Tools for Formative Assessment

Focused Listing

Basic Strategy

Focus Listing activity focuses on one concept, term, or topic. Students are asked to provide several ideas related closely with the one concept, term, or topic.

Why would you use?


The purpose of this activity is to help instructors determine what students are able to recall for the main points of a lesson. The preparation and follow-up for a Focused Listing activity is minimal. The Focused Listing activity can help students in several ways:

  • Quickly determine what learners recall as the most important points related to a topic
  • Assess how well learners can describe or define a central point and to discover how well learners are connecting other concepts to the central point of the lesson
  • Gauge the best starting point, make midpoint corrections, and measure the class's progress in learning one specific element of course content

When can you use?

Before, during or after a lesson; works well in classes of all sizes. Focused listings are great follow ups to short presentations during which participants are asked to absorb information that is new and that is vital to the discussion to follow. The listing works well to introduce a topic, as an exercise joining/ synthesizing two sets of information (lecture plus follow up reading, two lectures), and as something to return to as a wrap up so that participants can compare before/after thinking

How does it work?

  1. Select an important topic or concept that's just been studied or is just about to be studied; write it in a word or brief phrase.
  2. Write the word or phrase at the top of a sheet of paper as the heading for a "Focused List" of related terms important to understanding that topic.
  3. Set a limit for either number of items to list (5 to 10) or limit the amount of time (2 to 3 minutes) to list the points.
  4. Test it yourself (keep to your own limits) --write a list of important words and phrases you recall that are related to or included within the heading you wrote down.
  5. Look over your list quickly; add any items you may have left out. Determine if any modifications need to be made to this activity, e.g. number of items required or length of time.
  6. If your test convinces you that the topic is important and well defined have the students complete the exercise. Be sure to increase the time limits you set for yourself, however, since you are the ‘expert’ and students are the ‘novice’ learners.
  7. Collect their anonymous responses and review the answers by sorting them into piles of appropriate or inappropriate to determine how well students are recalling the main points.
  8. At the beginning of the next class session, review with the students the findings of the activity. List the points or ideas you developed and include some of the ideas students provided that were not on your list, but were still relevant.

Other ideas

  • Use your list as the "master list" and have students compare their lists to it. Look for matches, missing items (on any list), clarification needs, additional teaching and learning opportunities.
  • Assign this as a small group activity

Technology based options

Focused Listing could easily be adapted into an online discussion board activity or a shared Google document activity.