You know the drill. You give your class a chapter for a novel to read for homework, or maybe you start reading a chapter together in class and then you want your students to finish the chapter as homework. The next day arrives and (maybe) a third of the class has actually done the reading. Most of the kids sit there, silently praying that a more studious kid will answer your questions. The non-readers like to do that fake-interested head nod thing, as if they agree completely with what the smart kid just said.

Enough of this.

The solution to make sure those “I’m just along for the ride” kids actually do the homework reading? The One-Question Quizzer.

In the past, I gave multiple-question reading quizzes on every chapter I had students read on their own. It ate up too much class time, though, and I didn’t have time after school to grade 175 short-answer quizzes every day. 35 kids X 5 classes a day = 175 students (woof!)

In this case, less is actually more. With One-Question Quizzers, students are held accountable for their nightly reading assignments, you’ll immediately know who did (or didn’t) do the reading, and it – literally – takes less than two minutes to grade a class set of quizzes.

The questions are specially designed to reward active readers and to reveal those who didn’t read or just relied on SparkNotes or CliffNotes to try to take a shortcut. Only students who actively read the chapter will be able to correctly answer the question.

Also, I’ve included three separate questions for each chapter because teenagers will cheat (What? Shocking, I know) and tell their friends in other classes what question you asked. They are seriously bummed when they realize I ask every class an entirely different question.

In time, One-Question Quizzers become almost like a game show in my class. The students are so happy they often cheer when I reveal the correct answer. Then, that answer becomes a springboard into a discussion of that scene, which then leads us into discussing the evening’s reading assignment. It works beautifully.

Super-Simple Grading: Each day’s question is worth just 5 points. If the student has the correct answer, great. He gets 5/5. If the student is wrong, then it’s 0/5 points. However, if a student writes, “I don’t know” or “I didn’t read” on his quiz paper, I’ll give him 1/5 points to reward him for his honesty. Now, 1/5 points is still a failing grade, but what this does is speed up my grading process so that I’m not wasting my time reading through phony-baloney answers. There is no partial credit – it’s either “5,” “1,” or “0.”

Also, once we’re a few chapters into a book, it’s clear to me which students are reading and which are not. If I see several “0” or “1” scores in the gradebook, I privately confer with the kid to find out what’s going on. Even in my large classes, there’s nowhere to hide when it comes to my assessment of their effort/work. This has also been helpful in rooting out students who need additional support, i.e. summary guides, audiobooks, etc.

Finally, the quizzers are just five points, so if a student misses one once in a while, it’s no big deal. Regularly blowing the quizzer, though, will have a snowball effect on the grade. Kids see this pretty quickly as we work through a novel.

Intrigued? Give it a try. You can save yourself a ton of work and still hold your students accountable for their own learning. It’s worked great in my classroom. Hope you find similar success.

Click on each title to use One-Question Quizzers with:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Great Gatsby
Of Mice and Men
Romeo and Juliet
To Kill a Mockingbird

Join the conversation! 19 Comments

  1. Love your ideas…..thanks for the shot in the arm.

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  2. Hi Laura,
    I’m a big fan and have bought many of your products. However, when I go to the pages for these products, the preview doesn’t give any more info than what’s here. Can you please share an example of the type of question you ask?
    Thanks.

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  3. Sure, Abena! The questions are just straight-forward facts from the chapter. No analysis here, as I’m solely checking to make sure kids read the nightly chapter assignment. I’ll focus on something funny or unusual that happened, something that should stick out in your mind. For example, in chapter 17 of Huckleberry Finn, Huck has just been taken in by the Grangerfords. After reading that chapter as homework, I might ask the following day, “Where was Moses when the candle went out?” This is a riddle that Buck tells Huck and the answer is, “In the dark.” For my second class of juniors, I won’t repeat the same question because kids will cheat and tell their friends in the later class what I asked. For the second class, I might ask, “In the morning, Huck can’t remember what fake name he gave the Grangerfords last night. How does he trick Buck into telling him his name?” The answer, of course, is that he bets Buck that he can’t spell his name, so Buck says, “G-E-O-R-G-E-J-A-X-O-N.” This is funny because Huck just memorized how to misspell the name “Jackson.”

    Basically, jump on anything that you find interesting or especially visual. I remind students that they should be actively reading the assignments, almost picturing the scenes like movies in their minds. You’ll know pretty quickly which students aren’t doing the reading and which students are doing the readings but need more study strategies/support.

    Hope this helps, Abena. 🙂

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  4. I call these DYRT quizzes: Did You Read This? I like your idea better of just 1 question & 5 points though. Doesn’t seem as punitive & it’s not a grade killer.

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  5. Thanks, Jen. Yeah, it’s only 5 pts., so if a kid misses a question every once in a while, it’s no big deal. Regularly missing the one-question quizzers, though, will start to have an impact on the grade. I also like that I can pretty quickly tell which students are struggling through their reading assignments and get them support sooner rather than later.

