Five Quick Ways to Engage and Assess Students

Engaging students is the key to successful learning and retention. But within a classroom of diverse learners, how do you teach in a way that effectively responds to the varying needs and gifts of students? The philosophy of differentiated instruction (DI), which we stand behind at CLC Network, provides us with a framework for thinking about diverse learners. DI means providing varied approaches to class content and processes in anticipation of and in response to students’ differences in readiness, interests, and learning needs (Carol Ann Tomlinson).

From a faith perspective, we know that each child – each learner – is a package of gift and need, uniquely created by God (Psalm 139). As teachers, we can help students grow in their God-given individuality by catering our teaching to their various learning needs (see Proverbs 22:6).

Once we’re equipped with the framework for DI, we can then implement strategies to assess students’ grasp of content and learning styles. Though there are many ways to do this, today I am going to share five practical (and fun) ways to assess and engage students in your class or Sunday school.

1) Stack ‘Ems

Stack 'ems photo

You can write on paper cups or use stackable cups like the Magic Flying Cups (above) for this activity. Find these cups at:

Use this for any content that has a correct sequence/hierarchy, or for material that can be categorized (for example: time lines, steps in a process, periodic table, sequence of story, or putting words in alphabetical order).

Materials needed: Plastic cups, Permanent marker

Instructions: Before the lesson, write the content on each cup with the permanent marker. Group the students into pairs and give each pair a stack of the plastic cups. Ask students to stack in the correct order. First pair to do this correctly wins.

2) Snowball Fight

Crumpled up paper for science review.A high school favorite, use this activity to assess what students learned during a unit.

Materials needed: Pencil/pen, Paper

Instructions: Ask students to write their name on a piece of paper, along with something they learned during the unit. Have students form a large circle around the room, crumple up their paper and toss it into the middle of the circle. Taking turns, ask each student to grab one of the “snowballs” and read it to the class.

Alternative activity: Ask students to write vocabulary terms and definitions, math problems and answers, or study guide questions and answers on separate pieces of paper and crumble them up. Again, have students form a large circle and toss their paper in the middle. Once all “snowballs” are in, have each student pick one up and find their matching vocabulary term/definition, math problem/answer or study guide question/answer.

3) Note-on-a-Stick

Note-On-A-StickThis assessment activity can be used with fact/opinion, true/false, piece of sentence, short/long, multiple choice, etc.

Materials needed: Tongue compressors, Glue, Construction paper, Markers

Instructions: Before doing the activity with students, assemble the sticks as shown in the photo. Each student should have a pair. Have students hold up the most appropriate stick when you ask them a question.

4) Learning Styles

Whiteboard with different learning styles.Another high school favorite, have students vote for the type of activity they’d like to do with sticky-notes on a white board.

Materials needed: Whiteboard, Sticky notes, Whiteboard marker

5) Bubble Wrap Response

Person popping bubble wrapGreat for all ages, use this activity to practice and assess content comprehension.

Materials Needed: Bubble wrap

Instructions:  Each student receives a sheet of bubble wrap. Ask students to pop a bubble if they hear: a noun, fact, opinion, the sculptor of the piece, a word that rhymes with “hat”, a song from the Renaissance Period, etc. They could also pop a bubble if they see: a square, President Lincoln, a picture of a soccer field, a quadrilateral, a plant cell, etc.

What games or activities do you recommend to engage and assess learners? Share them in the comment box below!

Mary Ashby Mary Ashby is a teacher consultant for CLC Network. She shares these ideas and more in her professional development session, “40 Quick Ways to Assess and Engage All Learners” and “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Differentiating Instruction in a General Education Classroom”. Learn how you can schedule this for your school by contacting CLC Network

Meet Our New Staff Members!

We are pleased to welcome five new staff members to our team this year, who bring years of expertise and a commitment to creating inclusive communities. Please join us in welcoming:

Tim Annema

Tim Annema photoOnline Courses Instructor, Algebra and Geometry

I am excited to begin working at CLC Network as it combines many passions in my life. These include working with middle school students, the use of technology in education, mathematics, and the exploration and revelation of Christ’s redemptive work in creation.

