In my first years of teaching, I often felt unsure at the end of each lesson. Did the students learn? Was my lesson good? But I remember one lesson where I thought I had totally and completely dominated. I mean I just taught the heck out of apartheid in South Africa. We looked at maps, I gave a engaging (even moving!) 10 minute lecture, we did an awesome role play I stole from History Alive!, the kids were digging it, I played mood music during group work – I was basically Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. I’d planned to have students write a brief essay at the end of class as a daily assessment but we ran out of time. “Oh well,” I thought, “it’s OK because we got through the lesson.” Imagine my total shock when well-over half my class failed to clearly describe the impact of apartheid on our unit exam. “This is not my fault,” I said, “I taught a beautiful lesson – these kids never study!”
The exact situation above played out so many times in my classroom that it became a patter I could not ignore. WTF??! Upon reflection I realized the only thing I wasn’t doing was closing out the lesson. Here is what I now know: how I close my lesson will likely have the greatest impact on whether or not my students learn the objective.
Effectively closing a lesson is critical for two big reasons: 1) it allows students to synthesis or summarize their learning and 2) it allows teachers to know if the lesson was successful and identify misunderstandings and trends in individual as well as overall learning. Below are my top five end-of-lesson strategies:
- Written Reflection: This is super easy but such an important skill to develop. I simply take the objective and re-phrase it as a question (ex. SWBAT describe the impact of apartheid. What was the impact of apartheid on South Africa?) and have students spend 5 minutes writing a response. I usually have them attempt to do it from memory and then use their notes or handouts if they need to. I check each of these at the door as they leave and jot down on my all-in-one seating chart (click here to see it) who I need to come back to or what trends I notice.
- Draw a picture: Students take the information we studied and draw either one picture or a series of picture illustrating the concept.
- Interpret the source given what you now know: I put up a source of some kind – map, political cartoon, graph, written source, etc. – and have students explain it given what we just learned. Why is this cartoon funny? Why is the author of this source angry? What event is this passage referencing?
- Three-Two-One: Write down 3 things that really interested you, 2 questions you still have, and 1 idea you are going to write a page on tonight for homework
- Give one, get one, move on: Students divide a sheet of paper into nine boxes (three rows and three columns). Have them fill three of the boxes up with three ideas or pieces of information they remember from the lesson. Then have all students stand up and exchange what they wrote with their classmates. For every person they talk to they have to give that individual a new idea or fact, get a new idea or fact in exchange and then find another partner. If they find a classmate that has the exact same facts or ideas as they do then they should move on and find someone else.
Fine, but how the heck do you fit this in when class time is already so stinking short!?! I know, I know. Here’s what worked for me: I had a kid tell me when it was the last 10 minutes of class. I’ve also set a timer to go off at 12 minutes before the end. I also made a big sign that I posted at the back of my room that said “Close Out!” And when the time came, I stopped what we were doing if we weren’t finished and closed the lesson.
Colleagues, this single action was what brought me from interesting teacher to effective teacher. What closing activities do you all use?