11 Strategies to Encourage Students to Own Their Learning

Amy Konen
Elementary School Teacher

How often have you run out of time during a lesson and it simply ends with a lot of teacher talk and not enough time for student processing? Many times, I have found myself doing the talking when it is time to head out for lunch and kids simply pack up and line up without much closure. The result of this was that students were not retaining what we just spent time learning. They had no closure, no time for processing the learning and new information. I had to deliberately build in time to talk, to process, to demonstrate they had, indeed, learned the objective intended for that lesson. I began researching ways to have students own their learning and loved the methods that Persida and William Himmele suggested in their second edition book titled, Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. Here are 11 of my favorite strategies of theirs that prove to be simple with little or no teacher prep and encourage students to own their learning and demonstrate evidence of that learning before they leave your classroom.

1 - IQ Cards

Allow students to share an insight (I) and a question (Q). These cards also allow students to read each other's insights and questions. Big idea topics lend themselves perfectly for this reflection. Topics at my fifth-grade level that work wonderfully involve topics in social studies and close reading in literature. The Civil War and the Revolutionary War, civil rights, bullying, and nonfiction topics such as climate change, environmental protection and positive stewardship of our resources, and stories such as Wonder have worked well for this strategy. We use index cards and I ask students to record one new and important insight they gained from the lesson. I ask for specifics and details but I do not have them put their name on it at first. Kids then stand in a large circle. We pass the cards to our right and we move cards four to five times. This helps everyone remain more anonymous and not worry about what others may think of their insights or questions. We then stop and read the card they are holding in front of them. When they finish reading the card, they pass it to the person on their right again. We keep reading and passing cards until they have their own card again. Once they have their own card, they write their name on the backs of the cards. They then take a few minutes to add any new insights or questions they have now that they have read their classmate's insights and questions. Finally, I collect the cards so I can monitor and assess what the kids wrote on their cards. I model for the students that insights are more than just facts rewritten on the card. They may be emotions associated with the topic or big idea summaries or impacts from the events we analyzed. This strategy also helps me see what questions students have from their cards and I can address them as they come up.

2 - One Word Summaries

I use our dry erase boards or quick write recording sheets and have the students record one word answers that summarize a lesson and then hold those up for everyone to see. I then ask the kids to rationalize their one word answer choice. Sometimes I like to have students call out their one word answers and then we try as a group to connect our words to explain further our big idea words we generated. This strategy works well when you do not have a lot of time and it works without a lot of planning. It is brief but it gives you great insight to where students are at with the big concepts you are covering. When kids call out answers, you can really see what the misconceptions are and address them right away.

This is a good strategy to help students analyze higher order thinking, themes, and big-picture understandings. I use this in my Socratic method discussion groups during the Daily 5 reading rounds. My fifth-grade students are just beginning to think deeply about text and themes and this is a good strategy to practice developing this deep thinking. Each student gets a sheet of paper with three sections on it. In the first section, the students answer what they think it is really about. I model with them at first and we do this together. We brainstorm implications or impacts or purposes. We talk about why the author wrote about the topic or why something happened. After we get to a point when we can fill out our paper by ourselves, we answer the first question. When the responses are recorded, I have the kids hand their papers to the person on their right. Now everyone has a new paper in front of them. They read their peers responses, write their name in the second box and they then dig deeper by answering the second question, which states: "Ok, but what's it really, REALLY about?" We then write some more in the second box and after a few minutes, I signal for the kids to wrap up their reflections. We once more pass the papers to the right. For the last round, the kids read the responses in the first two boxes and then write their name in the last box. They record any final insights in the last box and then they return them to the original owners. We then share highlights from our papers. This is a great strategy to help students find deeper meanings behind what is being taught.

4 - A Better Table Strategy

Helps students create a summary, combine summaries, and critically analyze their peer's summaries to come up with better summaries of the day's lessons[1] . At the end of a lesson, have every student summarize the lesson with only one sentence. I then put students into groups of 4 (I use my grouping strategies to already have these groups organized). I have them create a larger summary using their four sentences. The new summary can be more than one sentence and it must include the main points from each person's sentence. Each group gets a legal sized paper and markers. We divide the papers into three parts. In the first section, they write their summary (do not let them write too small-it will make it harder later) with a marker and then we pass our papers to the group next to them. The groups will now read their new summary and critically analyze what it is missing. We also focus on what they could add to improve the summary or make it more complete. They now write the improved sentence underneath the original sentence in the second folded section and then pass the paper to a third group. That group follows the same procedure but writes the improved sentence in the third section of the paper. I then have students return the papers to the original owners. The original group now goes through and underlines portions of the summaries that they think improved their original summaries. We then share out our summaries and the improved, added sections. When I first begin this with my fifth-graders, I find I really must work with them about how everything does not necessarily make their summaries better. We work on that critical analysis piece by modeling together how we can study our summaries. Teaching them how to think about their work takes explicit modeling to help them make that more concrete. It also helps if I give them a specific detail to focus on while they are going through their summaries. It helps them narrow what to think critically about, especially as we are first learning this process.

