Purposeful Plenaries

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Are your classroom plenaries effective enough?

In a classroom you should do everything for a reason. A lot of teachers, often when they are being observed, think that they must include a plenary at the end of the lesson. This should never be to ‘tick a checkbox’ or for an observer’s gratification, but for you and your pupils to embed and consolidate learning.

OfSTED in The Key Stage 3 Strategy stated:

  • Plenaries were often the weakest part of the lesson.
  • There was insufficient time for them.
  • Plenaries were often the least active part of the lesson.

Phil Beadle in The Book of Plenary: Here Endeth the Lesson … states three important things which really resonated with me when thinking about plenaries:

  1. It has to be planned.
  2. You have to have sufficient time for them.
  3. You have to get the kids to do the work.

This post questions the reasons why we have a plenary, alongside some examples of how we can optimise these tasks. Ditch the “tell me what you have learned this lesson” and replace it with a more meaningful task for both you and your pupils.

Effective Plenaries

Here are 5 key features of an effective plenary:

  1. The plenary allows the teacher to assess the whole class’s understanding at once.
  2. They are planned into a lesson where appropriate to summarise learning and this is not necessarily at the end. Mini plenaries can be used as an effective form of assessment at transition points within a lesson, although make sure pupil learning or consolidation is at the heart of a mini-plenary, not just a tick box exercise (Phil Beadle, 2013).
  3. They are differentiated to the needs of your class. This is tricky! Allowing your class to access the plenary is critical but some challenge is needed so you can assess what they do not know.
  4. An effective plenary should highlight the pupil’s misconceptions; once identified they need to be addressed either at the time or within the lessons that follow.
  5. They give the pupils the opportunity to reflect on what and how they have learnt and guides them to their next steps to success.

Image: Shutterstock

Here are some examples of practical plenary strategies I think are the most effective, and why …

1. RAG123

This is a useful self-assessment tool and is taken from @listerkev. Pupils rate how much they understand the content from 1-3 (3 is misunderstanding the work whereas 1 is excellent understand). They then also reflect on their behaviour (red is distracted from learning whereas green is outstanding attitude to learning). This is a useful exercise to get pupils reflecting at the end of a lesson or topic and it also allows the teacher to see how confident the class feels from their RAG123 score. As a teacher, you also have an opportunity to give your class scores and to set tasks to act on their plenary and to move them towards the next stages of their learning.

 2. Exit tickets

Exit tickets, emoji exit tickets, digital exit tickets: this plenary has been adapted in so many ways. Socrative is my “go to” exit ticket at the moment: it saves paper and it is easy to see the responses.

It takes seconds to set up and the pupils always get asked the same series of questions:

  • How well did you understand today’s material?
  • What did you learn in today’s class?
  • Please answer the teacher’s question.

The teacher’s question is an important assessment opportunity to see if they can apply their knowledge – remember to differentiate the questions to see if your top pupils can apply their knowledge to new situations.

 3. Give me five

Pupils draw around their hand on a scrap piece of paper or in their book and write the following on each finger:

  • Thumbs up: What have you learnt? What do you understand?
  • Pointing finger: What skills have you used today?
  • Middle Finger: Which skills did you find difficult today?
  • Ring Finger: How did you show commitment to today’s learning? Who did you help today?
  • Pinkie Promise: What will you make sure you remember from today’s lesson?

This is a way of structuring pupils’ reflection time. It allows the weakest to celebrate what they have done well and encourages the brightest to think about the next steps in their learning. I also can use it as a planning tool by looking at key parts of the hand to see where I need to concentrate on in the next lesson.

4. Keyword bingo

A classic plenary idea which when used well is a good consolidation and assessment tool. Carefully planning your clues and randomly questioning members of the class will allow you to assess how well they have understood the content. It can also allow you to consolidate the keywords in the whole topic to assess how much previous learning they have remembered.

5. A quiz

Playing who wants to be a millionaire or blockbuster can really engage the pupils and assess pupil knowledge. Phil Beadle in the Book of Plenary urges you to use sophisticated quizzes within the classroom for maximum impact. By getting the pupils to create their own quiz cards will allow them to consolidate knowledge deeper and allow you to also assess their understanding more effectively. Differentiate the task by stating they need to produce cards with increasing difficulty.

Leave your comments below.

Beth Hartwell

Beth writes for the Teacher Toolkit site from a secondary perspective. She is currently a Lead Practitioner of Teaching and Learning at a school in York with a specialism of teaching secondary Science. She is currently teaching in a iPad school and is interested sharing T&L strategies using 1:1 technology.

3 thoughts on “Purposeful Plenaries

  • 2nd April 2019 at 9:11 pm
    Permalink

    Fab stuff thank you!

    Reply
  • 25th May 2019 at 1:00 pm
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    Hi there
    Looking at plenaries
    If you use mini plenaries throw out the lesson, do you also need a final plenary?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • 28th May 2019 at 2:05 pm
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      There is no fixed number – just use a plenary really well and ‘check the learning’.

      Reply

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