Tips for Unpacking Assessments: Marking the Text and Using Visual Aids


Ellie Wiseman is using multiple visual aids to help students understand the unit, including this poster that lists the unit title, major assessments, essential questions and building skills.

In the Springboard Curriculum, each unit begins by having students examine what they will need to know and do for the first major assessment (known as the Embedded Assessment, or EA).  The process used is known as “unpacking.” Teachers will “unpack” approximately two assessments per quarter in English classes.

The goal of unpacking is to make very clear to students the purpose of the lessons and the expectations for the summative assessments.  Ideally, teachers will facilitate the unpacking of “skills and knowledge” through a combination of close reading of the rubric and/or assignment description and then the creation a visual “map” to be displayed in the room. The strategies used and the look of the unpacked EA might be different, but ultimately, the important thing is that teachers refer to the expectations often and link lessons explicitly to those expectations.

Stop Light

Mandy Bruney is posting the unpacked EA and then connecting it to the daily lessons via the learning targets. Each lesson, she will write the learning target on a sentence strip and begin the lesson by placing it on the red, yellow, or green poster depending upon how the class feels about the target. Then at the end of the lesson, she will move the learning target to where students feel they ended the lesson.

This helps teachers to answer the question, “Why are we doing this?”  It also helps students see how the learning is meaningful and relevant to them.

The rest of this post is also available as a printable handout (at the bottom of this post) teachers can use as a reference when unpacking assessments:

Steps to Unpacking Standards for Embedded Assessments:

  1. Begin with a close read of the assignment and/or rubric
  2. Close read a second time and “mark the text”
  3. Continue with a class discussion and visual representation of the EA (stop sign, web, mountain etc.)
  4. Display the unpacked EA in the room and refer to it after lessons to see what skills students are mastering

Note: While you will go through the process with each class individually, only one “unpacking poster” needs to be displayed in the classroom for reference

Marking the Text Ideas:

Circle the skills (verbs) and underline the knowledge (nouns) in the “proficient” category or the embedded assessment description (or both). The proficient category is where the students tend to group (according to the bell curve); instruction is targeted to the proficient. Later, you can look at the adjectives in the “exemplary” category if you choose to do so.

Some teachers have also just unpacked with what students are going to do “write a topic sentence” for example. They could also be written more in the form of learning targets (I can…).

Modifications/Additions for Marking the Text:

  • QHT: Use the “Q, H, and T” symbols to mark the text (rubric or assignment description)
    • Q-uestion (don’t know it at all)
    • H-eard of it (but may not know a lot about it)
    • T-each the lesson on it (I got this)
  • Color Coding: Use red, yellow, and green markers or colored pencils to circle what students will need to know and do for the EA
    • Red: Never heard of it
    • Yellow: Heard of it, but I need more information
    • Green: Comfortable with this idea

Methods for Unpacking:


Christine Billirakis used the web to unpack the definition essay for eleventh grade and listed out what students would need to do by category on the rubric.

  • Web- Web out the skills and knowledge, starting with the EA in the center, then skills, then what students need to know to accomplish skills
    • Example: Essay based on an interview (the EA) would be in the center of the web. “Write” would be in the first bubble from the center. “Narrative Essay” would be in the bubble off of “write.”
  • Mountain- List out the skills and knowledge as “I can” statements on note cards and place them at the bottom of the mountain. Move the note cards after each lesson.
  • Stoplight- List out the skills and knowledge and have students place the skill as green, yellow, or red on the stoplight.
    • Put the skill on note cards, have posters of each color, and then place the skills on the appropriate color for students overall levels at the beginning of the unit and move them after each lesson
    • Students can also have their own “stoplights” on paper to keep
  • Spokes and Clouds- “Spokes” are what students need to do and “clouds” are the knowledge they need to get there
Wiseman listed the description of the Embedded Assessment on the poster and will later go in and create the "skills and knowledge" portion with students.

Wiseman listed the description of the Embedded Assessment on the poster and will later go in and create the “skills and knowledge” portion with students.

  • Backpack- The backpack functions like the web, but there is more of a visual connection to the unpacking concept

**Note: Some start with the web and move to the stoplight or some other visual representation that can show movement

Collaborative Group Unpacking:

Renee Jackson broke students into groups and used the jigsaw strategy to have each group examine a portion of the rubric, write out the skills and then present to the class.  I wrote the lists on the board for other students to copy as they presented.

Renee Jackson broke students in her ninth grade English classes into groups and used the jigsaw strategy to have each group examine a portion of the rubric, write out the skills on a graphic organizer, and then present findings to the class. I wrote the lists on the board for other students to copy as they presented.

  1. Silently read prompt or rubric and mark text
  2. Share out the findings in small groups as a list (skills and knowledge needed)
  3. Have each group present results and list these out on one group web (or other visual representation) together

Other Ideas:

  • Unpacking could include drawings of the skills and knowledge to more incorporate visual learning
  • As part of unpacking, students could rephrase the EA in their own words
  • Teachers could use an online resource such as Mindmap to create individual student webs
  • Teachers may have students write skills and knowledge on post its (one per sticky note) to put on a group stop light, mountain etc.

Using the Unpacked EA in the Classroom:

  • The teacher may have students rank themselves on learning targets building to the EA before and after lessons that deal with each skill (see learning targets sheet as a possible resource)
  • Teachers may put the lesson number beside the skills and knowledge listed on the unpacked EA as lessons are completed
  • Teachers may put color coded stickers (red, yellow and green) on the unpacked EA as lessons are completed that match students perceived mastery of content

Additional Resources:

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