Here’s a low-prep, high-quality formative assessment idea that I’ll definitely be adding to my classes this year. Thanks to a dear friend in the history department who encouraged me to modify her idea for my English teacher posse (You’re the best, M.W.!), I’m happy to present Odd One Out, a short-answer response idea that should immediately show which students are deeply interacting with text and which ones are struggling.

The plan: Midway through a unit, I’ll write on the board the names of five characters from the current novel/play we’re studying. Then, students will be assigned to write down the name of the character that doesn’t belong in the group. Finally, students need to explain the reasoning of their choice in just two sentences.

You may have seen this technique before with our elementary friends, who use elimination activities to teach classification/groupings. For example, a kindergarten teacher might ask the littles:
kindergartenIn high school, though, we can use a more-nuanced version where there is no obviously correct answer. Students will have to think logically as they build this little drop of argumentative writing.

An example: Suppose we’ve just finished Act 3.1 of Romeo & Juliet. [Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!] Mercutio is dead, Tybalt is dead, and Romeo’s just been banishéd. As an end-of-class activity, I’ll have students take out a half-sheet of paper as I write on the board:

Now, there’s no single right answer here and it’ll be interesting to see students’ thought processes. One student may choose Juliet because she’s the only character in this group at the end of 3.1 who is unaware of the tragedy that has occurred on the streets of Verona that hot afternoon. Another student may choose Romeo because he’s the only one in this group no longer allowed to live in Verona. He’s now a murderer on the run. No matter the choice, if the student’s rationale is reasonable then I’ll give him/her credit. Also, I may not even score these with points to add to the gradebook. Instead, I may just read and comment on the rationales.

My friend M.W. uses Odd One Out with her A.P. U.S. History classes, listing five historic figures and having students explain which one of the five doesn’t belong in the group. To facilitate class discussion and to ease her grading load, she has students swap their answers/rationales, which are then graded by classmates. She models what a top-scoring answer might look like, but also encourages class discussion of other possibly valid answers. After the discussion, which helps reinforce the people and concepts of their current unit of study, students sign their names as the graders of their classmates’ papers and then she collects everything. Inaccurately grade a friend’s paper? It’s points off of your paper’s score, buddy.

Also, M.W. lets her students know that their two-sentence rationales need to be rich in thought. For example, if she gave a list of five historical characters, four of whom were men and one of whom happened to be a woman, she wouldn’t give credit for an answer that involved the Odd One Out being the woman with a rationale based solely on gender. Duh. She’s looking for a deeper understanding of the political alliances of this particular grouping. In my R&J example above, I intentionally didn’t include four teen characters and one adult character nor did I include four Montague characters and one Capulet. I’m going to try my best to side-step the lazy-answer temptation by presenting complex groupings of characters. We’ll see how it goes…

Do you have any quick, yet challenging assessment tools that are easy to manage? You know I’m always looking for fresh ideas to add to my bag of tricks.

Teach on, everyone!

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Laura,
    I love this idea! You should seriously consider writing an ehandbook of sorts full of your classroom management/formative assessment ideas. I’d snatch that puppy up in a nano second haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Meg! Maybe someday (*wink*wink), but for now I’m just going to keep feeding the blog. This is my own little cozy corner of the internet. 🙂

    Hope you’re set for a great 15-16!


  3. I LOVE this idea…teach at an alternative site and this could be a very effective assessment tool that they find somewhat challenging/fun(?)…thanks.


  4. You have the wheels turning in my mind with ideas for how to use this. I never cease to marvel at teachers’ creativity and willingness to share.


  5. I love it! You are truly an inspiration.


  6. Such a great tool! I just incorporated a new assessment tool in my classroom this past year- I write key terms on my board, such as

    The Crucible, Act One

    Key Terms: Sick, betrayal, woods, marriage, uncertainty, loyalty, meeting.

    The student must use all of these terms in an analysis paragraph based on that act.

    It is so good to mix it up!


  7. I love this, Kelly! I’m definitely grabbing this one!


  8. I love reading about your ideas, Laura, and we are fortunate that you share your wonderful creativity with all of us. I haven’t discovered your products or blog until only a few months ago, but I am going to faithfully read your blog in hopes that your creativity and dynamic teaching will rub off on me. Thank you!

    One assessment tool I use is similar, and I use it to check to determine how well–or IF–students completed their reading assignment. I call it “Find the Fib.” I list 3 or 4 true statements from the reading and one lie. Students have to identify the lie and correct it to make it a truth. It’s also easy for students to swap and grade.


  9. Well, your creativity is rubbing off on me, Michelle! Genius idea. Consider “Find the Fib” officially added to my arsenal. Thanks!


  10. I just wanted to let you know about a variation on this that I used this past week. To open the lesson, I wrote up six of the characters from Death of a Salesman on the whiteboard. I asked the students to rank the characters from 1 to 6. They had to decide on the criteria they were going to use, and then justify the order in which they placed the characters. It worked really well, and I got lots of thoughtful justifications.

    Thanks for all the inspiration!


  11. Yes, Kelley, greatness is here! Your ranking + justification is so simple and so rich. I can’t wait until I get into a novel study to try this one! Keep ’em coming…


  12. Awesome idea! This post reminded me of this site: (which one doesn’t belong).


  13. Great link, CWE. It’s pretty awesome when math and English collide! 🙂


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