŸŽ‰
A post shared by Dr. Jenna Copper (Doc Cop) (@doc_cop) on

Follow me on Instagram for more teaching tips and tricks.

4. QR Code Word Walls

QR Code Word Walls are a great way to improve retention of important testing terms, literary devices, or advanced vocabulary. Because students are engaged in the process of teaching, they are more likely to recall the terms later on. You can check out the details here.

5. Text Dependent Analysis Resources

Text-dependent analysis, analysis that requires students to synthesize information based on textual evidence, an important skill not only for test prep but for real-world interactions. What I love about text-dependent analysis is that it works great in print and even better in digital format. 

This is an example of a digital text-dependent analysis for the "Tomorrow" Soliloquy from Macbeth. Students must use their active reading skills to engage with the text. 

I recently found CommonLit from B's Book Love. What's great about this source is that it provides hundreds of {free} nonfiction and fiction texts paired with guided reading, textual analysis, and discussion assessments. It can be printed or used digitally.

6. Test Prep Fun

Test prep doesn't have to be a battle. In fact, I like to sneak it in so that my students don't even realize it's test prep. Well, they might realize it, but at least, it's fun. 

My husband uses Kahoot to review with his students. Students need a SmartPhone, tablet, Chromebook, or laptop to participate in this fun real-time review game. Because Kahoot has a sharing component that allows teachers to share and search Kahoots for any subject and level, you might even be able to find ready-made review games for your students. (My husband found a ready-made Kahoot for every single unit in this AP Government textbook!)

Another fun idea is to throw it back to their elementary days. 

Remember 7 Up? We do! Today we did a throwback to elementary school to prep for our Romantic Poetry unit test, and it was so much fun! You must try this! It's easy, fun, and effective! Here's what we did: I picked 7 students. They picked a classmate 7-Up style. Here's where the prep comes in: the students who were picked have to answer a question. If it's answered correctly, they replace the person who picked them. If they get it wrong, someone who wasn't picked can steal. In English 12, we used this game to practice vocab before our test. I give a sentence with the word; they explain the word's meaning. For AP, I give a literary term, they have to give a definition or an example. These are seniors by the way...playing 7 Up! I'm so thankful they humor my ๐Ÿ˜œ ideas! #igteacherpd #igteacherpdtestprep
A post shared by Dr. Jenna Copper (Doc Cop) (@doc_cop) on

This really was as much fun as it looks!

Good luck during test prep season! If you need more inspiration, check out IGTeacherPD on Instagram and search #IGTeacherPDtestprep.

How To Wow Your Students with QR Code Word Walls

Wednesday, February 15, 2017
I've tried so many ways to teach literary terms. I'm up for anything that doesn't involve me standing in front of the room dictating the definitions to a room of unengaged students. Some of the ideas worked and others not so much. Thankfully, we finally found a winner! Our QR Code Word Wall is a definite keeper!

Here's why: 

  • It's versatile. Word walls, in general, build familiarity with important words. Weekly vocabulary words, SAT prep vocab, and literary terms are just a few of the many content-driven applications. 
  • It's collaborative. Students are a part of the word wall creation, so they take ownership of the words.
  • It's fun. We set up a "filming corner," and they go to work adding their own flair. Because each QR Code corresponds to a video of an explanation of the word by one of my students, they find it fun to watch the videos of their classmates. I like it because it's a great way to infuse multiple voices into the classroom aside from the teacher.
  • It's decorative. They look great! It can be a bit challenging to spice up the classroom in older grades yet maintain a more sophisticated look. We love the way our word wall looks!
  • It's effective. The wall can be added to throughout the year, and we can reference it whenever we need to. I also noticed that students associated each word with the person who explained the term, and therefore, they were able to retain the information longer and more accurately.
  • It's easy. Keep reading and I'll show you how!


1) First decide on your list. I created simple black and white printouts using cardstock. For my example, we used challenging AP literary terms. I love that my students can be involved in creating the list. My students use this TALK guide to annotate their texts. The "K" stands for "Key in" and asks them to key in on important literary terms. We use this guide to find and reiterate our literary terms.

2) Give each student a word and give them this assignment:
  • Be able to pronounce your word correctly. They can look the word up on dictionary.com or YouTube for the pronunciation.
  • Be able to tell me the definition.
  • Be able to give me an example.
I gave this short assignment as homework. I also didn't reveal what we were doing with it until the next day...sneak attack!

3) Set up a filming space. I used an old roll of dark blue wrapping paper for our backdrop. I simply taped it to the wall, and set up my podium across it to hold our iPad. I used my school-issued iPad for the taping, but you could also use a SmartPhone.

4) Film the students. I sent my students out in the hall in groups of three to do their own filming. We easily got through 16 students in one 40-minute class period. The rest of the class was working on another assignment.

