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Science For all

Wrapping It Up

Meaningful and Inclusive Lesson Closures to Recap the Day’s Learning

We’ve all been there. You start to hear the chatter of students in the hall and realize that it’s two minutes past time to dismiss your class. Today’s lesson was a particularly engaging one involving a demonstration and collaborative activity, and that’s exactly how you lost track of time. You rush to get materials from the demonstration cleaned up, give a final reminder about the assignment due Friday, and get students out the door. You feel a sense of excitement about how absorbed your students (and you!) were in the lesson, but you still feel like something is missing. You start to ask yourself: Did they meet my objectives for this lesson? What may I need to revisit tomorrow? That feeling is likely due to a lack of closure. In this month’s column, we explore the importance of powerful lesson wrap-ups, how to build effective routines to ensure you don’t run out of time, and strategies to make sure all of your students are engaged in the closure activity.

Why lesson closures are important

According to Ganske (2017), “Lesson closure provides space for students to digest and assimilate their learning and to realize why it all matters.” This quotation really says it all—lesson closures provide a time for students to pause and ponder what they have just learned during the lesson, as well as where their level of understanding currently lies. However, it should also be noted that lesson closures aren’t just essential tools for student learning. Student responses to lesson-closure activities can also serve as a compass for your next steps as a teacher. In other words, lesson closure activities are wonderful formative assessment tools! Janey can recall a time when she and her co-teacher had just finished conducting a lesson on physical and chemical changes, after previously learning about physical and chemical properties. While they both thought their students had understood the difference between properties and changes during the lessons, student responses to a closure activity on the second day revealed that they were actually confusing the two. Rather than continuing to plow ahead with their previously planned lesson for the next day, Janey and her co-teacher reconfigured their lesson to address their students’ misunderstandings. The lesson closure activity therefore allowed Janey and her co-teacher to be more responsive in their teaching, so that they were able to help their students construct knowledge meaningfully in the days following.

As special education teachers, it’s also worth noting that we often see our students with IEPs, GIEPs, or 504s excluded from closure activities. This certainly isn’t intentional on our part or our co-teachers’ fault! It’s often a consequence of time. Let’s say that you have a student who needs to leave your class early to attend a speech/language therapy or counseling session. Or perhaps you have a student with executive functioning difficulties that needs an extra five minutes to pack up prior to the end of class. These are all valid reasons why they might often find themselves being “excused” from completing closure activities. In reality, these students are probably the students that you need the closure feedback from most! The suggestions we provide in this article, therefore, are aimed at helping you to make your lesson closure activities as inclusive and easily accessible as possible, so that you are able to get meaningful feedback from all of your students.

Building classroom closure routines

We’ve written in prior columns about the importance of building routines in your classroom. Structuring your class so there is consistency each day benefits all middle school students, especially those with autism spectrum disorder and executive functioning difficulties. These students, in particular, thrive when they know what to expect in your classroom each day. In addition, making lesson closures a regular part of your lesson planning means you’re more likely to use them. From the start of the year, choose a few strategies that fit your teaching style and incorporate them regularly.

Obviously, the biggest challenge to including meaningful closures in each day’s lesson is time—there’s just never enough of it. For that, we recommend using a timer. No matter where you’re at in your lesson when the timer goes off, find a good place to wrap it up and move on to your closure. Also, to ensure students take it seriously, consider making it a graded assignment. Janey and her co-teacher have a category within their gradebook allotted for classroom participation, and closure activities often count toward this assignment in their gradebook. Simply put, students start each marking period with 50 points. If they don’t complete a closure activity one day, they may lose two or three points from this 50, so that they end up with a 48 or 47 out of 50. Janey and/or her co-teacher note in the comments for that assignment the date and why the student might have lost points that day so that students and parents/guardians are aware. If students complete all required activities, they receive a 50/50 for this assignment. Students receive another 50 points at the mid-marking period, so that at the end of each marking period, they receive two classroom participation grades for a total of 100 points. It should also be noted that this assignment is worth only 10% of their final grades, so it doesn’t heavily influence their grade one way or another. While this is only one example of how to incorporate closure activities into your gradebook, the bottom line is that these assignments don’t have to be worth much—just enough to hold students accountable. Besides, you know there are always students who ask, “Is this graded?” The simple answer is yes (Reese 2014).

Strategies to re-engage all students and assess the day’s learning

Following are some of our favorite lesson closures that take just a few minutes, engage all of your learners, and give you a good gauge of what students really understood in class. The best part is that most of them require little to no prep on your part, which makes it more likely that they will happen.

Whip Around

Just like the name suggests, this closure activity requires you to “whip around” your class so each student can give an answer. One great thing about this strategy is that you can customize the question you ask to fit your lesson. Early in the year, make it fun! Ask students to share their favorite meal or give a “would you rather.” As you get into a daily routine and students know what to expect, you can connect the question to your content. Just make sure it’s an open-ended question. Some examples include:

  • What was the most valuable thing you learned today?
  • How does what you learned today connect to the real world?
  • What is one thing that is confusing you?

