Five Tools for Reflection – For the Teachers

Classroom_Students_PresentingDuring my first couple years of teaching, one of the areas where I typically got marked down on my teacher evaluations was on Lesson Closure.

Apparently it took me a while to catch on that saying “Put away your books and clear off your desks” was NOT an effective way to wrap up a lesson.

Allowing some time for some student reflection and/or summarization of the main ideas from the lesson turned out not only to be relatively easy to implement, but actually really effective (who knew?) not only in just wrapping up the lesson for the students but also for giving me an idea of how much the students really “got.” In some cases, it became an important part of determining how I planned instruction for the next lesson.

Most of the time I didn’t require students to write their names, so their responses were sort-of anonymous. (Though, really, by this time of the year, most of us probably know our students and their handwriting well enough that it’s not much of a mystery as to who wrote what.)


1. Index Cards

Using index cards became my default means of reflection/response for students. I kept stacks of blank cards in my desk at all times. I often used them as a “Ticket to Recess” or “Exit Ticket” – so students would put their completed card in my hand as they left the room at the end of class.

Index cards worked well for asking one or two questions. Sometimes I’d use content-based questions, to see if the kids were paying attention – kind of like a mini pop quiz:

  1. Who was President of the Confederacy during the Civil War?
  2. Which biome has trees that lose their leaves in the winter?
  3. What word means the answer to an addition problem?


More often, I’d use some sort of more open-ended questions:

  1. Draw a picture that shows __________________ (some concept from the day’s lesson)
  2. What’s one thing from today’s lesson that was new to you?
  3. What’s one things from today’s lesson that you want to know more about?
  4. How would this math skill be used in science or in some other area of your life?
  5. What one thing from today’s lesson do you think will be most important to remember? Why?


It took a while to get what I thought were “good” responses to these kinds of questions from my students. Taking time to reflect was something relatively new to them too, so for the first few times I needed to model possible responses and let them work together with a partner to talk through how to respond (a pretty good idea, anyway).

Often I’d keep the cards for the next day and use them to create small groups for the next activity, particularly based on what students are most interested in learning next.


2. Sticky Notes

When using sticky notes, I could ask the same kinds of questions as on index cards, but sticky notes added the possibility of allowing students to “vote” as a part of their response or for students to be able to see what others had written.

When I taught middle school, I might give each class period a different color sticky note so I could see how their responses compared from one group of students to another.

Sometimes (more often when working with groups of adults) I’d give them 3-4 questions and a small stack of sticky notes so they could write one answer per note, which could then be grouped by question on the wall as they left the room.


3. Journals/Notebooks

The same kinds of questions can be asked for students to respond in a notebook or journal.

The advantage to this format is that students can see the progress of their own thinking over time. I might present the same question several times over the course of a unit so that students can see how their responses change as they learn new information and have new perspective based on what they’re learning.

The disadvantage of this format is that it’s more work for the teacher to look at the responses, though their might be times when only certain students’ responses would need to be checked.


4. Handouts/Forms

Generally I don’t like making copies of a form like these to give to students, unless it’s included as part of a unit packet or other larger project. I don’t want their “reflection” to just feel like one more worksheet. What I like about these formats is showing them on an overhead or on the projector and then having kids draw their own version – whether its on an index card, a piece of scrap paper or in a journal – possibly with some adjustments. (Maybe they have 2 things they learned instead of 3, etc.) Reflections should be personal, after all.

Alphabet_Summary Reflecting_on_Bright_Ideas_




5. Students’ Heads

Not all reflection responses need to be written. Sometimes turning and responding to the question to a partner or two can be very effective (and quicker, if time is an issue).  And sometimes students just need a minute to process their own ideas on their own.

Reflection shouldn’t end up being one more assignment, one more thing for students to do each class period. Structure the time and use a tool that best encourages actual reflection – which will vary based on the particular students and the topics involved. Help the students see how taking time to think about what they are learning actually benefits them.



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Five Tools for Reflection

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