Hold Their Feet to the Fire

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

UPDATE – More questions about quizzers inspired this YouTube video:

Teach on, my friend.

41 thoughts on “Hold Their Feet to the Fire

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

  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?

  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. 🙂

  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.

  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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Lorri Connor says:

    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!

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

  13. 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!

  14. 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. 🙂

  15. Amy stricklin says:

    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!

  16. 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. 🙂

  17. 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!

  18. 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!

  19. Hey, Laura!

    These “quizzers” seem like a really effective way to make sure students do their reading!

    I have one question though… do you grade these as HOMEWORK (for reading assignments) or as QUIZZES?

    Also, what kind of questions do you ask in these quizzers? I am too afraid of making questions that students who don’t have a VERY VERY COMPREHENSIVE understanding of the chapter wouldn’t get but also I’m too afraid of making questions that students would be able to find the answer to online.

    Thank you!

  20. Hi Eng10Santos,
    Great questions! I enter the 5-point quizzers into the “quiz/test” category of my grade book. When I’m deciding on what to ask as the quizzer question, I think of a unique detail that sticks out in the mind if someone was actively reading/picturing the scene in his or her mind. For example, when my freshmen read ch. 1 from Of Mice and Men, I might ask something like, “Lennie kept accidentally killing his pet mice because he pet them too hard, his Aunt Clara gave him this item instead, but Lennie didn’t like it. What was the item that Aunt Clara gave Lennie when he lived at her farm?” Then, students would need to answer, “A rubber mouse” (Lennie didn’t like it because it “wasn’t no good to pet.” It wasn’t soft like a real mouse.) Really, anything that is visual, gross, or funny usually makes my quizzer question list.

    Also, use your best students as a guide as you hone your questioning skills. If everyone’s bombing the quizzer even though most of them are doing the HW reading, then you’re picking out details that are too small or insignificant. It’ll definitely get easier the more quizzer questions you use.

    Hope this helps! 🙂

  21. Thanks, Laura!

    I have a few more questions: do you give separate chapter quizzes too? Or do you just have 5-point quizzers serve as quizzes?

    Also, are you not afraid that when you use different questions for different classes, that one question may be slightly more difficult or slightly easier than the other? That something in a quizzer for one class may be about something more significant or less significant than a quizzer given to another class?

    Thanks again! 🙂

  22. Hi again! Nope, no other chapter quizzes since the quizzers after HW reading nights give me a clear picture of which students are/aren’t doing the reading and I have a lot of other assessment tools (text-based characterization activities, close reading annotations, short-answer questions, etc.) that I use as we work through a novel. I do usually give an end-of-unit exam, though.

    Am I afraid of unbalanced quizzer experiences in different sections? Not at all. The quizzer questions have, for the most part, the same level of rigor and any variance is smoothed out in the long run. Happily, this hasn’t ever been an issue or question raised by my students or their parents. I also vary in-class essay questions among my different class sessions for our end-of-unit writing assessments. No issues there, either. This is sad to say, but I know my kids and some of them will cheat and share questions with friends in later sections. Varying questions is an effective way of keeping them honest.

    Glad you’re thinking deeply on this and I’m hopeful you find a way to make the process work for your classroom. 🙂

  23. Thanks, Laura!

    I’m so sorry for asking so many questions, and I don’t mean to disturb you or anything.

    When you assign multiple chapters for a reading assignment, do you do one quizzer per chapter or just choose one question for all the chapters assigned?

    Thank you so much, once again! 🙂

  24. It’s no bother at all, Eng10Santos. I love talkin’ shop! Okay, so when students are assigned to read two or three chapters in an evening (rare, but it does happen, esp. in my advanced classes), I still give just one quizzer question from just one of the assigned chapters. They don’t know which chapter I’ll choose to focus on, so they need to read all three attentively in order to earn those points. I sell it like a game show.

    There’s no harm in giving one quizzer question per chapter if you prefer, but I just try to keep the quizzers short and sweet so we can move on to the business of the day. Hope this helps! 🙂

  25. Okay, so what about short stories and poems? Do you do quizzers for those as well?

    And about plays that have text that may be difficult for kids to comprehend, such as the Shakespearean plays? Do you do quizzers for them too, even though they may have a hard time reading Elizabethan English, or do you just use a parallel text (Elizabethan English on left side, Modern English on the right) so they can understand it better?

    Alright, thank you so much, Laura! You’re amazing!

  26. Oh, you don’t want to overdo the quizzers, Eng10Santos. They’re really just an accountability tool to use when working through longer works that require a fair amount of at-home reading, so, no, I don’t use these for shorter works. Also, almost all of our Shakespeare plays are read aloud in class, so I don’t usually quizzer those works, either. If I have an honors-level class that, say, finishes a scene from Romeo & Juliet on their own, then I might use a quizzer just to make sure they kept pace, but most of my grade-level classes wouldn’t be able to successfully read that on their own so no quizzers in that situation.