Kristin Contant

Kristin Contant photoOnline Courses Instructor, 6th and 7th Grade Honors English

I am looking forward to sharing my love of literature, writing, and my faith with my students through teaching 7th grade honors English.

Elaine Kappers

Elaine Kappers photoTeacher Consultant serving Central Wisconsin Christian School (WI)

Looking at my role with CLC Network, I’m looking forward to working with the CLC Network team and learning from their knowledge and expertise. I also look forward to working at other schools and helping them with the challenges they face.

Jacki Sikkema

Jacki Sikkema photoChurch Services Consultant and Coordinator

As I delve into my work here at CLC Network, I look forward to equipping churches and communities with tools to better include those who have disabilities. I’m also excited to see how God works in these communities, displaying His love through each and every member as they grow in Him.

Linda Weemhoff

Linda WeemhoffTeacher Consultant serving Hull Christian (IA), Netherlands Reformed Christian (IA), Orange City Christian (IA), Rock Valley Christian (IA), and Western Christian (IA) schools

I am very thankful that God is opening a new door for me. God has uniquely created all of us and I am excited that He is giving me the opportunity to continue to work with students and teachers as we all discover more about how God has gifted each of us to work in His Kingdom.

Encourage these individuals as they begin their work by sharing a note of welcome in the comment section below!

Inclusion at Adams Protestant Reformed Christian School

Adams Christian classroom

Students at Adams Protestant Reformed Christian School learn together in an inclusive environment.

While Adams Protestant Reformed Christian School (Byron Center, MI) only became a CLC Network Member School two years ago, they have worked on their own to provide inclusive education for more than thirty years.

“Our school saw a need to help students who were struggling in learning, and they planted the seed of the program as it is now,” explains principal Rick Mingerink. “I think it started out with a teacher who just  had a cart with her books.  From there we devoted a room to our Resource Program,  then added more staff.  With CLC  Network,  we saw we could get to another level with the help of their teacher consultants and outside opinion.”

With 238 students in grades K-8, Adams Christian is growing and anticipating a building expansion. As the student body grows, so do the students’ needs. That’s good news for resource teachers Vicki DeKryger and Alva Spriensma.

“We really appreciate CLC’s perspective of looking at the whole student, starting with their strengths. Parents need to know that, and we need to give hope. Even though there are great struggles, there are always strengths. That diversity is not a surprise to God,” explains Mrs. DeKryger.

DeKryger and Spriensma use their degrees in special education daily in order to support the needs of all their students, be they academic or otherwise.  “We’ve seen students grow in their understanding of themselves,” they reflect. “With the outside help of our CLC Network teacher consultant,  we have been able to help our students understand the struggles of other students,” recall Mrs. DeKryger and Mrs. Spriensma.  “As  a  result,  those  students have become more open to asking questions and building relationships with us, which is what we want.”

Puzzle piece photo

Second-graders thought about their own learning strengths and weaknesses, and how they fit together as a community.

One way Mrs. DeKryger encouraged that growth was to present the puzzle piece  perspective  to the second grade class. CLC Network advocates every person reflects God’s image,  and we each have been created with intrinsic value.

Using neurodevelopmental constructs, Mrs. DeKryger explained to students that each  person  may  have strengths in certain areas like sports and language, while encountering challenges with tasks like writing and paying attention. The students then reflected on their own puzzle pieces,  and  knit them together on the wall for the whole school to see.  The puzzle pieces have served as a centerpiece for introspection and conversations that deepen students’ understanding of each other.

Rick Mingerink explains their commitment to inclusion: “We view our students as covenantal children, who are children of God. We don’t educate a brain, we educate a child.” Maybe that’s why inclusive education feels so natural at Adams.

Elizabeth Dombrowski photoElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 Inclusive – CLC Network’s semiannual newsletter.