Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

“They know how to do that! They did so well in class… I don’t understand how they missed this one!”

We’ve all said it while pouring over benchmark data or last year’s scores. That sinking feeling of bewilderment at our students’ inability to perform on a specific test question is all too familiar. We know we taught it to them, and we saw them successful with it in the classroom and just for the life of us can’t comprehend how they could have missed it.

Part of this is simply understanding the language of the test. Academic vocabulary is huge. A student who understands the development of the plot in a passage can still miss a plot question on test day if he/she isn’t familiar with tier II and III vocabulary such as contribute, develop, conflict, or rising action. We need to make sure we are repeatedly exposing our students to academic vocabulary and teaching them to use it in context during discussions.

Start with a Word Wall

Word walls aren’t just for little kids and sight words. They are great for showing academic and tier II vocabulary words as they are introduced throughout the year. It keeps the words fresh in the students’ minds, serves as an excellent reference, and empowers the students to use them on their own.


  • If you teach multiple subject areas, you can color code your word wall to categorize the vocabulary words.
  • Adding a short definition (or even a graphic) to the words helps learners remember their definitions.

Have Fun with It!

Use Crossword Puzzles


These 5 reading review crosswords provide a fun, engaging, and quiet way for your third grade students to review the academic vocabulary they’ve learned throughout the year. Our kids have a lot thrown at them in third grade reading and need a refresher to review all of that vocabulary.

Play an Academic Vocabulary Game

Vocabulary Game

Turn vocabulary review into a station game! I love this board game from Upper Elementary Bliss because of the variety in ways that it has the students reviewing their vocabulary words. Using the word in a sentence, giving examples & synonyms, asking questions about the word, and connecting it to related words learned in class, in addition to simply giving the definition solidifies a much rounder understanding of the word. You can easily adapt this game to your grade level and state standards by choosing the specific vocabulary words that you want your students to practice. (It comes with a set of 69 vocabulary words.)

Remember that word wall? Print off an extra set of the words from this game on cardstock and you are all set with the words to hang up!

Use Question Stems Throughout the Year

If you really want the students to understand the language of the test you need to be using it throughout the year. Not just the vocabulary, but the phrasing as well. Word your questions like the test to help them understand what the question is asking. You can’t explain it to them on test day, but you sure as heck can now.

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Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test

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hello, i'm laura heinen from cultivating critical readers

I help third and fourth grade RLA teachers like you create engaging and effective reading lessons without all the stress.

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