5) If you don't have it on your device already, download Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or another cloud. Save all of your videos to that cloud.

6) Access the videos from your cloud on your computer and copy the shareable link.

I like to use Google Drive because our school issues Google email addresses to the students. This makes it possible for the links to only be viewable to members of our district.

7) Next, paste each shared URL into a QR Code generator, and save the QR code. There are so many options, but I like this one.

8)  I made colorful cell phone clipart to display our QR codes with their matching words. You can get them for {free} by signing up for my monthly newsletter.

9) I found some packaging tape, and I taped these terms on three different spots around my room.

10) As the culminating activity, my students walked around the room with their cell phones or one of our school-issued iPads and scanned the QR codes. They recorded the definitions and examples in their notes.

My students really loved creating this word wall, and they asked if we could continue to add words throughout the year.  When you hear a high schooler say "This is so cool!" you know it's a keeper!

Since we all love word walls so much, check out #igforpdwordwalls on Instagram. Share your favorite word walls with the hashtag and tag @igforpd to be featured!

Panel Discussions: Make Your Students the Experts in Five Simple Steps

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

One Friday night in the early fall, I was watching Real-Time with Bill Maher, a political show that brings together people from all political views to discuss topics of the day in a panel format. Because my teacher-brain is always on the go, I had a vision of my classroom with my students as the expert panelists and the quick-fingered audience "Tweeters." (You know, a classroom discussion euphoria of sorts...) After some contemplation and tinkering, my vision became a reality, and it has quickly become a class favorite. The students like that they can express their opinions in several formats and how easy and fun it is to discuss with the guided open-question format.

Here's what I love about it:

1) All students are engaged because they all get a chance to be on the panel. When they're in the audience, they participate in a digital or print version of a "Twitter" chat, just like a real audience does. The panel only has four or five members, so the panel gets plenty of opportunities to discuss; once they've contributed to the discussion several times (you can determine the number), the students rotate, so new panel members come in and out.

2) My role, as the teacher, can be as big or as little as I want. I can be the moderator of the discussion, or I can hand that role over to a student.

3) The discussion is guided by the moderator, so the nature of the discussion is targeted, on-level for the grade/ability level, and content-focused.

4) It is so easy to set up.

To save even more time, you can download my participation tracker, rubric, nameplates/note page, and 20 discussion-starter questions by signing up for my newsletter:

Step 1:

Begin by making copies of the rubric, participation tracker, participation tracker number line, and name plate/notes. Each student needs one copy of each.

Step 2:

Then, decide on the number of students you want on the panel. Four or five students is a good number for my class. Less than four students makes it hard to generate discussion; More than five students makes it challenging to give everyone an equal turn.

Step 3:

Compile a list of topics for discussion. I like to use topics that focus on a central theme or concept for the work as a whole. For example, when I teach Macbeth, my topics are sleep, guilt, the role of women, revenge, the struggle for power, and supernatural elements. I give each student a topic or two and instruct them to become an expert on those topics. At this point, students should fill out their nameplate with their name and expertise (their topics). Additionally, they may take notes on their topics on the back of the nameplate. This makes it easy for them to view their notes as the nameplate will follow them during the discussion.

I also like to give them my Literary Theory Checklist, so they can think about what literary theories apply to the given work. It gives them multiple perspectives to bring to the panel. You can check it out here.

Step 4:

To prepare for your end as the teacher/moderator, print the example questions included and/or create your own. I use “cue cards” to help keep me organized. After practice, you may decide to have a student moderate the discussion.

Step 5:

On the day of the panel discussion, put together a group of four or five desks for your panel and another desk facing the panel for the moderator. The “audience” should be seated in front of the panel. Give each student a participation card to keep track of his/her meaningful contributions to the discussion.

Assign the audience a silent discussion. Either, they can work in pairs to comment on the panel discussion by passing a piece of paper back and forth, or you can create a backchannel chat for students if they have access to the internet. My favorite backchannel chat is Today’s Meet. Once a student has met the criteria for his/her contributions to the discussion, he/she should change places with a student in the audience. Continue this process until each student has had a chance to participate on the panel.

One of my current favorite tech tools is a website called Today's Meet. It's a free backchannel chat that I use with my students during discussions. In short, I set it up in seconds and the students chat in this backchannel while other classroom activities are going on. I used it for our Panel Discussion this week. Students who weren't part of the panel chatted about the discussion in this backchannel. ๐Ÿ’ป It's a lot of fun, and I love getting the whole class involved. They can chat from their cell phones, tablets, lap tops, or Chromebooks.๐Ÿ“ฑ I'm planning a blog about how I use it with my panel discussions, so stayed tuned if you'd like to know how the panel discussion works. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Make sure you check out #igforpdtech ๐Ÿ“ธ for more great tech ideas! @igforpd #igforpd
A photo posted by Dr. Jenna Copper (@doc_cop) on

Here's an example of Today's Meet that I posted on my Instagram account after our panel discussion on King Lear. This post was part of a fun PD series we're doing on Instagram. If you love all things teaching, find me on Instagram (@doc_cop) and search the hashtag #igforpd.

