3 Ways to Bring Up Test Scores with Reading Apprenticeship

Elementary Literacy

Last week we talked about ways you can start using Reading Apprenticeship in your classroom. Today, we’re going to cover three instructional “plug-and-play” strategies you can use with both STEM and ELA and how to modify them to fit the grades and reading levels of your students. All three of these strategies can be used at once, or in different combinations throughout an activity or lab…and they are VERY effective for giving students practice on reading and interpreting tests!

In this blog, we’ll go over the strategies, then show you two examples (one using tests) of how they can be applied. You’re helping students get over test anxiety when you frame tests as a kind of text that students are exposed to in the same manner as you would other materials used in class. Meaning, when kids view tests in the same light as reading a book, they are less likely to carry the anxiety that they normally would in a test-taking environment. In doing so, you are equipping students with strategies to interpret and analyze the language used in tests, and giving them opportunities to practice these skills in a stress-free environment. 


Strategy 1: Think-Pair-Share (TPS)

TPS can be used to engage your students about a new concept or idea. It can also be used after an investigation, after a lab.

Pose a question or a series of questions on the topic of your lab or lesson. 

  1. Have students THINK on their own about the answer, and list their facts and thoughts on the T-chart.
  2. PAIR students up. Have them compare their answers and COMBINE their answers.
    • This gives students the opportunity to DISCUSS what they see/summarize/gathered, and allows them to formulate new conclusions.  Use this time to circulate throughout the classroom and help “connect” students with the material.  
    • It is important that the teacher guides students and facilitates the sharing and discussion process, but does not give out answers. If you give out answers, then students won’t engage in deep thinking and they will not have the time they need to process and recontextualize their learning.
  3. In each pair, have students come up with 2-3 answers/facts/observations that they like and would like to share.
  4. Go through each pair and have them share 1 item from their list of 2-3 to derive a class list. The reason why you ask students for 2-3 items is so that when one is taken by another pair, they have others to share out. 
    • It’s okay if they do not have an answer! Either tell them that you will return to them later, or move on. 
  5. Once all pairs have shared, go back to the beginning questions and guide students to reflect and think about everyone’s responses.

Tips and Hints:

This strategy can be used with students of all ages. If your students are able to write down their answers, you can simply ask them to think about them until they are called on. By writing their answers down on the board, you are demonstrating literacy skills for your students. For pre-reading students, the process of dictating to a teacher and seeing their thoughts and ideas written down can help them start to connect ideas with writing and reading. 


Know – Want – Learn (K-W-L)

This strategy is great for introducing new concepts, test, or a new lab to your classroom because it engages students’ prior knowledge first (as in, it hits the Engage part of the i5Es). It is an excellent way to help students process science demos and discrepant events. 

  1. K is for what we KNOW about the topic/lab/picture/lecture. You start by having your students do a TPS brainstorm on the new topic or subject to generate a class list.
  2. W is for what we WANT to learn about the topic/lab/picture/lecture. Based on what they already know, what do they NEED or WANT to know in order to understand the topic.
    • Here, you can have students think about and generate a list of questions that they wonder about. 
  3. L is for what we LEARNED about the topic/lab/picture/lecture. This is the powerful piece of the entire lesson, because this step gives students time to reflect. Reflection is where learning gets absorbed and processed. After the lab/lecture, what did they learn? 

Tips and Hints:

If you have students who are able to read/write, you can have them divide a paper into three sections, one for KNOW, one for Want, and one for LEARNED. As they go through this process, have them write down notes about each section. You can also have them look back at their notes and reflect on how they learned new things about a new subject. 

Do the K and the W during your lab or lesson, then go over the L after it. This gives your students time to process what they have learned and makes it easier for them to articulate it. 

For pre-readers, you can also do this activity as a group and write your students’ answers on the board. 



T-charts help students organize and separate facts from their interpretations and connections. You can use this as a basis for writing a scientific conclusion, for reviewing notes, for reading a text, reviewing vocabulary, or for organizing information.

T-Charts are usually divided into two parts. You can break the two columns down in a variety of different ways, but it usually boils down to: Evidence (facts) on the left side, and Interpretation on the right side. You could also do things like: Facts vs. Thoughts, Vocab words vs. Definitions, Form vs. Function.

  1. The left side is for evidence, data, thoughts, observations.
  2. The right side is for interpretation, predictions, questions, and conclusions.

You can download a free copy of our T-Chart Metasheets in the STEAM Café  Library. The T-Charts are in the Student Metasheet section. 

Tips and Hints:

You can guide students through their first few T-charts by providing questions for how to fill one out. This is also great for having students describe what they know/understand about a concept vs. what they don’t know/want to know/don’t understand or are confused about. You can substitute T-charts into reading assignments because it makes students organize the information that they’ve read. The T-charts can then be a preliminary outline for writing a paragraph or essay.

