Why Your Lessons Should Start Strong and Finish Strong

Serial_position

Have you ever watched a movie, and when asked to describe it to a friend, you can easily recall the beginning and ending? However, the details in the middle seem a bit muddled. Well, this is actually a natural phenomenon of how the brain works called the primacy-recency effect.

Check out the following diagram.

Serial_position

I borrowed this image from a Wikipedia page about the primacy-recency effect. It illustrates how people recalled words they were asked to memorize from a list.  Generally , they could recall more words at the beginning and end of the list, but they struggled to recall the middle set of words.

How does this apply to the classroom? Well, students are most likely to remember what happens at the beginning and end of the class. If you are like me, this can be incredibly frustrating as a teacher because most of the “meat” of our lessons occurs in the middle.

So what are we to do? Knowing this information can help us plan for better student understanding and long-term knowledge.

At the beginning of a lesson, we can:

  • Clearly state the learning targets
  • Discuss the academic language and content vocabulary necessary for the lesson.
  • Tie new concepts to students prior knowledge
  • Engage students early on by utilizing classroom talk, writing, video, an experiment, or pictures related to concepts.

The primacy-recency effect as demonstrates how important closure activities are. Two reasons why closure is often not part of a lesson are planning and pacing. We must be vigilant in determining how students can tap into the previous learning from the middle of the lesson for closure of the lesson. Closure is also a type of formative assessment. Here are some easy ways to work toward closure:

  • Consider activities that allow you to formatively assess students by making them tap into the lesson’s concepts. Formative assessment makes student understandings visible, so think about what students can say, write, or do at the end of the lesson.
  • Have a quick list of writing to learn activities that you can pull from, if you are struggling to plan a closure activity, here is link to some easy-to-implement ideas.
  • When you only have those few minutes before the dismissal bell, have students quickly talk about the lesson. You can easily do a turn-and-talk (click here to see how to make these effective) or have a no-prep game ready (such as one of the PowerPoint games).
  • Have a discussion about the learning targets. Have students self-assess their understanding on a scale of 1 to 5, and ask them to write why they gave themselves that rating.

What are some of your most effective opening and closing activities for supercharging student learning in your own teaching? Share ideas in the comments.

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