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How To: Adjust Your Teaching Style to Your Students' Learning Style
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Debriefing During and After Instruction
James E. Dallas

In today's climate of high stakes testing for students and accountability measures for classroom teachers, the retention of essential information is increasingly becoming a focal point for good instructional practice. When there is a lot of information being presented to students, it is useful to have them summarize their notes, if not every ten minutes, on a very frequent basis. The important thing about summarizing by students is that it supports retention and understanding of material. Below are a variety of summarizing formats used in classrooms today for the purpose of having students retain information:

  • 10-2: This technique was developed by Dr. Mary Budd Rowe, who stated that for every 10 minutes of instruction, there should be 2 minutes of debriefing or sharing of notes by students. Students work individually or in teams to fill in gaps or help each other clarify concepts.
  • 3-2-1: At the end of a lesson, a class, a lecture, a film or a reading, students are asked to write down 3 things that really interested them; 2 things they'd like to know more about; and 1 idea they will share with others or write about. (The heading attached to the 3-2-1 can be changed to suit the activity or content that is being summarized).
  • Paired Verbal Fluency: Students get into pairs. One student is number one and the other is number two. The teacher assigns a topic for brainstorming. When the teacher says go, number one tells number two everything s/he knows about the topic for about a minute, while number two listens carefully. After the minute is up, number two tells number one everything s/he knows about the topic without repeating any ideas shared by number one. This is usually repeated for three rounds, with a shorter amount of time allocated to each round. Finally, students identify discrepancies between what they and their partner shared. These discrepancies should be shared with the teacher when processing the verbal fluency.
  • One Word Summary: Students write one word that represents or summarizes the concept studied in class. Afterwards, they write 2-3 sentences that explain why they chose that one word.
  • A-B-C Summarize: Each student is given a letter of the alphabet and they must think of one word or idea beginning with their designated letter and related to the topic studied.
  • Four Box Synectics: Synectics bring together diverse elements. The teacher draws a box with 4 separate squares. Have the students name four common everyday objects. Depending on what was studied in class, have them brainstorm 3-5 similes for each word. Example: If you are studying atoms in science, say to the kids, "work in groups to tell how atoms are like a tree; tell how atoms are like a car; tell how atoms are like a shoe; and tell how atoms are like a stamp. The group selects its two favorites to share with the class.
Tree car
Stamp shoe

Ticket to Leave: At the end of the period students have to turn in a "ticket to leave" before they are dismissed from the class. A "ticket to leave" might be to "write or ask one question about today's content.something that may have left them unsure or perplexed. The teacher needs to be aware that the assumption underlying this activity is that learning is ongoing and students should have inquiring minds. The teacher may want to greet the students the next day with information related to their question so that this does not become a trivialized activity.

Learning Logs: During the last few minutes of the period or at the end of the day, students should make journal entries responding to a variety of questions. Some questions might be:

  1. What was one important thing you learned today?
  2. What helped you to learn this in class today?
  3. About what are you still unsure?
  4. What did you accomplish in class today?
  5. Assess your performance in class today?

Taking the time periodically, during and after instruction, to provide opportunities for students to summarize and process information is an essential technique for getting them to retain information. Once students have practiced and have become familiar with various formats for debriefing material, they will begin to select the format that works best for them.


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