How to Assess in Theme-based Learning

Formative and summative assessments need to be approached a bit differently from standardized testing to assess progress in language acquisition throughout the school term.   Some benefits of Theme-based Learning assessment strategies are that they are much less stressful for the students and usually provide a more accurate evaluation of what your students have learned and remember rather than what they have memorized for a test.

Summative Assessment ideas:

  • Individual, Group Project, or Collaborative Class Project – long-term, puts together all the things they have learned
    • Create a board game using language learned in classFilm a pantomime with 1 or 2 narrators or voice-oversCreate Neighborhood mapsBook creator – create a book (online or paper) related to the units studied and connect them under the themeDioramaPresentationReport/Essay
    • Scavenger Hunt (complex): Create questions based on a unit or story you students just completed.  Students find items by answering the questions which gives them a clue to answer the next or other questions on the list.


For summative assessments in Theme-Based Learning always have a good analytical rubric. 
It will make your job easier and it will make it easy to explain goals and results to students (and parents).

*See padlet for sample rubrics & Theme Project Examples for Summative Assessments

Formative Assessment ideas:

  • Quick questions: while students are working on projects or assignments to check if they are going the right direction.
    • Concept Map (a visual plan of their ideas or a summary of a story you read or they are reading)Transfer the Concept: example – students have learned prepositions of space (in, on, under, next to), then give them different situations to use the new language such an images of inside a home, businesses along a street, freeze a scene from a movie, or get them to draw their favorite place and label items there or write sentences about the items in the picture.Survey game (Find Someone Who…. BINGO) using BINGO cards related to the topic with sentence scaffolding.Then get students to share the information they collected:
      What does _____ like to do on the weekend?
      She/He likes to ___________.Picture Dictation: draw what you hear.Peer instruction: one student teaches another how to do something related to the topic/themeShort interviews with students (usually one-on-one)Scavenger Hunt (simple): Create clues based on a unit or story your students are studying.  Students find items around the classroom that match the clues and write them down on the paper or collect the item. (ie/Find a blue book about animals).Graffiti Wall: large poster papers with questions or topics on them are put up in sections around the room, and students walk around and write or draw answers with markers.Graphic Organizers: Mind maps, Venn Diagrams, character/subject charts.
    • KWL chart: students fill in the first 2 sections before they study and the last column after the lesson or unit.

Image: Kristina Kauss 2022, based on data from KWL Example – Seasons Storyboard by Natasha Lupiani

Activity: Post Reading Assessments.

Are the following examples Formative or Summative forms of evaluation?  

Write either F or S.

  1. ___ A book review
  2. ___A drawing of a scene from a book
  3. ___A book report
  4. ___A skit that replays a scene from a book
  5. ___Designing a cover for a book
  6. ___Create a poster to promote the book
  7. ___Having a discussion about a book
  8. ___Writing some sentences about what the student
           thinks will happen next in a book
  9. ___Talk about characters or scenes from the book

EXAMPLES of adapting school textbooks to Theme-Based Learning

  • Use dialogues in the textbook, but personalize them based on student interests and experiences connected to the theme.
  • Change textbook stories and reading passages into Interactive Dramatic Reading activities with follow-up speaking or writing prompts that utilize reading comprehension strategies. 

Ask students questions about how the reading material connects to the theme you have chosen to bridge the different units.

  • Change grammar or pronunciation lessons from the textbook into concept attainment lessons. (Strategy created by Jerome Bruner that encourages critical thinking.
    A teacher shows students a group of pictures/ words and then asks what the common theme is in pictures or words).  

      • Example: if a teacher wanted to teach students about FoodThe teacher has a stack of cards, each card with a picture of types of food. The teacher does not tell the students the topic, but asks them to instead guess the common theme.
      • OR the teacher has the students group cards into different themes.
  • Going beyond what the textbooks provide.  Create projects and games that tie together content from multiple units.
  • Mix up the units.  You are not required to teach every unit in order.

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