A few years back at the National Council for Social Studies, or NCSS, I heard a session from these guys at Standford University. Their presentation topic was about redesigning our tests. It was aptly titled Beyond the Bubble. A catchy name for sure; it clearly stuck in my head. Check out their site here it focuses on American history, but you could get swipe some ideas from them.

Their presentation and ideas were good, but what I found even more illuminating was the notion that our tests haven’t really changed in the 400 years of formal education. Our tests still center mainly around the same core question types. As with most things, the idea was intriguing but one I would not tackle for some time. This school year would be the year that I would focus on going beyond the bubble. Below are the ones that I have found or came up with. Enjoy…

Question Ideas:



1. Odd One Out:

Odd one out is the age-old which one of these doesn’t belong. It is a nice HOT, or higher ordered thinking question, as it asks kids to really process a lot of information. To make an odd one out, pictured below, you have three things that have something in common and one that doesn’t fit. Then you have an answer box where students need to describe all components of their answers. That would mean they would have to select which doesn’t belong and define it. Then, students need to explain what the three others have in common.

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2. Visual Definitions:

As humans we think in pictures not words. I thought it was about time to put that same idea on a test. Pictured below is a test question that asks people to draw the definition of the acropolis from both the top and the side view. This style of question is open to interpretation. However, with something like acropolis, there are key things that need to be in the image such as a high hill.

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3. Story Board Essay

The story board essay would be made up of 3-4 of the images seen. The box on the left is for students to draw the first part of their storyboard. With the box on the right, students explain their drawing. I use this instead of a traditional essay some times. I also have students highlight key vocab terms in their written responses. As a history teacher this is a great way to show understanding of an event. I could see this used in all classes.

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4. Story Cubes…


Now these are awesome for an essay. Students had to roll all nine dice and then place them in a 3×3 grid. Then they would take a photo with their iPad. They had to write a essay that included 7 of the 9 cubes. For each cube they needed to write either 2 vocab terms with that image or a major concept in our unit.

Here are student examples:


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Evil Monster Thing: Legalism was a belief that people are bad by  nature and need to be controlled. Lots of people did not like it, but the  people who did were called Legalists.



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Confucius was the main teacher of Confucianism. Confucianism restored family order to China. Many students of his put his work into a massive book called The



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Tall Building: Construction played a big role in the advancements in China. We have Terra cotta Warriors, the Great Wall, and all the other artifacts that are in museums or have still not been found. These artifacts are great to have because trained archeologists and scientists can find a lot of evidence from these. From this we can then, learn all we know now about ancient China.


5. The Build Zone…

Each student was given a brown bag filled with building materials. On the last page of the test there was a large box that was titled building zone. Students were instructed to build three scenes. After building a sense they were instructed to take a photograph of what they built. They Would then write a brief description, 1 – 3 sentences, to explain the importance of what they built. They then would wreck what they built and build two more repeating the process.

Student Examples:


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Legalists burned scholars’ books that didn’t follow the Legalists beliefs. Scholars who didn’t obey were sometimes buried alive!!

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This is Confucius teaching people his philosophy, Confucianism, as he though of peace, and was in support of peace in the family. He wrote the Analects, And Wudi wrote tests about the Analects that people would take better scores got government jobs.

The catapult was put on boats and ships to attack enemies. They were made out of bamboo to keep the boat from sinking.

The catapult was put on boats and ships to attack enemies. They were made out of bamboo to keep the boat from sinking.


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Shing Huandu created the Great Wall. He did this to protect China from the Nomads who came from the north. Many people died building the wall and people who did were often buried in it.


Chinese works build the Grand Canal. They were guarded by warriors. If they stopped working they were put to death.

Chinese works build the Grand Canal. They were guarded by warriors. If they stopped working they were put to death.


6. Content Dominoes

This idea was one that I stole from another innovative teacher @chucktaft who heard about the idea from NCSS this year in Boston. The idea is simple. Students will play dominos while writing short explanations. Just like in a real game of dominos, students will have to match like sides together. As we are not playing with numbers, but instead our content, students will have to write explanations of why they put the dominos together. I explained to my students that they should try to include as much vocab as they can and connect their ideas to what we have learned in class. Below is our some examples from my China test.

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Well I have tested all of these on my students this year. The results have be wonderful. The last test, the China one, I had many students say they were having fun taking the test. They expressed that it gave them a place to be both creative and demonstrate their knowledge. I am sure there are many more ways to test knowledge of our students, which, if you know of some, please share below. I will continue to strive to come up with different question styles for my students. Again, please share your thoughts and ideas below.


Looking forward to my next test.