This is the third article in our series on Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) which can be used to gauge lesson effectiveness and student comprehension. To review, CATs were developed by Angelo and Cross (1983) to efficiently check whether students understand a certain concept. For more examples of these formative assessments, please see our previous posts:

In this article, we will present three CATs focusing on developing Higher Order Thinking Skills (see Collins, 2014) and that can also be used face-to-face, hybrid, or online teaching.

Invented Dialogues

Purpose: Assessing Skill in Analysis and Critical Thinking

For this CAT, students devise a fictional dialogue between two or more prominent people who have different perspectives on a certain topic. For example, in a philosophy course, students might generate a dialogue between Socrates and Aristotle as they discuss the role of the individual in political life. To do so, students need to synthesize their knowledge about both philosophers’ views as well as their personalities and historical context. Invented Dialogues is a particularly popular CAT because it actively engages students by being creative and can be used in almost any subject area (e.g., history, politics, sciences). Depending on the instructor’s preference, this CAT can be assigned to an individual or a group of students.

In an online setting, students might take on the persona of a prominent individual and chat, post messages in a discussion forum, or tweet a conversation on Twitter (e.g., #Invented Dialogues). Students, who enjoy working with multimedia, could record an audio or video clip of the actual dialogue and share it via Blackboard.

What’s the Principle?

Purpose: Assessing Skill in Problem Solving

This technique asks students to review a set of problems and identify the concept or procedure (the principle) that offers the best solution for each problem. What’s the Principle? is often found in traditional multiple-choice test; however, it can be used as effectively in other settings such as checking students’ understanding of newly-learned principles. For example, after listening to a lecture about Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion in Physics, students are given a set of related situations and need to identify which of Newton’s laws applies (e.g., “When driving a car, you should always wear seatbelts! Because when it suddenly stops…“). By having students apply the newly-learned principle, the instructor can gauge whether to move on with the class or if it is necessary to review content.

In addition to traditional tests, one could use a survey/polling tool (e.g., Poll Everywhere, Blackboard Survey) or discussion forum to post the problems and gather the responses in an online class. If students are watching online videos, question sets can be directly integrated via tools such as Zaption or other Youtube-compatible products.

Word Journal

Purpose: Assessing Skill in Synthesis and Creative Thinking

This two part activity is particularly useful when students need to carefully review a piece of content (e.g., reading, video) and connect it to its context. First, students are asked to summarize a text in a single word. Secondly, they write an explanation for choosing this particular word. In order for students to synthesize and justify their choice, they need to engage deeply with content. For example, a Word Journal for J.F. Kennedy’s speech at the Berlin Wall could be an effective technique to explain the relationship between the US and Sowjet Union during the Cold War.

Students can share their word choice and explanation multiple ways in an online course. Responses can be shared on a discussion forum, on student’s blogs, or via student presentations. In addition to writing, students share their Word Journals in a brief video blog.

Have you used any of these CATs in your class? Have you seen them adapted in other setting? Please share your experiences with us.



Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993).Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Collins, R. (2014). Skills for the 21st century: Teaching higher order-thinking. Curriculum & Leadership Journal, 12, (14).