I read a great quote from Abraham Lincoln recently. He didn’t come up with the quote recently – it’s just that I am only now familiar with it. Lincoln said “If you give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first 4 hours sharpening the ax.” From this, we are reminded of the importance of preparation before rushing into tasks. Likewise, for teachers, time spent in developing a strong lesson structure pays off in strong overall results. One key element of such a structure is the warm up. Since my first day of teaching, I have always had my students at work at a warm-up task when they enter the room. The tasks have evolved over the years, and they are now at a point where I am not too embarrassed about sharing them! Here’s how my system works:
- Students enter the room and I greet them at the door, reminding them that class is beginning as they enter.
- The room is dark and there are a number of questions projected up on the screen. The questions are from the previous day’s lessons. Or, to set the stage for what we are going to do, the questions might ask the students to think/speculate about a situation yet to explore.
If we have a test approaching, I include questions from prior classes as a form of review. This is especially useful for ideas/topics we covered weeks ago. I change the font to blue for these questions – students know it as a Blue Review. Rhyming – it works!
- On each desk is a sheet of paper. The paper is divided into sections – one section for each class I will see them in that particular cycle. My school currently has a seven-day cycle and I see each of my blocks five times in those seven.
Why a paper? Why not save paper and use something electronic? I tried using shared files on Google Docs in the past. However, students were always sneaking in to change their answers after we took them up. If you can come up with something more environmentally friendly, please send you ideas my way! firstname.lastname@example.org
- The students are trained to write down the questions and then answer them completely. These questions and answers will be returned to the students later and form part of their study guide for summative assessments. So, being lazy and writing incomplete answers (“Yes”, “No”, etc.) or skipping the questions, will hurt them later.
- I patrol the room and ensure students are on task and have all the tools they need for that class. I am also looking at the work, gauging who is where in the answering process. I deliberately tighten up the time to keep things rigorous.
For students who are absent, I write an A in the blank section. For students who are late, I write a T.
- At the allotted time, I have the students stop writing and pass their work to the front of the room where I collect it.
- We take up the answers together. This is super valuable as I can direct the answers forward to what we are learning that day, making a strong connection to our daily goal.
Source of Anecdotal Data
Later, when the five sections are complete, I will grade all of the sheets. This helps provide data in terms of what areas students struggled with/what might need to be reviewed or strengthened.
As Exit Passes
One variation I have used in the past is to put five blank sections on the reverse side of the page. This section I have used as an exit pass for the class. Students review their daily notes and see if they can come up with questions I might ask them at the beginning of the next class. If they guess correctly, they earn bonus marks.
As mentioned above, the sheets are graded and later returned to the students. They keep them as part of a developing study guide for future tests. I pull questions for the test directly from the quizzes. So, students have a collection of both potential questions and answers.
If students have incorrect answers (or blanks from days when absent or tardy) I give them time to share answers among themselves.
Tardy to Class
Students who are late to class do not get to participate in the quiz. They must wait outside of the room until we are done taking up the correct answers. This means missing items for their study guides and missing grades when I correct them. This provides a strong incentive to come to class on time.
This warm up structure provides incentive for coming to class on time and a sense of probability in terms of how every class will begin. Most importantly, this warm up – like most start up activities – sets the tone that the room is for learning, not socializing. We enter the room, we get focused and we get down to business.