What if I told you that there is a classroom activity that . . .

  • helps students prepare for upcoming multiple choice tests,
  • promotes metacognition,
  • gets students moving,
  • strengthens longterm memory, and
  • you don’t have to grade any of it?

Not only is there such an activity, but it is the kind of activity that can be appealing to teachers from different backgrounds and different styles. If you are the kind of teacher who appreciates traditional lecture, this is for you. If you prefer a more progressive approach to teaching, this is for you. And if you like research-backed strategies, this is for you!

Years ago, I attended a summer training for the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition (AP Lang) course I was teaching at the time. My instructor, Chris Baldwin, delivered incredibly helpful content and perspective all week long, and I walked away a better teacher. The majority of his teaching remained specific to AP Lang, but he taught us a few strategies that are transferable to other subjects, and the one that I am going to describe here is broadly applicable in all subject areas.

Baldwin called it “The Standing Quiz” because students were to be given a portion of the multiple choice section of a practice AP Lang exam and they would stand up to demonstrate which answer they chose. While standing, he would call on students to share their thinking and record who shared. That’s pretty much it. Even though it’s a simple activity, it’s incredibly effective. Let’s take a look.

Here’s a breakdown of the steps:

  1. Administer the practice test (no more than 15 questions, though 5 is probably best).
  2. When time is up, collect scantrons/answer sheet for accountability.
  3. Keeping practice tests, students review their answers.
  4. Starting with question 1, call on those who chose the letter A to stand up.
  5. From those standing, call on three students at random and ask them to explain . . .
    • why they chose this letter as the answer, or
    • why they avoided choosing another letter as their answer.
  6. Record students called upon (so you don’t call on them later).
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for each letter available as a possible answer.
  8. Reveal the answer to the question.
  9. Repeat steps 4 – 8 until you have covered all the questions.

The first year that I tried this with my AP Lang class, after the exam in May, I surveyed the students asking them what helped most in their preparation. Many who struggled initially with multiple choice at the start of the academic year suggested that The Standing Quiz was the activity that helped them the most. They claimed it helped because they were able to hear their classmates’ thought-process, especially how classmates selected certain answers and how/why they avoided distractors. Essentially, they had access to their classmates’ thinking that they previously didn’t have (unless they were friends who debriefed after a test, and even then they didn’t go over each question).

The one caveat to their reflection that is worth mentioning is the discomfort some students experience. For each student who found hearing the metacognitive thought-process of their classmates, there was a student who was uncomfortable with that moment of standing up and revealing to the whole class the answer he or she chose in response to the question at hand. What if this student was the only one who chose this answer? And what if it was obviously wrong to everyone but this student?

With my classes, I work to make the environment as supportive as possible for all of my students. I can help them get past those awkward moments–even when they will experience that feeling of embarrassment–by reframing the experience as an opportunity for feedback and encouragement from everyone in the room. Yet after doing this activity for a couple of years, I wanted to find a way to get students to reveal their metacognition while taking that spotlight-type feeling off of each person and reducing the amount of class time spent on the activity itself (a 12-15 question multiple choice practice can eat up an entire class period).

What I liked about the activity:

  • It “forces” students to draw up their thinking to the surface and explain it. (Unless students are asked to do this, they won’t make a regular practice of it).
  • Every student gets to hear how others think through a problem.
  • The repetition of going over a problem multiple times strengthens students’ recall of the information needed to respond to the problem with the correct answer.

What I didn’t like about the activity:

  • It took too long (12-15 questions took an entire period).
  • It put students on the spot, especially being one of the few standing while others were sitting.
  • If students wanted to hide, they could choose not to stand up.
Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

The Standing Quiz Meets Four Corners

There were two great features from The Standing Quiz that I absolutely wanted to keep moving forward: first, students hearing one another’s metacognition (especially the thought-processes fellow classmates used in deciding how to respond on a multiple choice question), and second, the whole-class formative feedback given about how they were doing on practice exams.

After conferring with a colleague, we decided to test run a new version of The Standing Quiz that essentially functioned in the same way as the four corners classroom discussion activity (not sure what that is, then check out this very brief video tutorial). Instead of labelling each corner on a spectrum from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” we decided that each corner would be a possible answer: A, B, C, & D. Of course, being an AP Lang class, we needed a space to represent the letter E for the fifth option in the multiple choice exam, so we made a made a sign that we placed in the center of the classroom.

Here’s a breakdown of the steps:

  1. Before administering the test, place a letter in each corner of the room (and make a mobile sign for the letter E that can be placed in the middle of the room when needed).
  2. Administer the practice test.
  3. When time is up, collect scantrons/answer sheet for accountability.
  4. Keeping practice tests, students review their answers.
  5. Starting with question 1, ask students to stand up and go to the corner (or center) that represents their answer.
  6. When students are in their respective corners, letter by letter, cold-call students to respond by explaining . . .
    • why they chose that letter as the answer, or
    • why they avoided choosing another letter as their answer.
  7. Record students called upon (so you don’t call on them later).
  8. Reveal the answer to the question..
  9. Repeat steps 4 – 8 until you have covered all the questions.

I immediately liked this iteration of The Standing Quiz far better than the first version. All students were moving at the same time (which I want to happen as much as possible in class period), I could see visually how the class as a whole responded to each question, and there was far less tension in the air because everyone was already standing (no one felt alone or singled out).

Each time I did this activity with students, I would find more ways to shave time while keeping, and expanding on, the features that I loved so much in the first iteration of The Standing Quiz.

