More Satisfying Endings

The Last Five Minutes of Class

Why don’t we treat the last five minutes of class more like the finale of a gripping movie? Nobody packs up to leave the theater minutes before the  big reveal. The last few minutes can shape what students take away from  the whole lesson, like an unexpected twist can alter our understanding of a film, but too often they’re lost in a shuffle of announcements. Students are often restless because they don’t see the value of our rushed last (but not necessarily concluding) points. But James M. Lang reminds us that what we do in those final five minutes–how we make students feel, and what we have them think about at the end of the session– has “the power to boost the learning, motivation, and mind-set of our students in substantive ways.”

Here are a few suggestions for wrapping up your class time:

Have students write a one-minute paper. Scanning even a small sample of these quick, no-stakes writing assignments can provide valuable feedback on how the class went, and students will benefit from practicing retrieval and reflection.

Have students make closing connections. Building real-world connections increases students’ interest and engagement; this is especially valuable for students who might feel that the subject is abstract, or irrelevant to their lives. To forge those necessary connections, Lang suggests that we bring our class to a close by asking students to brainstorm “ways in which the day’s material appears in contexts outside of the classroom.”

Have students think about how they study or practice new material. Metacognition significantly improves learning. The last few minutes are a good time to guide students to reflect on their own learning and study habits. We can also help them to self-regulate their learning by training them to better identify the major points or bigger picture in each lesson. You might use the last five minutes  to have students pull out the two or three most important ideas from the session. (When you compare their lists with the ideas you consider most important, you may be alarmed at first—novice learners have difficulty distinguishing details from fundamentals in masses of new information. But if you share your own priorities with them, for discussion, your students will begin to develop stronger knowledge structures, and you’ll get feedback on what to emphasize.)

Have students come full circle. Lang also recommends bringing the  lesson to a close by revisiting your first five minutes and tying everything together. For example, if you opened the lesson by having students jot down everything they knew about a certain subject, you could end the day by having them revisit their lists and explain how the lesson “confirmed, enhanced, or contradicted” their prior knowledge. This is an especially powerful strategy for dispelling misconceptions.

“To be continued…“ Suspense is great for capturing attention. Ask students to speculate about the material that’s coming next, or make a prediction based on what they’ve just studied. Divulge just enough to create a mystery. Showing us gaps in our knowledge makes humans curious, and you can help students to see how what they’ve already learned sets them up to discover more. Ending with a provocative question just might get them thinking about your class until they see you again.