There is much discussion about the purpose of the starter
The answer is – any and all of the above!
But whatever your aim, the following are definitely true
There are plenty of websites dedicated to examples of starters, but here are a few ideas to get you …started!
Questions - ask the class some questions about a new topic to gauge their understanding and existing knowledge.
Students are invited to ask questions which could be answered through the lesson (or through the unit of work)
Three things they want to learn about a particular topic
Three things they learnt last lesson
Present information they have prepared for homework to a partner / another group / the class
Equally as important as starters are the plenaries.
The aim of the plenary is to determine the level of learning that has taken place. This should not be confused with the completion of the tasks. Just because a student has finished the work, it does not follow that they have learnt the information.
Also don’t be fooled into thinking plenaries can only come at the end of the lesson! If you remember my post about AfL (assessment for learning) we talked about the need to check learning intermittently throughout the lesson. If you wait until the end it may be too late to discover that several students didn’t learn as much as you hoped!
Wherever they are placed in the lesson, plenaries – or mid-lesson mini plenaries – are designed to check and reinforce learning.
They work best when the students have a chance to articulate their learning. They are not as successful if you tell the students what they should have learnt, and ask them to agree they have learnt it!
The act of articulating something you have learnt has the dual role of reinforcing that learning.
Think about the times you have discussed a new idea with someone: the more you explore a topic, the more it makes sense to you as it makes stronger connections in your brain. Additionally, it will be more likely to move into your long-term memory though repeated examination. (This will be covered in a later post on Recall and Revision)
Plenaries – like starters – are for ALL students. They will not be successful if you only engage with a handful of students.
So although many plenaries take the form of question and answer – make sure you are involving ALL students in answering.
There are several ways of doing this…
Use mini-whiteboards – students all write down the answer / idea / draw the diagram… and all show you at the same time by holding the mini-whiteboards up.
Traffic lights – students tell you how confident they feel in their newly acquired knowledge by holding up red (not confident); amber (quite happy but would like to go over it again) and green (got it!). You will need coloured cards for this, but it is worth making a set that you can use again and again.
Write down three things you learnt.
Write down three questions you still have about the topic.
Complete a crossword on the topic. You could create this yourself, or set a task for the students to make one for homework - and use it as the starter next lesson by swapping with a partner!
Plenaries should be given the time they deserve – they are part of the learning process! Articulating learning helps to embed knowledge. Consequently, anything less than 15 minutes is not sufficient.
As a new trainee, you will undoubtedly miscalculate the time your tasks will take – time management will be a target for many of you, for some time! And as a result the plenary is often the thing which gets left off. Obviously you cannot jump ahead to the plenary if you haven’t given the chance for the students to learn the topics, but perhaps you could have some speedy progress checks in hand that you can finish the lesson off with.
This will help you to reflect with your mentor about the success of the lesson in terms of the progress made by the students.
Progress line – students mark where they are on the line at the start of the lesson, and again at the end...
Progress checklist – you give the students a checklist of elements they will be learning in the lesson. They grade themselves red, amber or green at the start – and again at the end...
Get the idea?
Perhaps you can share some of your progress checking ideas with me through the comments box, and I will post them on a future blog.
Next blog post
Lesson planning 3 - Differentiation; what is it and how do I do it?
Dr Sharon Williams