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5 - The Biggest Aha Quick Write

Is a quick wrap up that lets you see what stood out most to the students. At the end of the lesson, have the students write down on a quick write paper, index card, or other quick response sheet, their aha of the lesson. They then go partner with someone they have not worked with all day to share their responses. Share out some of their partners aha's whole group. I have them be specific and add details to their aha's or I get a lot of comments like, "I learned a lot", or "I really liked studying this." By asking for specific details and giving the students a few minutes of quiet write time, they can pull deeper thoughts about what was learned in the lesson. Also, by having them share their partner's response, it allows students to not feel so vulnerable about what they learned and I get more students to participate. This is a quick, effective way to bring closure to a lesson.

6 - The Biggest Aha Bar Graph

Is basically a bar graph that visually shows the student's aha's and the common threads in their aha's. It also helps you see what the students mostly got out of your lesson. I have them record their responses on an index card and then ask for volunteers to share. I then have them get up and tape their response to a designated area of the board or classroom. I then have the rest of the class analyze their responses to see who responded the same or very similar to the posted index card. We then share those and tape it above the first index card if it fits. We continue until everyone's card is posted in its respective bar graph and then we work together to create category names for the columns. You can tell quickly which students have grasped the lesson's big ideas and which concepts need to be retaught. I have rarely ended up with more than four or five categories and it helps me to see what parts of my lesson was strong and what parts need more time to help create enduring understandings.

7 - The Three Sentence Wrap-Up

Is a great strategy to help students be efficient in their answers and analyze what is most important to include in their answer to sum up their understandings. This can be difficult for my fifth graders, but can be a very effective tool for students preparing to take state tests, AP essay tests, and constructed response answers that have a word limit. To practice, have students write a three-sentence summary about the unit or lesson. As you are practicing, have small groups get together and refine and share their summaries.

8 - A-Z Sentence Summary

I have my fifth-graders choose a letter out of a bag of cut out ABC letters. They then create a sentence summary that begins with the letter that they drew. They love it when they can write quietly for a few minutes and then come to the board in a Chalkboard Splash technique (everyone comes to the board and writes their sentence) to put up all the summaries on the board. We then read through everyone's summaries in order from A to Z. Your job is to stay impartial during this part. I do not comment as kids read their sentence summaries because I will be listening to 26 summaries and it becomes difficult to remain sincere and effective in my comments when there are 26 summaries to go through. If you had a magnetic white board (Oh, how I wish I did!), it would be fun to use magnetic ABC colorful letters to add some pizazz to the activity!

9 - 1, 2, 3 O'clock

Is a great technique to quickly review three important questions kids can discuss with each other. It can also be easily modified to add more or less questions as needed for the topic review. Pick three questions that are fundamental to understanding the concept being taught. Let students draw or write individually for a few minutes and then ask them to meet their appointment partner (I have everyone choose their 2:00 partner, etc in my time appointment cards). Both partners share with each other and they add anything from their partner's share they think should be added and then have them meet with their next hour appointment and follow the same procedure. Follow this procedure three or four times and then share out whole groups some of the understandings they got from sharing with each other. I like this strategy because by using the appointment card times, the students get to work with others and see and hear different perspectives and viewpoints.


10 - List, Group, Label

Is a great strategy to use at the end of a unit. Have the students record all the concepts they can think of from this unit or concept. I let them work for two to three minutes and I let them write or sketch their ideas. We then get into pre-determined groups of four and they record their thoughts on the group paper. I let them designate a scribe and I have them write big enough to hold up later and share. The scribe uses only one color of marker to record the group's understandings. During the next step, they take different colors of markers and circle different concepts they can identify from the words they recorded. After they have organized their categories, I have them share with other groups and then we post our charts. We study these whole group and look at what we notice, what has been forgotten, or what others added that some did not. Finally, I give the groups a few minutes to add any concepts previously left off that they deem important to add. We add these in pencil so I can see the ideas that were added after the whole group sharing.

11 - The Six Slide Review

I love to use this strategy with our Chromebooks and Google Slides but if you do not have access to the technology, a paper-pencil template works just as well also. I have students create six slides by looking through their notes, the book and their materials and find the highlights of what was learned using pictures and statements. The statements need to use details, and evidence to highlight the understandings. I have done this in geometry with shapes. Kids love to create slides with images and facts about the different geometry concepts. When they have finished the slides, they present or share their slides with another group who then can comment and ask questions. At the end, the groups share one of their six slides with the rest of the class. I like using the geometry and measurement unit because it has a lot of vocabulary, images, concepts such as area, perimeter, volume, angles and measurements. When kids can create the slides, they are able to think more deeply about the concept because they must create and "draw" the shape, identify its properties, and "teach" it to others.

These strategies allow students to interact with the lessons and concepts presented and they are given time to process and have closure with the concepts. By allowing our students closure, they can dig deeper into the meanings, think more critically, and analyze the concepts being taught. For educators, these techniques allow us to see what the students have learned, where there are still misconceptions, and what parts of the lessons deeply impacted them.

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[1] (Himmele P., Himmele, W., 2017. Total Participation Techniques: Making every student an active learner. 2nd edition. ASCD.)

Amy Konen



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