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  • The Engaging Classroom
  • Teaching Tips

Creative Assessments for Independent Reading

By Heather Miller
 | Jan 15, 2019

literacy-centers-all-childrenMost schools encourage independent reading, and for good reason; the more time a child spends reading daily, the stronger a reader she or he is likely to become. Over time, a daily reading habit is associated with financial, academic, and professional achievement as well as active participation in civic life. I believe that one of the best investments a school can make is in well-stocked classroom libraries that boast a wide range of genres, authors, styles, and reading levels.  

Although many schools do a great job of making time for independent reading and insisting that children keep an independent reading log, often schools struggle to find time to assess independent reading.

Book reports, while an important genre to master, can be time-consuming for children to complete. With all the other projects in the ELA curriculum competing for time, it can be difficult to insist that students complete a book report on a regular basis. 

Fortunately, there are alternative assessments to independent reading that both emphasize the creative arts and can be completed at home. Students enjoy completing these creative assessments so much that it provides a new incentive to finish reading their independent reading book.

Creative assessments of Independent Reading 101

Consider requiring students to complete a creative assessment of a book they have read independently. Offering the four options below gives students the power to choose their preferred mode of demonstrating their understanding. They’ll enjoy the creativity and self-expression of the task, and you’ll learn more about each student’s personality, artistic skills, and engagement levels. 

Write (and perform) a scene in a play

Share with students a scene from a movie version of a book that they know and love. The scene should be no more than three to five minutes long. Then, invite students to write a scene based on their favorite moment of the novel. They must write the scene out in play script format, complete with a cast list, stage directions, setting, and dialogue for each character. They can either hand in their written scene as their assessment or opt to act out the scene with classmates or direct classmates in acting out the scene. Few students opt out of performing their dramatic masterpiece in front of the class!

Through this activity, students flex their creative skills as dramatic writers, actors, and directors. They also demonstrate their grasp of the central conflict of the novel through their dramatization of a pivotal moment in the narrative.

Write (and perform) a theme song based on the novel

Students take the melody of a song and rewrite the lyrics to express the plot and theme of a novel of their choice. Emphasize that the chorus of the song should express the novel’s theme or key message. Add rigor by insisting that the song give the listener a sense of the story’s plot and the main character’s journey. 

Students can hand in the lyrics as their assessment or opt to perform it solo or with friends. Students who want musical backing can find a karaoke version of the song and use that as a backing track. 

During their performance, students exercise their talent for composition and share their singing talent while expressing a strong understanding of the text. Students match the mood of a novel with the mood of a song’s melody. This assessment often takes the perspective of the main character and therefore requires students to empathize with his or her story. 

Design an alternative book jacket that shows you understand the plot and theme

Show a book cover of a familiar book and ask students to explain how the book designer reflected the story and theme through its design. Then, challenge students to redesign the book cover of their independent reading choice. Students reflect on the theme and plot of the novel and use that understanding to design a new cover for the book, including the back cover copy. Add rigor by insisting that the front cover and details on the spine and back cover visually communicate the motifs, symbolism, and characters of the book. Students will present their book cover design to the class and articulate how it reflects the book’s plot and theme.

Students can hone in on the symbolism, setting, and visual aspects of the author’s craft, using all the different spaces in a cover (front cover, spine, and back cover) to express their understanding of the book’s plot, characters, and theme.

Be a guest on a talk show

The teacher plays the host of a talk show and invites special guests on the show to discuss the book they’ve just read. Students prepare for their guest appearance by reading through a list of 20 rigorous questions that test their deep understanding of the novel beforehand. Students must prepare thoughtful answers to all 20 of these questions. Any of the 20 questions can be asked during their guest appearance on the talk show. Students appear on the talk show and respond maturely and fully to the questions the teacher asks about the novel. While this option does not involve a concrete deliverable, it is no soft option. It is essentially a verbal exam—and a student who cannot answer a question posed of him or her does poorly on the assessment.

This exercise builds confidence, improves public speaking skills, challenges students to think intellectually about the book they have read, and reinforces knowledge of literary devices and concepts. Students who are strong speakers and thinkers but struggle to express themselves through writing have an opportunity to shine in this assessment. 

Having a monthly creative assessment “party,” at which students share their dramatic scenes, theme songs, book cover designs, and appear on a talk show, is a lively, highly enjoyable way to ensure that children are benefiting from their independent reading. It’s also a great way for students to learn about books in your classroom library that they may wish to read.  

Heather Miller, the director of LPM Education in New York, is the creator of the Bringing Classics to Life program, which will be featured at the 2019 Texas Association for Literacy Education Conference and the Massachusetts Reading Association 50th Annual Conference in March and April, respectively. She is also the author of Prime Time Parenting (2018), a guide to raising children in the digital age.

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