    Thanks! 🙂

  27. Hi! For these short quizzes, do you give students their own quiz papers with the question on them? Do you just ask them to take out a piece of binder paper? How long do they have to take these quizzes?

    Thank you!

  28. Hi Robert,
    Oh, these are super-short little quizzers that take next to no time at all to prep, take, and grade. I have students grab a half-sheet of binder paper; they usually tear a piece in half and give the other half to a friend. I ask the question (nothing’s pre-printed) and students have, say, 90 seconds or so to write down their answer. I collect them, we discuss the answer, and then smoothly transition into a deeper discussion of the chapter. Easy! 🙂

  29. hello laura! i just found your blog and i think it’s really nice of you to be helping teachers out with your tips. if you don’t mind me asking, why do you call these things “quizzers”? where’d you get the name? thanks! 🙂

  30. Great question, kelsiclarkblog. A “quizzer” is so small that I didn’t want to call it a quiz. I mean, the question’s worth only five points. One of my science teacher friends used to give big quizzes that she called “quests” – you know, not a quiz, but not a test. A quest. “Quizzer” must’ve come out of that conversation, but I don’t remember precisely. They’ve just always been quizzers. 🙂

    So glad you found the blog. Welcome to the party!

  31. thanks! 🙂

    do you also give full quizzes from time to time? if so, when?

    also, i was reading some comments above and in other posts and you mentioned that you don’t ask questions that you find the answers to online.

    what do you do if the only details in the book that you find (that are not found online) are too insignificant?

  32. Sure thing! I do occasionally give full quizzes, usually paragraph responses whenever the pace of a particular class allows or I feel like I need a deeper response or writing sample from my kids. In a full novel unit, I might end up with 10 quizzers, two quizzes, and a unit exam or essay. I haven’t ever had a problem finding fair quizzer questions, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that. As you read, look for moments that are funny, weird, or gross – those tend to be memorable but not Spark Note-able. Happy reading!

  33. alright, thank you! i was just wondering, do you have quizzers for fahrenheit 451 in your tpt store? if not, are you going to be putting them up there anytime soon? thanks again! 🙂

  34. Sorry to disappoint, kelsiclark, but I don’t have my F451 quizzers available. When I invent a human clone, I may finally have time to go back and flesh out a full unit for F451, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon and I have so many other projects in front of me. Again, sorry.

  35. hi! i’m just wondering, if you had students read a portion of a chapter in class and you had a quizzer the next day, would you make sure to choose a question about an event in the chapter that happens after the class stops reading together, or would it not matter to you?

  36. Hi Kelsi,
    Yes, you’ve got it! I would choose a question from the reading section they were assigned to complete on their own. Thanks for the question! 🙂

  37. Heidi Plocher says:

    I started this with my sophomores last Spring with your TKaM unit bundle. The sophomores this year are twice in number (!) and far less (ahem) academically focused, so I’ve been using this quiz/reading check with them in our current study of Shakespeare’s “A Misummer Night’s Dream” – one question per scene. As much as the kids complain, I think they actually look forward to the Question of the Day. I’ve even begun turning it into a timed event – slip of paper goes face down, three-two-one count down, and go! The kids get about 30 seconds to answer, because, as you know, they either know it, or they don’t.

  38. Yup, Heidi, 30 seconds sounds about right. Quizzers are quick to give and quick to grade. I also like that I can very quickly notice which kids repeatedly miss the question and then investigate a bit about what’s up. Is the kid not reading or does he/she need study support? With so many kids crammed in our classes, I needed to find assessment tools that didn’t eat up too much time. I know you’re right there with me.

  39. Christina says:

    Hi Laura,

    I’m love your ideas on your site. Do you have an example of what a one question quizzer would look like for a short story?

  40. Thanks so much, Christina! For short stories, I use the same barometer as I do with chapters of novels; basically, anything that’s especially visual, gross, or funny usually makes my quizzer question list. For example, when my freshmen read ch. 1 from Of Mice and Men, I might ask something like, “Lennie kept accidentally killing his pet mice because he pet them too hard, his Aunt Clara gave him this item instead, but Lennie didn’t like it. What was the item that Aunt Clara gave Lennie when he lived at her farm?” Then, students would need to answer, “A rubber mouse” (Lennie didn’t like it because it “wasn’t no good to pet.” It wasn’t soft like a real mouse.) As I read the short story, I’d try to focus on a memorable detail. Don’t make it impossible, but look for things that an alert reader would remember. Hope this helps! 🙂

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: