Monday, April 28, 2014

How to Teach Your Students How to CHECK THEIR WORK

A student walks up with with his finished math test and hands it to me. I glance at the clock. I think, Hmm, 10 minutes ago I gave you this test.

But I say, "Did you check your work?"

"Whoops," he says and takes back the test. He remains standing in front of me, and proceeds to give each page a quick glance, nodding.

10 seconds later, "Okay, I checked it. Here you go."

Oh, thank you, child. Thank you for your thoroughness. Thank you for NOT noticing the simple calculation error you made on number 5, and for forgetting to answer both parts of number 8, and for misreading the question on number 9. 

And by the way, you skipped number 10. But don't worry, I will notice these silly mistakes for you tonight as I grade your test, wondering how much of this content you actually know or not.

After many of these interactions with students, or something similar, I decided to have another crack at teaching my students how to check their work. Simply reminding them to check their work was rarely helpful. Did students really know what I meant? Did I really know what I meant?

After some reflection, I broke the concept of "checking your work" into three levels. I modeled how to do each level, and then I taught students when each "level of checking" was best to use. This idea has worked well in math especially, but can be applied to other subjects too.

Level One Checking
I consider a "level one check" to be the lowest level of checking your work (but better than nothing). After completing your test or assignment, you return to the beginning and check to be sure that you have answered every question. Basically, you are checking to see if you skipped anything. It is quick and takes little thought, but might be the right choice in certain situations, like if you are running out of time.

Level Two Checking
When you check your work at level two, you return to the beginning of your test or assignment and you reread the first question. You then look at your answer and see if it makes sense. If it does, you move on and do the same for the rest of the questions. If it doesn't, you work the problem again to try to find your error. With level two, you really keep your brain turned on. It helps eliminate those "silly" mistakes.

Level Three Checking
Checking your work at level three is like a full attack. This is when you read each question again and rework the problem. You then compare your answer to your first attempt to see if you got the same thing. This takes a lot of time and mental stamina, but might be appropriate for certain sections, like a problem with multi-digit addition or subtraction.

Click the pic above to grab the poster!
Getting students to care about checking their work isn't easy. It takes a change of mindset that completing the last question is not "the end." It also takes the realization that we all are capable of making absent-minded mistakes. I've found that teaching students how to use these different levels of checking has helped give students more ownership and the ability to make wiser choices when it comes to checking their work. I hope the idea can help your students too!


  1. Love your levels! This is the bane of my existence lately...for exactly the reasons you mentioned. I even went so far as to add a simple checklist at the bottom of each page of a recent test. Didn't quite cure all our ills, but it was interesting to see who checked the box but forgot to do what it said!

  2. Thanks, Suzy! I love that idea of a little checklist at the end of the test as a reminder!

  3. I. Love. This.

    Tomorrow starts our state test and I am kicking myself for not thinking of something like this sooner! Thanks so much. I already love following your blog, but I'm going to have to stop by more often because you have such awesome ideas :)


  4. Thanks, Jenny! Yeah, we just had our state testing at the beginning of the week. Yuck. Hope it goes well!

  5. As usual, I love your ideas and your thought process on this. It's a great time of year for the reminder too, as we are all beginning to mentally begin summer vacation. Ha ha!

  6. Totally agree about the time of the year, Jenny! Thanks for your feedback!

  7. I am so glad I found this...our state testing begins on Tuesday, and I am forever asking students if they checked their work only to find that they just glanced over it! I love the explanations given for each level. Thanks for sharing!

    Sarah Beth
    Miss White's Classroom

  8. This has been the bane of my existence! Such a great idea! I have four week so of school left, so it's not too late to at least introduce this, right? ;)

  9. Thank you for sharing this intervention - I can't wait to see the results next year :)

  10. Helps eliminate the age old question, "Is this good?"

  11. I love this! I look forward to using it with my students this year, thanks so much for sharing the poster as well.

  12. Ide bagus! saya senang sekali terima kasih, ini sangat membantu

  13. Great ideas! Do you have any ideas how to rework level 3 for Reading? (That's the subject I teach.) I struggle with getting students to "check their work," especially now that our tests are computer based - no paper/pencils allowed.

  14. These are wonderful! Thank you for sharing. We just finished high stakes testing. I teach primary- but this is something I would like to share on my blog for other teachers :) I am going to link to it!

  15. Definitely using this in my new 5th grade class this year! I have struggled with this exact issue for several years! You rock!

  16. I always tell my kids to check their work before they turn in their test. So many leave answers blank because they want to be done. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Thank you so much! I'm printing this out and trying it this week. I love your anecdote and teaching/writing voice - I am totally on the same page with you!!!!

  18. Thank you. I have been known to get frustrated when a student "checks his work" in 10 seconds. Now I realize they might not know what I even mean by that.


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