Reviewing and Summarizing Strategies

While most elementary and middle schools are chugging along, high school teachers are beginning the final push toward the end of first semester.  This is the perfect time to revisit some quick, easy, and meaningful reviewing and summarizing strategies to gauge students’ understanding of major concepts.  These strategies are great to add to your toolbox as you prepare for the final stretch before winter exams.


Graffiti Write
In graffiti write, students are provided a concept or topic and asked to write everything they know about the topic on chart paper, a white board, or other large sheet of paper. Their responses should look “graffiti-like.” Students should not write in straight lines or be forced to write in complete sentences. This is a brainstorming activity that can be used as a pre-assessment or a review. Teachers may opt to have students rotate through several stations and either add to or review the work of their peers. (See Gallery Walk.)

Gallery Walk
Gallery walks typically take place following a graffiti write or other activity where students produce work to be reviewed by peers. Students visit stations in the room where student work is displayed and then have the opportunity to add to the information provided or to assess the information. Students are given ownership of their learning and an opportunity to review, reflect, and respond. This is a great strategy to use prior to a major assessment to guide review discussions. (See Graffiti Write)

Quick Writes
The Quick Write is an assessment strategy that is designed to give students the opportunity to reflect upon their learning. This writing assignment can be used at the beginning, middle, or end of a lesson and takes only about three to five minutes. Short, open-ended statements are usually given. For example, students are asked to write about what they learned, problems they encountered, what they liked (or did not like) about the lesson, and about how well they understood the concepts. In content teaching, the integration of reading and writing reinforces meaning construction as both activities use similar processing skills. (This strategy was originally designed for math classes, as math requires students to continually think at higher levels as one skill is achieved and another is introduced.)

Originally a Sheltered Instructional (SIOP) strategy, Conga gives students the opportunity to become experts about a subject, concept, or topic. To begin the Conga, students create two equal lines facing one another. One line becomes the “speaking” line, and the other line becomes the “listening” line. When the teacher poses a question to the class, the speaking line members look at the partner directly across from them and answer the question. Students in the listening line become active listeners, make eye contact with the partner, and affirm their response without offering a response.  The teacher chooses a time to say, “Conga” and plays festive music.  At this point, the two lines move apart a few feet, and the speaking line shifts one person to the right. The last person on the end “congas” down the middle of the aisle to the other end of the line while classmates cheer. Students in the speaking line then provide their answer to the same question(or a different question, depending on the teacher’s discretion) to the next person in line. This continues until the teacher changes questions. Eventually, the listening line becomes the speaking line so that all students have an opportunity to be the expert and to be the listener. This activity is great for formative assessment as the teacher can monitor student responses. Follow up questions such as, “Which question was most difficult to answer?” or “What did you learn that you didn’t already know?” or “What is still confusing to you?” can make this formative process beneficial to students. Plus, this activity is a structured way to provide student movement in your classroom.

Inner/Outer Circle
This is a review strategy that is great for our kinesthetic learners. Students create an inner circle and an outer circle facing each other. The number of students in each should be the same. Students in the inner circle will hold a two-sided handout. On one side will be a vocabulary term or question, and on the other side is a definition or explanation. The inner circle students hold up the word/question to the person in the outer circle. On the teacher’s command, the person in the outer circle provides the definition/response to the person in the inner circle. The teacher can decide whether or not the inner circle person provides the correct definition/response if the student misses. The students in the outer circle rotate on the teacher’s command until they are back where they began. Then, the teacher can allow inner circle students to switch with outer circle participants. He/She can also ask questions about which words were not missed or missed often to gain information about how to support student mastery.