Elevator Pitch

This is a great way to end class with your students interacting, especially if it’s been one of those days where you’ve had to do most of the talking. First, pair students up—depending on your class, you can choose partners, or your students can. Then, put one minute on a timer; ask students to decide who will go first and have them raise their hand. When you start the timer, the partner who raised their hand has one minute to give their “elevator pitch” and share their reflections on class that day. The goal is to keep talking until the timer goes off; then it’s their partner’s turn to share. Modeling is extremely valuable, so make sure for the first few times that you start by doing exactly what you’re asking your students to do. It’s okay if you hear them repeating a lot of what you said—in fact, it’s great! They’re imitating your academic language. Also, when you use this strategy initially, we recommend starting with a shorter time limit, closer to 30 seconds. It may be surprising, but it’s hard for students to talk for a minute straight (Finley 2015). If a student has to leave early, you have several options. You could set up this activity on Flipgrid for your student to complete prior to leaving, or you could just ask the student to dictate his or her reflection, or elevator pitch, from the lesson that day to you (or to a co-teacher/instructional assistant if you are directly teaching).

Thumbs Up, Middle Thumbs, Thumbs Down

This strategy is actually one that Kaitlyn and her co-teacher use regularly at different points during class to get a quick read on student understanding. If you finish introducing a new concept, have students rate themselves. Thumbs up means “I’m good, and I’m ready to move on.” Middle thumbs means “I need a little more practice before moving on.” Thumbs down means “I’m confused and need help from a teacher.” Worried about your students being honest? This is a valid concern, and one that we’ve experienced ourselves.

One more inconspicuous way of conducting this “thumbs up, thumbs down” activity is to provide students with three cards—one red, one yellow, and one green—on a small metal ring. Just like in a traffic light, green means they’re “good to go” and have a solid understanding, yellow means they might need a little help, and red means they need a pause in the lesson to have something re-explained. Instead of asking students to give you a thumbs up, middle thumbs, or thumbs down, ask them to flip to the card that matches their understanding and to place it on their desk. While it’s still possible for some students to peek at someone else’s desk, it is still more inconspicuous than putting a thumb in the air. If most students are middle thumbs (yellow) or thumbs down (red), you know you need to spend a little more time on the concept. In this situation, for your students who do put a thumbs up or green card on their desk, you can have them try some more challenging problems related to the same concept while you review with the rest of the class. This empowers all students to self-advocate because they know that they are getting what they need.

Stick It!

This is an activity that students can complete literally on their way out of your classroom door. At the end of the lesson, display a closing question/activity on the board, and ask students to write their name and answer on a sticky note. Once they’ve completed the activity, they may pack up their belongings and prepare to leave for their next class. Instruct students to stick their sticky note on the classroom door on their way out. You can collect responses as you are welcoming your next class. This activity is also very easy to complete for those students who have to leave class early for any reason. If you are conducting class virtually, you could also have students complete a closure activity like this either via a question on Google Classroom or by answering the question in the Zoom chat window. If you choose to go with the latter, just be sure to set the chat window so that only you can see the responses to maintain student confidence and confidentiality.

Any Questions?

This one is really as simple as it sounds. It can be completed electronically or on paper, and students simply ask any questions they have related to the lesson. You can have them write their name or share anonymously (if done on paper), but the most important part of this strategy is actually the follow-up. The next day, begin class by reviewing the most commonly asked questions. Some of Kaitlyn’s best class discussions have started this way. You may start off with a whole lot of “I don’t have any questions,” but when students know you’re really reading what they write and addressing it, they’ll know this is a great way for them to ask for help without having to feel self-conscious. This is also incredibly easy for students who are leaving early to complete prior to their adjusted dismissal time.

Bringing it all together

It may not be realistic to have a meaningful lesson closure every single day, but embedding them as part of your regular practice—meaning at least a few times each week—benefits your students in multiple ways. It also benefits your personal teaching practice. If you know what your students do and don’t understand, you’re able to adjust your teaching accordingly. To get a full picture, make sure all students are involved in lesson closures, even if that means they need to complete them earlier in the class. To help ensure these wrap-ups become a part of your normal routine, use a timer to make sure you keep things moving efficiently, and make it a graded assignment so students take it seriously. Use any of the strategies listed here, and your lesson will be sure to stick in your students’ minds for all the right reasons!


Kaitlyn McGlynn (kaitlynjfetterman@gmail.com) and Janey Kelly (janeykoz14@gmail.com) are middle school special education teachers and certified reading specialists in the state of Pennsylvania, working in suburban Philadelphia in the Upper Merion School District and the Methacton School District, respectively.

References

Finley, T. 2015, December 15. 22 powerful closure activities. Edutopia. Available at https://edut.to/2SxtJWd

Ganske, K. 2017. Lesson closure: An important piece of the student learning puzzle. The Reading Teacher 71 (1): 95–100. Available at https://bit.ly/3vNV2tF

Reese, T. 2014. Road tested / lesson closure: Stick the landing. ASCD Education Update 56 (6). Available at https://bit.ly/3eXtXx8

Inclusion Literacy Pedagogy Teaching Strategies Middle School

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