Surviving ELA Test Prep: 3 Skills to Teach

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Testing season is almost upon us, and we know it is chaotic – for teachers and students. We can still remember that sweaty-palm feeling as we sat down to take a test. It’s easy to want to review every skill and concept that could possibly be on the test, but that will only cause more chaos in the minds of our students, and our own!

photo of scantron and person taking test with banner reading surviving ELA test prep: 3 skills to teach

During this season of chaos, it’s important to stick to reviewing the essentials. There are three ELA test prep skills we suggest focusing on: topic sentences, supporting details, and annotating texts.

Why is ELA Test Prep Important?

Testing days are stressful and full of anxiety for students! We want students to feel successful and confident on the day of the exam because nerves can be a big deterrent in recall and the ability to focus. By bringing ELA test prep into your classroom, you can help ease some of the worries students feel.

Before the exam, plan meaningful test prep opportunities, so students are able to practice similar types of questions they will see on testing day. This in turn boosts their confidence and success

ELA test prep also gives you the opportunity to review skills, so students have the most important information fresh and clear in their brains. The goal is for students to arrive on test day feeling calm and prepared for the variety of questions that may show up.

What Activities are Appropriate to Prepare Students for Testing?

It’s critical that we consider the way we are preparing students during ELA test prep periods. We want test prep to be meaningful, so “drill and kill” with several tests back-to-back is only going to wear students out – and they probably won’t walk away with more knowledge.

There are lots of ways to authentically inject review into your schedule leading up to testing.  This can be done during bell ringers or an early finisher station. Reviewing at your teacher table during centers is also a good idea because it allows you to really see what students are struggling with and help fill in the gaps.  

After students leave the teacher table, they can practice the skills independently or with a partner in stations. The key here is really making the most of your classroom time without having to completely revamp your schedule just for test prep.

Now, let’s talk specifically about the 3 skills we suggest reviewing during your test prep time.

ELA test prep 3 skills to teach: topic sentences, supporting details, annotation to help students with written responses and multiple choice test questions

Teaching Topic Sentences during ELA Test Prep

Reviewing with students how to both identify and write topic sentences is crucial for ELA test prep. Topic sentences tell the reader what a paragraph will be about. If students have mastered topic sentences, they have also mastered the main idea! Reviewing this concept will help students nail both written response questions AND multiple choice questions! 

Being able to identify the topic sentence in the reading passages on the ELA test, will help students understand what they are reading and be better prepared to respond to the questions. 

As well, having a topic sentence is a required feature for written portions of ELA tests, so this knowledge helps with point totals. The topic sentence typically includes the answer to the question as well. Additionally, topic sentences help students stay organized when writing a response to a question because they can refer back to it if they lose their train of thought. 

Identifying and writing well-developed topic sentences can be a daunting skill for students to learn, but since they’re such a huge part of reading comprehension and writing, this is a great place to focus during ELA test prep.

If you want to help students work on topic sentences, try these two activities.

First, give students a variety of mentor texts (old ELA Test passages are perfect for this) and have them identify the topic sentences. You can also have them write their own topic sentences or the main idea for individual paragraphs across the passages. 

Another activity is simply practice writing. Give students various practice prompts and have them create topic sentences. Some example prompts that may show up on test days are  “How is character X and character Y similar?” or “What is the theme of this article?” Model for students how you would tackle a topic sentence for that prompt, and then allow them to practice. 
If you want to read more about teaching topic sentences, we have an entire blog on three steps for teaching topic sentences!

Teaching Supporting Details during ELA Test Prep

Reviewing supporting details helps students to identify the important ideas of a text, which in turn helps them comprehend what the text is actually about. If a student can tell you the main idea of a text and support that with details, they have a clear grasp and understanding of the text! 

Identifying and writing supporting details will also show up in the multiple choice and written response portions of the ELA exam. Going over this skill will be worth your time. Be sure students know synonyms for supporting details that may show up in test questions like key ideas, evidence, and proof.

To practice supporting details, we suggest these two activities.

One activity is to select a few nonfiction texts and have students identify the supporting details right on the text. They can underline or star each key detail. This will allow students to become more efficient and effective at finding the most important information in the text, which will likely be what many questions are related to. 
The second activity is to have students to practice writing supporting details. You can use prompts about texts the students are familiar with already, to facilitate success and increase confidence during test prep. We like to teach students to use a graphic organizer. This scaffolds the process for students and really helps visual learners. On the graphic organizer, we like to include a space for the topic sentence and the supporting details. This creates a “road map” of the text. Talk to students about how they can generate a similar organizer during the test on the planning pages to help them create complete, organized response to writing questions. 
If you want to read more about teaching supporting details, check out our blog on teaching supporting details in five easy steps.

Teaching Annotation during ELA Test Prep

Essentially, annotation supports students’ comprehension, recall, interpretation, and analysis of a text.

When students successfully annotate a text, they will be actively reading while making notes as they read. These notes will benefit them both during a multiple choice section and a written response section of the ELA test. Annotating also encourages students to slow down and really process what they are reading.

Having the notes on the text will allow students to more easily find the information they need to answer questions, without having to re-read the entire passage (which let’s be honest, most students will not be doing). 

Overall, it will save them a ton of time, effort, and energy to focus on reading the first time, rather than rereading and searching for answers. 

ELA Test Prep Resource

Want a simple way to prepare for the upcoming exam? Our Differentiated Paragraph Writing Bundle puts together the skills of writing topic sentences, supporting details, and annotating for the ultimate ELA test prep review. 

photo of the cover of a resource that says Differentiated Paragraph Writing Bundle with Topic Sentence, Supporting Details, Concluding Sentence, Transition Words & MORE

With the topic sentence resource, students will walk away with a better understanding of what a main idea/topic sentence is and how to identify it. This can be applied to their test prep review by understanding the big picture of a text and answering skill-based questions about the main idea. 

With the supporting details resource, students will learn how to identify and write supporting details. Students will master how to identify what supporting detail can be added to a text, and how to write supporting details for written responses.

Across all resources in this bundle, students will have the opportunity to practice annotating a text by highlighting the topic sentence, supporting detail, etc. The texts in all of these resources are short, making them the perfect quick addition to test prep activities you already have for your class. 

Preparing for ELA tests can be a challenging and time-consuming task for both teachers and students alike. We want to take a moment to wish all the teachers good luck with their ELA test prep. Your dedication and hard work in helping your students develop essential skills are crucial for their success. Remember to utilize a variety of strategies and resources to engage your students and provide them with the necessary support and guidance to achieve their full potential. 

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