I hope you and your students enjoy this panel discussion! I'd love to hear from you!

4 Gift Ideas Your Secondary Students Will Love But Won't Break the Bank

Wednesday, November 30, 2016
My husband and I teach seniors in the same school. My husband is the AP Government/AP US History/Senior Government teacher, and I teach the AP English Lit and Lang classes and Senior English classes. We're also the senior class advisers. Between the two of us, we work with every senior student. That's over 100 students, so gift giving at the holiday time can be a challenge. What gift do you give 100+ people that is both meaningful and cost efficient? It would take a pretty penny to buy gifts for each of our students. Even at $5 apiece, we would be looking at over $500. I thought we surely could do better than that, so we did some brainstorming and research. The result is four gift ideas that your students will love but won’t break bank.

Plus, keep reading for an awesome 12 Days of December giveaway and other great posts and resources from my teacher-author friends to save your sanity this holiday season!

1.       “Duck Out" Cards #lastminutegiftsforbigkids

This is our go-to gift year after year. We keep coming back it because our students LOVE and appreciate it (and best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing!). This clever card allows students to “Duck Out” of a small quiz or assignment. There is also a great life skills lesson inherent in this gift: responsibility! They must keep track of their cards in order to use them when the time is right. They are themed for the holiday, so they're perfect when you want to give your students a meaningful gift that they'll appreciate, but you also don't want to spend money during this expensive time of the year. You can check it out for FREE here. Also, search the hashtag #lastminutegiftsforbigkids on TeachersPayTeachers for other fun and {free} gift ideas for big kids.

2.        Literary Christmas Cards

Nothing says happy holidays like a punny card from your favorite English teacher. Students love funny memes, so B’s Book Love created these fun cards for her students. She offers this set of 24 cards for only $3.00. You can get them here. Add a candy cane and your students are sure to know you care, and they'll get a good laugh at the same time.

3.  Silicon bands with a motto

If you have a small budget, you should check out this great idea I got from my Instagram-teacher-friend, @schooledbystultz--check her out on Instagram! She made these fun personalized motto bracelets for her AP students from here. Here, you can get 200 bands for around $50. This would be a great gift to build class morale and community. I found several other websites that offer the same product even cheaper (around $30), so shop around! 

4. A fun lesson

Do you have a fun lesson that your students request time and time again? (If you don’t have one, don’t worry, I have you covered!) When I was in high school, we had a teacher who let us shoot paper basketballs in his trash bin during a review game. It was so simple, but it was always a treat to be able to do it. My students like our impromptu speaking practice (surprising, right?!). I did this lesson for the first time on Halloween, and since then, they’ve been asking to do it again, so I made a Winter Edition that we will do right before winter break. It’s fun, and they’re learning important real-world speaking skills. You can check it out here.

May you and your students have a happy holiday season! Make sure you enter the 12 Days of December giveaway below or click here, and when you're done, click on the picture below to read all of the posts for the 12 Days of December from my teacher-blogger friends!

The 12 Days of December


Wednesday, November 23, 2016
"You really went to college for nine years?" - every student I've ever had. It's true. I was in college for a total of nine years, and I finished my Ph.D. in 2013. People often ask me about my decision to earn my doctorate while I was teaching (as a full-time high school teacher), so today I bring you seven things to consider if you've ever thought about starting your next chapter by earning your doctorate.

1. Your ultimate goal

Why do you want to earn your doctorate? This is a really important question you should ask yourself before embarking on a three to five year journey into the world of academia. Sure, you'll probably get a raise and students will think it's "cool" that they have a Dr. as a teacher, but those are generally extrinsic motivators. I knew that earning the degree would give me new career opportunities, but I didn't realize just how many. Initially, I just wanted to be able to teach college. I found out later that teaching in higher ed was just the beginning. More than anything else, I like research, but I didn't really know where to begin. I had some background in research from my Master's program, but I wanted to learn more. This was the intrinsic motivation that got me through it.