This Sheltered Instructional strategy promotes literacy by allowing students to evaluate vocabulary words and concepts, make educated choices, and summarize. Students read a text and choose the “X” number of words they find in the text, as specified by the teacher, they deem most important. Then, students must write a one to three sentence summary of their passage, using as many chosen words as possible. Teachers can vary this assignment in many ways to differentiate for all learners.  This is a great way to encourage reluctant readers to write clear summaries in their own words.  Furthermore, this strategy also keeps overachievers from being verbose.  The strategy provides a great opportunity for students to “evaluate” which words are most important and”synthesize” their understanding through “creating” one to three precise, unique sentences.


Exit tickets can also be web-based.

Exit Tickets
Also known as “Ticket out the Door,” this strategy also gauges student understanding of particular concepts, vocabulary words, Essential Questions, Clear Learning Targets etc. Specific questions or tasks are best to use with Exit Tickets. Although the teacher can create his/her own questions for Exit Tickets, here are some popular types of tickets:


+ ∆?
After an lesson, reading, or activity, students complete the + ∆ ? to share what they feel confident about or like, what they do not understand or did not like, and what questions they have. Teachers can use this strategy as an Exit Ticket, a Think-Pair-Share, or a formative assessment to inform instruction.


The Important Thing…
To gauge understanding of a particular concept, teachers can ask students to relate “the most important thing” about ________. Like + ∆ ?, teachers can use this strategy as an Exit Ticket, a Think-Pair-Share, or a formative assessment to inform instruction.


Teachers can define the 3, 2, and 1 ideas, thoughts, or processes that students are asked to create.

The idea is to give students a chance to summarize key ideas and rethink them in order to focus on those that they are most intrigued by, and then pose a question that can reveal where their understanding is still uncertain. Often, teachers use this strategy in place of the usual worksheet questions on a chapter reading. When students come to class the next day, you’re able to use their responses to modify your instruction. The students feel a sense of ownership because the discussion is based on the ideas they addressed in their 3-2-1.


This admit slips provides an opportunity for the student to share a question he had about the assignment. Admit slips can be general or specific.




Admit Slips
Admit Slips enable students to focus their attention on the reading and study planned for class by preparing responses, ideas, and questions that anticipate the reading for that day.  An Admit Slip should serve as a review and provide students an opportunity to provide their insight on a question or topic. Generally, a bell-ringer activity would follow the next day with a Think-Pair-Share activity or other activity where students would be able to share ideas on their Admit Slips. The teacher would have an opportunity to evaluate and clarify any misconceptions.  Admit slips can provide a clear question for students to answer or ask students to provide a reaction, question, or interesting point to share with classmates.  Teachers define the parameters.



FIT Sheets
A F-I-T Sheet is an instrument that teachers use to assess reading comprehension, interpretive skills, and ability to make connections between content and real-life. Students share a (F) fact from their reading. The fact may be a passage, a summary or a portion of a reading, or a truth evident in an assignment. Then, the (I) interpret the significance of the fact. Students cannot choose a fact arbitrarily or there will be nothing to interpret. Finally, students write at (T) tie-in or connection to their own lives, history, or the real-world. Through these connections, our students become better readers and improve their literacy skills. (Nicholl, 1992)


What Else? gives students the chance to share information they know about a topic/concept that was not on the assessment.

What Else?
This strategy is a wonderful way to alleviate some of that test anxiety students feel surrounding multiple-choice assessments. At the completion of the test, the students are able write any additional information about the topic that they want on the back of the test. Teachers can prompt students by writing a “What else?” question on the board. For instance, teachers could ask, “What do you know about the Underground Railroad that I did not ask about on the test?” This allows teachers to see what students are thinking about and what they valued from their learning experience.
“What I Know…” Sentences
Students are provided with one or two vocabulary words and instructed to write as many sentences as they can about their words in the time provided. These students share their sentences. The entire class listens and words together to add to the information provided by the expert group. The teacher can ask coaching questions to get more information, clarify misconceptions, and facilitate this student-generated discussion. This is a great activity to use as a review before an assessment. Good sentences can be used as extra credit items, test questions, etc.  This strategy can be combined with graffiti write and gallery walk as a review.


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