Five Minute Papers

School has returned – huzzah!  I’ve never liked the feeling of being out of school.  Now, the woody smell of freshly sharpened pencils from my childhood has been replaced with the ozone of computers turning on, but the same energy and anticipation is in the air.  Also, I get a paycheck again!

One of the things that I am trying in my classes this year is a modification of a technique that I have used for many years.  Five minute papers are a well discussed pedagogical technique to help students reintegrate the information that they have just learned over the past 50 minutes or so, so as to help them put it into long term memory storage.  They also help me get to know my larger lecture classes a little better.

For those of you who don’t know, Five Minute Papers are short assignments that you use perhaps once a week (any more than that and they tend to lose their value).  At the end of the class, set aside five minutes in which students will be posed a question or a few short questions and they can answer any way they would like.  The questions are designed to help them re-entrench the class content, so they can be either content based or more general questions.  These papers (just completing them) can be then fed into participation marks for larger lecture classes.

In recent years, I have gone for more general questions in my Five Minute Paper assignments.

  1. What have you learned? (From this lecture, from this class, from this semester?)
  2. What do you want to learn? (About the topic, the play, the material?  Or anything else?)
  3. A question of the day, often times having something to do with the play at hand, just to make sure they are listening.  (Hamlet is prince of what nation?)

This year, I’m going to change it around.  Students often don’t come to class thinking about what questions haven’t been asked yet, what they have learned so far, so inevitably the first two questions are a little broad for them.  They struggle for a few minutes to process and then scramble in the last two minutes to write something down.

I figure this year, I am going to make it two parts.  First, I’ll ask the students a question that is pertinent to the content of the plays, yet reasonably broad in scope.  For example, “Why did Shakespeare turn back to the history of England early in his career?”  Second, I will have them ask ME a question.  They will always know that they have a question to ask me coming up, so they can think of that as they go through the plays.

I’m hoping that this will help to focus things a bit more.

That is one thing that I have learned (from teaching): It’s all about the tweaking.

One thing I want to learn is how to reach them all, if that is even possible.

And I guess my question of the day is – what is a pedagogical technique that you use or have seen used in a classroom that you feel is particularly useful or worked particularly well?  Do you have a “signature” assignment?

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