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Engaged Teaching: "Do Now" Activities for Your Lessons

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (
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This is a follow up to a May 2013 blog about The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching (Solution Tree, 2013), by Laura Weaver and Mark Wilding -- a book that offers SEL and Common Core-compatible approaches to instruction. As co-executive directors of the Passageworks Institute in Boulder, Colorado, Laura and Mark share with us practical examples of how educators of all grade levels might "Do Now" in classrooms some of their suggestions.

Elementary School

Introduce a golden moment of silence to begin the day

A golden moment is an opportunity to sit in silence with each other as a way to quiet the body and mind. Ringing a chime or bell to mark the beginning and end of this "moment" is helpful. Teachers can encourage students to listen to the fading sound of the bell until they can no longer hear it. Teachers can start with a very short period of time -- even 30 seconds -- and lengthen this golden moment over time, as the students are ready and able. Use a name and rationale that makes sense to your students and fits with your current SEL and classroom routines (e.g., Calming Time, Quiet Time, Listening Minute, Settling In).

Develop a "shared agreements" process

In the first few weeks of school, students and teachers develop a list of agreements that will guide their classroom and define their classroom culture. These agreements co-exist alongside any school rules. Students are asked to brainstorm a list of what they need --from themselves and each other -- to learn effectively, speak honestly and openly, and share what is important to them. This list is summarized in five- to seven- major "agreements" and posted in the classroom as a reminder. Most should be positively worded but a couple though shalt not's are fine (e.g., put downs). Examples of agreements can be found in chapter seven of the book and in Edutopia's "Cooperative Arithmetic" video.

Middle School

Transitions circle

In the first week or two of school, engage your students in a community circle devoted to discussing the challenges and gifts of transitioning to middle school. Give each student a chance to speak, for a short time (one or two minutes) on these challenges and opportunities. An alternative to this activity is to ask students to use separate index cards to anonymously write down their concerns and excitement about middle school -- these can then be shared in a community circle. In such a circle, students gather into a circle and are invited to speak or share something, one by one, on a particular theme. This speaking is invitational and no one is forced to speak. In this case, students can read one of the cards and then open it up for comments by anyone interesting in doing so. This is a non-threatening format that helps new groups of students get to know and feel comfortable with one another.

Personalizing global issues

When including challenging topics in your lesson (such as climate change or war or a recent difficult event), give students an opportunity to share personal reactions and responses to the material. Create ways for students to creatively express what they are seeing, feeling, and noticing in the world -- past and present. One teacher follows up her lessons on climate change with an opportunity for students to create "What you can do" posters -- in which students engage in brainstorms, working groups, and potential actions in their school and community. Offering students a generative, creative and productive outlet for the emotions that naturally get stirred by certain topics encourages learning, empowerment, and civic engagement. Note: If you notice students are particularly subdued or agitated after a provocative lesson (for example, the Holocaust, or a recent tragedy), provide a few minutes for open conversation, personal response, and dialogue or ask students to reflectively write about their response to the lesson. You may wish to conclude class with quiet reflection or a lighthearted activity. If you notice extreme agitation, it is important to connect a student other resources in the school, such as a school counselor, psychologist, or social worker.

High School

Begin an occasional class with an inspirational quote or question related to your class in some way

Ask students to engage in 3-5 minutes of reflective writing in which they respond to a quote or question. Ask for some volunteers to share out after this reflective writing. These can be linked to existing school, class, or unit themes, or character or SEL foci. Sir John Templeton's writings about worldwide Laws of Life contain excellent examples of quotes that are sure to promote thinking and discussion by high school students.

End your class with a three- to five-minute "dyad" or "pair-share"

Ask students to respond to a question about what one or two things they are taking with them from your class or from the school day. Have them write down a common list for their pair and pass it in to you for your review and comment, and when time allows, ask them to share with the larger group. Focus on helping students make connections between content and their lives, to help making learning relevant for them.

All Grade Levels

Prospective and retrospective learning surveys

Engage your students in age-appropriate learning goals self-reflections -- in which students identify current strengths and challenges they have as learners. Ask students to identify 3 learning goals they have for this coming marking period and to identify 3 learning challenges and three learning strengths in this class, or three things they feel they are best at and three they have the most trouble with. Take a social-emotional and academic learning approach to the surveys -- in which you invite students to create goals in each of those areas for themselves. Let students know that you will revisit these goals mid-way through and then at the end of the marking period.

Even if you have not done this earlier in the year, at the end of the year, you can ask students to reflect on what they see as their social-emotional and academic strengths and where, in each of these areas, they feel they grew the most over this past year.

In the comment section below, please share with us "Do Now" activities you use to launch learning in your classrooms.

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Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

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LEugene's picture

It was only last week from my University, I realized how important reflection is to incorporate in lessons to encourage student learning. I like the ideas that you highlighted to encourage student learning, which in the long run will keep them engage. I particularly enjoyed the sections for the All Grade Level and High School since I teach students between the ages of 15-17. I usually start with prayer and occasionally a motivational reading and the students enjoy it, they even develop a discussion from the reading. So I could imagine the impact it would have when I include the reflections as you outlined above. I believe it would prepare the students for the next day and at the same time focus on what they have learn during the time spent at school on that day. That may serve as the only time they really took sometime to focus on what transpired during the day pertaining to school work. Thanks for the ideas!!!

Michael's picture
4th grade teacher from Milwaukee Wisconsin

In my 4th grade classroom I engage my class with a time to learn a new Spanish word or phrase. After the class has repeated the new words, I review the words from earlier in the week. I also have tried using the "Daily Number" strategy which was quite successful.

I am glad you brought up the idea of a reflection time and a silent moment to just focus on listening. I believe it will be powerful to teach my students to just take time to listen.

Thank you!


Jonesna's picture

Nice article,

I particularly like the "do now" suggestions for High School. I think it is important for teachers to stimulate discussion and reflection in the classroom and these activities are perfect for that.

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Maurice J. Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

I always find myself learning from reading the comments that follow my blogs, and this has happened once again. I learned about a new Newsletter, the idea of using motivational readings, and the cumulative vocabulary concept (vocabulary being an area of growing relevance). Thank you!

Margarita Finkel's picture
Margarita Finkel
Social media for e-learning & technology

Thanks Maurice for sharing it.
I found tips by Roberto Catanuto very interesting. I'm sure by doing this we can truly engage our students. So, here are his tips:
1) learning how to learn and think, rapidly, collaboratively, creatively
2) learning how to manage failure and get over it
3) learning how to manage one's own digital identity on social networks and similar to make to most of it
You can check it up here

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Reflection is one of the most overlooked parts of the learning process, which is ironic since it's where learning actually happens. I really appreciate that you've included tools for reflection, tools for mindfulness, and tools for community building- all are so vital to helping kids be successful!

A couple of resources that others might appreciate:
Teacher Tools from Antioch University New England's Critical Skills Program. ( Lots of interesting reproducibles and tools for reflection, collaboration and assessment.

This wiki has a great collection of tools for reflection via various forms of technology:

This conversation on Social Emotional Learning would also be a great place to share your thoughts on the topic:

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Maurice,
Love these suggestions - there are some that I'm definitely going to try to implement - especially the dyad and think-pair-share. I've got a favourite of mine, too, that I'll share. I like to finish lessons by asking student to identify the three key words from the lesson, and then rank them in order of importance. This brings in some evaluation and HOTS.

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