If you have students who are pre-readers, you can do a T-Chart as a group activity, where you discuss the facts of the lesson and write them down on one section of the board. Then, you can write their interpretations and understanding on another section of the board.


Example 1: The Disappearing Cup Demo

Here is a YouTube video on the disappearing cup.

  1. Start the video at 0:15, and have them watch to 0:30. Pause the video, then ask students, “What do you know so far from watching the video?” 
    • Have students use a T-chart to list the facts of what they know on the left side of the paper.
    • Then also ask, “What do you think will happen when they pour the oil into the two beakers? Why do you think this?”
      • Their thoughts will then go on the right side of the T-chart.
        • Notice here, you’re getting students to hypothesize, and come up with evidence on their hypotheses.
  1. Have kids do a TPS by having them share their T-charts in pairs before coming up with a class T-chart that contains their observations and predictions.
  2. Next, have kids watch between 0:30-0:35. Pause the video at 0:35, with the picture of the oil and two beakers. Ask them, “What happened? Write down your observations.” Some of the kids will probably be surprised at what happened (because it is probably different from their predictions.”
    • Again, do a TPS using their T-charts to write down and discuss what happened.
    • For the class list, you can now summarize everything by asking, “What do we know so far?”
  3. Finally, have students watch the rest of the video. Then ask, “Why do you think this happened? What do we need to know in order to find the answer?”
    • Add this to the Want to learn. From there, have your students research, maybe experiment (you can repeat the demo with oil, then have a similar demo using water, syrup, etc.). 
  4. Conclude with “What did you learn?”


Example 2: Reading From a Book or a Test

These strategies can be applied toward learning how to interpret different pieces of texts and for breaking down TESTS. For example, this link will download sample mathematics test questions from Grade 3 (you can Google, “Sample test questions for grade ___” in either science or math to find more examples). Give students pages 7-8.

  1. Using the T-chart, have kids write “facts” about the test as they read. This is the “think” portion of TPS. You want them to pay attention to test structure and language. For example, one fact is that “Each test question has four possible answers.” Maybe another fact a student brings up is, “Mrs. Carter has 30 students in her classroom.”
    • The idea is that students are gleaning information from the test as they would if they were reading a book. You’re helping students use ELA strategies to “read” a test.
    • This isn’t about finding the answers to the actual questions. That comes later. Right now, it’s about what facts are students observing by reading the test.
  2. Pair kids up and have them compare their responses, discuss and share their observations. Then have them pick 3 and share 1 of their observations with the class. These responses go under the Know class list of KWL.
  3. Next, repeat steps 1-2, but instead of facts, have them list any questions that they have about the test. For instance, a student may not know what an array is. So a question they may write is, “What is an array?” These questions go on the left side of the T-chart. Maybe they don’t understand what the question is asking, or what an answer is saying. These are all questions that they can list. 
  4. Finally, have kids share, and put their paired (after TPS) responses in the Want to learn part of their class list.

Notice at this point, only the left side of their T-charts are being filled out. 

  1. Have students interpret and infer by asking them “What do these facts mean?” Have them draw arrows from their facts to their inferences. For example, with the statement “Each test has four possible answers,” ask students what that means when they take a test. They may say, “three of those answers will be wrong.” or “only one answer will be right.” If Mrs. Carter has 30 students in her classroom, a possible meaning could be “Her class is a lot bigger than ours”. Inferences are where students relate the facts from their tests to their own experiences and thoughts. It gets them to think about a question much more deeply — beyond just finding answers.
  2. Next, ask, “How will we find answers to the questions we generated?”
    • Do a TPS on this, and have students think about how they can find answers to THEIR questions (not the questions dictated by the test). What would they need to do to find the answer?
    • This part is VERY difficult at the start, because students are not used to thinking about questions outside of the actual test, itself. But, the exercise is very empowering because it shows that they come first. You may need to scaffold this and help them think about where they can go to find answers. 
    • If time permits, help kids answer their own questions… or at least help them figure out how those questions can be addressed.
      • Note: This is not necessarily going back to the math book. Instead, when kids ask, “What’s a fraction?” for example, and you ask, “Where can you go to find that out?” you’re guiding them to answer, “I can go to my math book,” which is what you’re helping them think about: How to use different sources of information to find what they need. Perhaps you show them how to use the index to find the word, or even have them look it up in a dictionary… 
  3. End the activity by asking, “What did we learn?” as the “L” part of KWL. Stick with questions about the process. It could be as simple as a student saying, “I learned where to go to find out about arrays.” 

You can use this activity to figure out the holes in a student’s learning ofo a unit in a far more powerful way. Rather than you questioning them, the kinds of questions that they generate will help you to see where students are having confusion and problems.

When you use these three strategies to interpret tests and books frequently throughout the year, you’re giving kids practice with taking tests in a way that doesn’t feel “testy” (I couldn’t resist the pun). Questions? Ask them in our Facebook group!

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