Teaching: Three Quick Plenaries

It took me almost a year after my PGCE to figure out what a plenary actually is: a little activity that demonstrates that some learning has taken place and allows the teacher to assess how far the class ‘get’ whatever it is you’ve been doing for the previous hour.

Below are three super-quick plenaries that I find myself using, a lot.

(NOTE: Plenaries don’t have to come at the end of a lesson. These can make excellent ‘hinge’ activities’ after a particular section or question. They also break up a long lesson nicely)

The Squint Test

This is something I lifted from a CPD session with someone from High-Tech High in San Diego. After introducing/ exploring a concept, you ask the class to show their level of understanding through their eyes. A squint means that you absolutely get it and feel 100% confident on the topic:

and wide eyes mean you are completely lost and don’t know anything about what’s going on:

The wider the eyes, the less comprehension. The good things about this are:

  • it’s fun.
  • it takes the fear out of not ‘getting’ it. The eyes are a subtle signal.
  • you can assess class confidence in a single sweep. No need for written evidence or lengthy conversations.

Fist of Five

Similar to above, but more interactive for the kids. You pose a question, eg: ‘How much do you sympathise with Victor Frankenstein?’ and ask for a show of fingers. Five fingers = strongly agree/ very much, whereas no fingers = strongly disagree/ very little:

This is great for kicking off mini-discussions. Another variation is to get all the kids with the same number of fingers out to group up and share reasons. Instant debate!

Yes, No, Why?

I made this one up all by myself. End of a lesson, 5 minutes left, pose a question. I prefer ambivalent questions that force an opinion, eg: ‘Does Piggy deserve to be shunned by the other boys?’ Then you ask everyone to form a response in their heads, along with a reason. The wait-time is vital here: do not rush into answers. Once everyone is ready, fly round the room for resposnes. You can:

  • give everyone 20 seconds to speak and go round the whole class
  • start with one kid who has to ‘pass the ball’ (an imaginary one is always fun) to someone else
  • put them into pairs/ small groups to share

That’s it really. More later…

-Unseen Flirtations


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