10 Powerful Ways to End Your Lessons
Instead of cleaning up or going over homework assignments, try these creative activities that can help students make sense of new material—and have fun in the process.
When you’ve got a few minutes left before the period ends, it’s only normal to wonder: Do my students really understand what we covered? Do they remember what we started with, as well as what we just discussed?
While cleaning up and going over homework assignments often take up those final moments of class time, effective closing activities allow you to make better use of them by checking for understanding, correcting misunderstandings, and putting a little fun into the process to motivate your students to make sense of what they’ve just learned.
Closing activities don’t need to happen every day, and they don’t always require lots of advanced planning. They can occur at the end of a chapter, or even at the end of a large learning unit, and can also take various forms—incorporating movement, technology, and even components of social and emotional learning to build a stronger classroom community.
Here are 10 creative and fun closing activities we sourced from experienced teachers that you can try in your classroom.
1. Two-Dollar Summary: Ask students to write a two-dollar (or more) summary of the lesson they’ve just learned. Each word they use is worth 10 cents. For extra scaffolding, ask students to include specific words in their statement. For a twist on this, ask students to explain something as if they were teaching it to a first grade student. This will also push them to simplify complex ideas for themselves and therefore understand them better.
2. Clear or Cloudy: This is a neat example of an exit ticket, asking students to identify what is clear about what they’ve learned (what they understand) and what is cloudy (what they’re having trouble understanding). Try creating a simple “Clear or Cloudy” handout—like this one from Teachers Pay Teachers—that students can use to record something clear and something cloudy before turning it in on their way out.
3. Appreciation, Apology, Aha!: This activity, practiced by high school teacher Aukeem Ballard at Summit Public Schools in Redwood, California, gathers students in a circle to reflect on their day. Students can either identify something they’ve appreciated that day, an apology they’d like to deliver, or an aha moment they’ve experienced during the course of the day. The activity can surface important insights about lessons (particularly during aha moments) and can also help build stronger social bonds in the classroom.
4. Create News “Headlines” or “Six-word Summaries”: Pair students off and tell them to imagine they’re writing news headlines that summarize what they’ve learned. Challenge each pair to write at least two headlines, then come back together to review the headlines. Alternatively, you can do this as an entire class activity, writing the headlines suggested by students on your whiteboard.
For a different spin on this, try educator Sarah Frisby Cook’s “six-word summary” of the most important idea or concept. On Facebook, Cook told Edutopia that because students are limited in word choice, “they really have to think about what is most crucial to say.”
5. Traffic Light: On Twitter, an educator shared that they've affixed a picture of a traffic light on the door as a quick check for understanding at the end of a lesson. Before students leave the room, they take sticky notes and write one thing they learned in the lesson and place it on the green light, one thing they’re still mulling over and place it on yellow light, and one thing they’re struggling to understand and place it on the red light. The activity takes a minute to do, and after students leave, teachers can easily discover important insights about their students’ grasp of the material at hand.
6. Video Journals: Educator John Thomas uses the free app ChatterPix to get students creating and sharing video journals describing what they’ve learned. Because this can take a little time to create, this strategy might be best suited as a wrap-up activity at the end of a unit. The videos are playful and fun, and can easily be posted to classroom platforms like Seesaw.
7. Rock, Paper, Scissors: Shannon Kenyon flips the familiar game rock, paper, scissors on its head to create a simple reflection worksheet students can use to think deeply—and critically—about the content they’re learning. The “rock” of the content asks students to identify the hardest part, the “paper” asks them to distill the main idea of a topic, and the “scissors” asks them to think about less important details that they might discard as they consolidate their learning.
8. Quiz the Next Class: Nikki Cobb-Struzynski gets her students to use the free platform Kahoot! to come up with quiz questions and multiple choice answers to give to their peers studying the same material in other classes. Recent research suggests that generating good questions promotes deeper engagement with content and improves retention. When a person formulates a question, “One has to reflect what one has learned and how an appropriate knowledge question can be inferred from this knowledge,” University of Kassel researcher Mirjam Ebersbach told Edutopia.
9. Make Your Classroom a Beach: This activity will get students out of their seats and sharing with the whole class. Educator Eman Bekheet told Edutopia that she writes reflective questions on a beach ball using dry erase markers. Questions might include things like: “What is one thing you learned during today’s lesson?” or “What was challenging about today’s lesson?”
As the ball bounces around the room, you can come up with a mechanism for deciding which question they have to answer out loud—such as the question their left thumb is touching, or the very first question they see. Use the responses to generate further discussion about the day’s lesson.
10. Optimistic Closures: These are simple ways to get students reflecting on the day’s learning, identifying next steps, and strengthening their classroom community at the same time. Try the One Word Share, which asks students to stand in a circle and respond to a prompt like, “What’s one word to describe how you’re feeling about the day?” or “What’s one word that stands out to you from our lesson?” Capture responses in a word cloud and do a quick debrief to see where the class landed.
The Human Bar Graph is another twist that gets students moving. Label points along a line drawn on the floor or across a wall that show different levels of mastery: I’m confused, I’m okay, I got this. Ask students to stand where they feel most comfortable. This exercise requires a certain level of vulnerability, so it’s best to try it once you built some trust with students.