  • Instead of calling on a set number of students with each question, if we could see that most of the students in the class were gathered in the same corner, we would quickly explore why, then reveal the answer to move on to the next question.
  • When the responses were more disparate, then we would explore by drilling down on all the thinking that lay behind the answers to those questions.
  • I started letting students switch locations if they heard something convincing in their classmate’s metacognition that may have caused them to change their mind. And when they moved locations, I would ask them to explain why, which led to everyone hearing more about why a classmate’s thought-process was convincing.

Eventually, I grew skilled enough with this activity that I could finish a 12-15 multiple choice practice in 30 minutes, which gave me enough class time to work on another element of the course. Though, if I needed to give a class period to this activity, it would be a good use of everyone’s time. In addition, as their teacher, I was able to see which questions the students were struggling with the most while hearing their thinking behind their responses. This information was invaluable to me and told me far more about “what they understood and still needed to learn” than I ever would have inferred through running scantrons and talking with other teachers about the results.

Why make the students walk around? Can’t you just use some online polling app to collect all the data?

Perhaps this thought came up as you were reading. Maybe the idea of students wandering the classroom makes you a bit uncomfortable, and you may have students who would struggle to handle this activity with maturity. If you’re concerned about the safety of your students, then using an online polling app like Kahoot is a great alternative to having students move around the room. But the benefits of movement on cognitive function is picking up steam in the research community (see Michael Kuczala’s TEDx Talk “The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through Movement”). It would be of a greater benefit to your students to get them out of their seats and moving during this activity, not only cognitively, but it may also help them with retrieval later on.

Other Ways to Use The Standing Quiz During Classroom Instruction

Exam practice need not be the only reason for using The Standing Quiz. This is an activity that can be applied in several other scenarios.

Break up a lecture

If you’re a teacher who values traditional lecture with note-taking, then using The Standing Quiz to break the lecture into three or more parts can help students to better retain information. Taking notes is proven to increase learning (see more about this here), and is a natural fit for a lecture (though this is not the only time when students should take notes). But, just as it was mentioned in the TEDx Talk linked above, after an amount of time sitting and doing the same activity, a student’s brain is signaling his body that it’s time to power down. What if every 10-12 minutes there was a slide that asked students to turn over their notes, stand up, and answer a multiple choice question? The students then go to the corner that represents their answer and the teacher can cold call students to respond with their thinking.

This activity becomes a form of retrieval practice (learn more about this strategy here) that increases the likelihood that the information will move into longterm memory, and they will be able to recall the information on the day of the exam. It is also a great way for the teacher to check for understanding without having to do Exit Tickets or hand score a quiz after the students have left the classroom. If the students are misunderstanding the material, this can be cleared up on the spot. And it has the added benefit of resetting the brain through movement, so that when students resume note-taking moments later, they are more attentive.

Transition between Two Activities

If you have a two part lesson, this is a great opportunity to use The Standing Quiz. With lecture, I would break it up one question at a time spread out over the course of the lesson. Here, I would apply the same practice, but would stack three to four questions together as part of the transition. The benefits and practice are the same as in the case above, only the deployment is different.

Pop Quiz

Let’s say that you are in the middle of a unit, you have been working on retrieval practice with your students, and the summative assessment is looming. You want your students to be ready for upcoming test, and you want to see what your students can recall without giving them warning. Looks like a pop quiz is in order! But instead of hand scoring it on paper, use The Standing Quiz.

But instead of simply presenting multiple choice questions that cover a lower depth of knowledge, crank up the rigor and pose very difficult questions that will cause students to recall with effort (which will strengthen their long-term memory; see more here). Consider adding this wrinkle: when you cold call students to explain their thought-process behind choosing their answer, invite those listening in other corners to change their answers. This presents a slight shift in the pop quiz from recall into argument, which gives students another way to process the information.

[Note: In all the scenarios listed above, be sure to aid students in their thinking if they are in error. When novices express their reasoning with confidence (known as the Dunning-Krueger Effect), especially when classmates see these students as experts, then students may recall the errant thinking instead of the learning presented by the teacher.]

Pres and Wshop Pic 1

Before you go, I wanted to inform you that offer presentations and workshops for teachers, and I would be thrilled to come present to the good people in your organization. Above is a picture of me presenting at the National School Transformation Conference to room full of teachers, principals, and district-level leaders. See what I have to offer ==> HERE <== .

QUESTION: What are some ways you get students to process their thinking aloud for their classmates?

Stay connected with everyone following Make Them Master It, and receive notifications of each new post by email.

Join 4,346 other subscribers

8 thoughts on “The Standing Quiz: Get 100% Participation, Engage Student Metacognition, and Grade None of It!

  1. Sounds like a useful strategy and one that I shall try out. I am looking for activities/strategies that build self-efficacy, self-regulation and metacognitive skills.


  2. Any ideas to avoid mob mentality as students move to the corners? For the student who didn’t know but doesn’t want to be called on who just follows other students to a corner.


    1. I have not faced these scenarios, but if I was I would take a minute to explain how students need to move around the room. If a student doesn’t have an answer prepared when called upon, it’s a bit of a natural consequence for being unprepared in front of everyone. Usually what I would do is give some wait time and perhaps the student needs a bit to think on their response. If they blank and have nothing to say, I tend to turn it to the class, or in this case the corner, and say, “Can anyone help out X with a response?”

      Ultimately, each teacher is an expert on what will work or won’t work for the students in front of them. I suggest any teacher facing an issue of student maturity getting in the way, think through whether or not this is a good fit for your students, and if it it is try to anticipate where the students will have difficulty and prepare to help them through that difficulty.


  3. I have used 4 corners method with some success, but it does take a lot of time. Chatty classes don’t do well with this method. I’m going to try the first method you’ve explained as I think it’s more manageable. Thank you.

    BTW, I have been to one of Chris’ workshops as well. I’m not sure if you heard, but he died a few years back.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.