Formative Assessment of Literacy


How do you assess students’ literacy development in your content area classroom?

A high school teacher recently described how she used the “metacognitive sentence frames” included on our Think aloud bookmarks in a cycle of instruction, formative assessment and more informed instruction.

Think Aloud Bookmark (click to enlarge)

The bookmarks contain prompts intended to remind readers to use comprehension-supporting strategies during reading: predicting, summarizing, questioning, clarifying, making connections to prior knowledge, engaging and visualizing.

Although they have been adapted and modified in many places by many teachers, you can see the bookmarks in their original form and download them for classroom use.

Here is the cycle of formative assessment and informed instruction this teacher found useful:


First, the teacher introduced the bookmarks and discussed how people in the class approach challenging reading. Over time, she modeled and guided practice in specific strategies listed on the bookmark. For example, to model how to summarize with the frame “The big idea here is/ summary”:

  • In advance of reading with students, she read her textbook selection for the lesson and identified the main idea.
  • During the lesson, she projected the text and annotated as she thought aloud using the sentence stem on the bookmark: “The main idea here is…,” then underlined the relevant section in the text and wrote a quick summary in the margin.
  • After this brief model, she asked pairs of students to practice identifying, underlining and summarizing big ideas in the next section.
  • After reading, she invited students to discuss their summaries (the content) and how annotations and summaries support understanding (reading processes) with the whole group.
  • When she assigned reading after this initial modeling and practice, she asked students to look for opportunities summarize while reading that were helpful to them and to annotate their pages with notes about their summaries.


Periodically she would have students assess their own strategy usage, using the bookmarks as an assessment tool.

  • She  asked students to exchange papers with a partner. Using the bookmarks as tally sheets, she asked students make a check mark on the bookmark each time they saw an annotation that showed their partner used one of the strategies.
  • In whole class conversation, she encouraged partners to share what they noticed about reading processes.
  • She collected the bookmarks and work samples and scanned them to get a sense of trends: are students using more strategies? Which ones? Which strategies need additional modeling and practice?


She noticed that students began to summarize spontaneously and shifted her attention to modeling and practicing new strategies.

  • She continued to ask students to annotate their clarifying (or questioning or re-reading) processes as they read.
  • She used the evidence from their work samples to make decisions about when to introduce new strategies and how long to guide practice.

How do you assess students’ literacy development in your content area classroom?

Download Think aloud bookmarks-checklist (pdf).

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