Creating Lessons for Standardized Test Days: Tips for Curriculum Designers and Educational Publishers

For many students, it’s standardized testing season. As curriculum designers and educational publishers, it is essential to plan for those days when students may be drained or distracted. We never want to waste our limited instructional time, but we need to temper our expectations on testing days. 

Relaxation Techniques

One approach to creating low-stress lessons for test days is to include relaxation techniques that can help students calm their minds and bodies. Here are some ideas for incorporating relaxation techniques:

  • Breathing exercises: Incorporate deep breathing exercises or other relaxation breathing techniques into your lessons. Deep breathing can help students relax to reduce stress and anxiety. These can be helpful warm-ups when transitioning between activities. 
  • Visualization exercises: Use guided imagery or visualization exercises to help students create mental images of calm and peaceful scenes. Visualization can help students relax and reduce their stress levels. After visualizing, students can write about their calming mental images. 
  • Mindfulness activities: Include mindfulness activities in your lessons. Provide opportunities for mindful listening or mindful walking. These activities can help students become more present and focused. Students can then write about what they’ve observed. Another option would be to collect data on what students heard or observed during their walk. 

Project-based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered approach to learning that involves students working on a project over an extended period. PBL encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills.  Projects can be designed to incorporate multiple subjects, such as science and social studies, and can be aligned with state standards. On testing days, continuing PBL can be an excellent way to engage students. Some ideas for PBL include:

  • Creating a museum exhibit: In social studies, students can create a museum exhibit on a historical event or figure, requiring them to research, analyze, and synthesize information.
  • Designing a sustainable community: In science, students can design a sustainable community that takes into account environmental, economic, and social factors. This requires them to apply scientific principles and consider real-world challenges.
  • Developing a marketing campaign: In English language arts (ELA), students can develop a marketing campaign for a product or service. They’ll be required to analyze their audience, develop persuasive arguments, and use effective communication skills.

Workshop Experiences

If ongoing projects aren’t a good fit for your curricula, an enrichment workshop model can be a great fit for testing days. It engages students briefly but deeply while still providing a change of pace. In a workshop setting, students can work independently or in small groups. They can try different activities after a short meeting with the teacher. Options for workshops include:

  • Creative Writing: These workshops can inspire students to express themselves through writing. Students can participate in group brainstorming sessions, collaborate on writing projects, and receive feedback on their work. This activity can help students develop their writing skills and boost their creativity.
  • Technology: Technology workshops can teach students new skills and help them explore different areas of technology. Students can learn about coding, robotics, video production, or game design. This activity can help students develop their problem-solving skills and encourage them to explore their interests in technology.
  • Artistic Expression: Allow students to showcase their knowledge of a current unit through artistic expressions. They could write a song to review a math concept, illustrate a historical timeline or create a model of a scientific concept. 


After a long period of test preparation and standardized testing, it’s important to provide students with enriching curriculum activities that can engage and motivate them. In the process, they can develop lifelong skills like mindfulness as well as career skills like effective communication. Testing days don’t have to be lost instructional time. 


“Reducing Test Anxiety.” Education Week, 8 Oct. 2019.
“What is Project-Based Learning (PBL)?” Buck Institute for Education, 2021.

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