2. The degree

My degree is a Ph.D. in Education. Officially, it's called Instructional Management and Leadership, which essentially is a fancy way of saying education. At first thought, I wanted to get my Ph.D. in Literary Criticism. My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and my master's degree is a Master of Education in English, so continuing my English studies seemed like the next logical step. However, when researching degrees, I quickly discovered that the Ph.D. in English wasn't going to work with my life at the time. Classes for the English degree didn't work around a full-time teaching schedule. That's when I started looking into doctorates in education. These programs are created with the assumption that students are full-time teachers or administrators, so they work around a teacher's schedule and they tailor the course study to what you already do, teach. I soon found that this degree was the right choice for me. As much as I love learning English, teaching English is my niche. I wanted to conduct research about teaching English, not English itself. Catch the difference? Here's an example: researching zoomorphism in Of Mice and Men sounds interesting, but I'd much rather research ways to make zoomorphism in Of Mice and Men accessible to high schoolers, like I did in the following digital close reading and annotation guide. With this degree, I learned how to focus my research on making teaching more effective, and the result is research-based curriculum resources that can help a whole lot of teachers and students.

You'll also need to decide if you want to take a full online program, a hybrid, or a traditional model. I like being "in" school, literally. I like being in class. I like presenting, discussing, and interacting face to face. Therefore, I chose a program that was on-campus (mostly). After an hour drive, I attended night class from 6 pm to 10 pm once a week and then once a month on a Saturday during the school year. Then, during the summer, we had class for two straight weeks from 8 am to 5 pm. It worked for me. You have to figure what is right for you. My suggestion is to look at all program possibilities and decide which one is right for you. I looked at over 20 different programs before deciding on my program.

3. Time

Let's face it, there is never enough time. Ever. It's something that I've learned to accept, and you should too. What we can do is make the most of our time, and from my experience, if something is important to you, you will find the time. Here's where I have to give you my disclaimer: I didn't have kids at the time. When I wanted to (or had to) work on my dissertation or homework, I would do it simple as that. Now that I have kids, I realize this was a luxury, and I finally understand why my mom was so insistent that I finish my doctorate before we had kids.

I was pregnant, though, beginning with my last year, and I defended my dissertation while I was six months pregnant. Awful morning sickness and fatigue was definitely a challenge for sure, but I made it work. Simply put, there is no "right time" to get it done. There were people in my program just starting their teaching careers (like me at 24 years old) and seasoned teachers and administrators with years and years of experience. People made it work with their situations.

Plus, you're a teacher, so you don't do anything over the summer, right? Ha! If only that were true! I took advantage of every break and holiday, and I made a lot of progress during the winter and summer months when I was on break from classes.

4. The writing

Do you love writing? Well, maybe love isn't the right word. Perhaps, like is better? Or better yet, tolerate? Yes, let's go with tolerate. Can you tolerate writing? Every class was writing intensive (even stats required written analyses). I am one of those crazy people that loves writing; however, you don't have to love it in order to earn your doctorate (although it helps). What I've found as an English teacher is that we tend to dislike what we don't understand or aren't good at it. Take Shakespeare as an example. I often hear kids say they hate Shakespeare, but what they really mean is that they don't understand Shakespeare. Once they understand, Macbeth, they (generally) like it. The same concept applies to writing. If you haven't had a lot of practice writing, it may be an arduous task for you; nonetheless, during the program, you'll learn to love it because you'll get better at it through practice. Speaking of writing, what about the dissertation?

5. The dissertation

Three-hundred plus pages sound like a lot right now, but let me quell your fears. You can write a dissertation, and here's why: you will write it section by section, chapter by chapter until one day you're done. No one sits down and writes 300 pages. It's a process. I worked on my dissertation while I took classes, which is how I finished in three years. (Also, I didn't have kids at the time, remember?) As far as the study goes, you're a teacher so you have about 1248357493 ideas for a study already brewing in your head. You also have access to students, teachers, and administrators, so narrowing down your topic will be a lot more challenging than conducting the study.

6. The defense

This was probably the easiest part of the dissertation journey. After spending three years studying literary theory in the secondary classroom, there weren't many people who knew more about it than me, and certainly not the professors on my committee. Despite the fact that my chair had 30 years of high school English teaching experience, I was confident they couldn't stump me because I knew that topic inside and out. And, I was right. I presented my study for about 40 minutes, and then they asked some tough questions. Still, it was nothing I couldn't handle because I knew that topic, and you will too (your topic that is...unless you're interested in literary theory, and in that case, let's get together!). There was a pretty big audience for my defense (about 40 people, maybe? half of which were my family), so that was probably what made me the most nervous.

7. The benefit

Earning my Ph.D. was the best decision I ever made for my career. It opened doors for me that I never knew existed. Since then, I've presented at national and state conferences, colleges, and schools; published journals, textbook chapters, and curriculum resources; and got two new jobs (one full-time in a new high school and one part-time at a local college).

All of that has been great, and I'm thankful for those opportunities. But, the really important part is the connections I've made with educators from all over the world. These connections have given me access to a body of knowledge that continues to grow, and it has helped me establish a research agenda that impacts many, many more students than I thought possible. Ultimately, that's why we do what we do, and for that, I am thankful that I took the plunge into academia (for the third time) and I hope you will too!

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top