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  6. I’m starting this this week. We’ll see how it goes!

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  7. Go get ’em, Stephanie! 🙂

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  8. I love this idea, Laura! I have this problem all the time. My only issue is that I’m not allowed to teach whole class novels. I do assign 30 minutes of reading every night but I know that a majority of my 8th graders don’t do it. Do you have any brilliant ideas of how I could use this technique when students are all reading different books? Or even any other techniques? I’m desperate.

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  9. Hey Mallory, so no full-class novels/books at all? All lit. circles all the time? Well, that’s a…different way to go. I guess I’d probably require a short answer response at the launch of each class and get grading help from my upperclassman T.A. Or maybe a “pop” quiz or entrance ticket/quizzer for different groups on unpredictable days, just to keep everyone on his/her toes. I know TeachersPayTeachers.com has a lot of free and inexpensive quiz resources available. Perhaps use some of those pre-made quiz questions as your quizzers, since it’s pretty crazy to expect you to teach three (four? five?) books all within the same class period. Hmm…this is a definitely a head-scratcher.

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  10. No, no…no lit. circles. No novels at all lol. Every single kid is (or supposed to be) reading a different book. That’s why I only assign minutes of reading for homework; fully knowing that less than half of them are actually doing it. I know, it’s kind of insane. I’m supposed to be using Daily 5/CAFE, reader’s workshop type format. I just can’t figure it out.

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  11. That’s madness, Mallory. Perhaps this is the time to go rogue and tuck in some lit. circles? In the absence of that, I guess you could just have parents sign off on the at-home reading time. If a parent is going to falsify such a note, then that family has bigger issues than out-of-class reading time, I’m afraid. I would probably shift my focus/energies to in-class text strategies and hit the writing hard. Sorry I can’t be more helpful on this one.

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  12. Great idea! Sadly, I teach in a district that’s decided that students only skip work that isn’t “engaging” (aka, entertaining) enough. Thus, it’s the teacher’s fault if the work isn’t done.
    Second, the district also has decided that zeroes hurt students’ feelings so, no zeroes allowed. In an alternate (and sane) universe this would work perfectly!

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  13. Wow, Lorri, I’m so sorry this is your teaching environment. Raising kids with no accountability? Um…no, thanks.

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  14. Love love love this idea but how do you deal with those who only read the Spark Notes/Cliff Notes? Could they essential do that reading and still pass the 1 question quiz? Have you ever encountered it? I teach Honors and that has been my biggest issue to date!

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  15. Thanks for checking in with me, Kristin. Whenever I first create a list of questions for a novel, I also read the Spark chapter summaries, making sure to ask details that would be visual/obvious to the reader but that aren’t included in the online summaries. I’m certain that a few kids have slid by over the years, but the far majority just write “I don’t know” or “I didn’t read” to keep the 1 pt. insurance. One-question quizzers have almost become like a game show in my classes and definitely keep ’em reading. 🙂

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  16. Great idea. I did this with our last novel but only for discussion, not a grade. I’m definitely doing this starting next week for “frightful’s Mountain”! Thanks!

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  17. Yeah, Amy, and sometimes just to keep ’em on their toes, I don’t give a quizzer at all the following day. I tell my kids I’m like a game show host, totally unpredictable. On those days, I just say, no quizzer today (surprise!), but if I were going to give you a quizzer I would’ve asked, (insert question here), and then we begin our full-class debrief based on the answer to that question. Quizzers are just one more great tool to add to our teacher toolbox of tricks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I love your 1 question quizzes! Unfortunately, in my READ 180 class, although I require 20+ minutes of reading each night, because everyone is reading something different, I can’t use your strategy. I do ask students to write 2-3 sentences about what they read each night and give them the option of a hard copy reading log or digital reading log using Google Forms. I also track pages read in school and at home and ask parents to sign off that their child did read. Despite these options, few students actually read at home. My kids are so far behind, reading far below where they should be. I just want them to read! Sometimes I am able to read a class novel at the end of the year. I will keep your strategies to use then. Thank you!

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  19. Oh yes, dleeohs, quizzers are a useful strategy when the whole class is reading the same novel, but that doesn’t seem to apply here. I’m not familiar with READ 180, but it sounds a bit like the SSR program I use, with every kid reading a different book he/she has chosen. Could you instead require book talks, an informal conversation with you about their books when they finish? I have some free support materials for SSR here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/SSR-Tired-of-Book-Reports-Try-this-FREE-idea-instead-Easy-grading-for-you-494444

    And, I agree, it’s such a frustration when kids aren’t reading at home and parents sign off on work that hasn’t actually happened. Ugh.

    Keep the faith!

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