Thumbs up / thumbs down

Thumbs up/thumbs down


This formative assessment technique quickly allows the teacher to gauge the understanding of the learners in his/her classroom.


After presenting a lesson, or part of a lesson, the teacher asks students to use their hand to signal their depth of understanding.

  • A thumb up means “I have a good understanding.”
  • A thumb to the side means “I still have some questions.”
  • A thumb down means “I don’t get it.”

The teacher can readjust the next lesson or section of the lesson as needed based on student response.

To hold students more accountable for their “truthfulness” the teacher can call on someone who signalled a thumb up to explain the concept to the class, or partner students who understand with those who don’t and let them teach each other for a few minutes.


Topic: Algebra

Task: The teacher writes an equation on the board and gives students time to compete it.

The teacher asks a student to provide an answer to the equation and writes their answer on the board.

The teacher asks students to put their thumbs up if they got the same answer and thumb down if they did not.

If the answer on the board is correct, the teacher can ask a student who had their thumb up to explain their working out for the students with a thumb down.

If the answer on the board was incorrect, the teacher can ask a student who had their thumb down to explain their working out to the class.


Topic: Analysing primary sources

After the teacher has taught a class about primary sources of information, she will show a students a sample and students need to identify whether it is a primary source;

Thumb up = primary

Thumb down = not primary

Thumb midway = not sure

The teacher than chooses a student with the correct answer to explain to the class how they came to that conclusion.

1 Comment

  1. This is a quick and easy way to check in on students at various points of the lesson….similar to traffic lights. When first starting to use this, could also ask students to put heads down or close eyes so that all feel safe being honest and admitting that they do not understand.

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