Make Every Minute Count: Strategies to maximize class’ first and final moments

by Jay Rasmussen, Faculty Development Coordinator

When are students most attentive and ready to learn?

Research consistently suggests students are most prepared to learn and retain information during the initial 10 minutes of a given lesson. The final 10 minutes of a lesson tend to be least productive for student learning.

Here I’ll suggest a few simple, but often overlooked, lesson design principles and instructional strategies for an effective anticipatory set (first 3-5 min. of a class session) and closure (final 4-7 min. of a class session). One might consider these two elements the bookends of a lesson. What comes between the bookends is of obvious importance as well!

Anticipatory Set

Many instructors consider this an attention getting device and the opportunity to start a spread of activation in the brain related to the new learning experience found between the bookends. Often 3-5 min. is adequate to pull students into the educational world one hopes to create in the classroom. An instructor who is predictably unpredictable—by using a variety of instructional strategies—is often most effective in providing engaging anticipatory sets.

Key Design Principles
  • Assist students in understanding what they will learn and why that learning is important.
  • Involve the past experiences and prior knowledge of students.
Possible Instructional Strategies
  • Present the learning outcomes in the form of written “I can” learning targets composed in this manner: “I can + verb + core learning.” In order to create the learning targets instructors should consider the non-negotiables of the session. In other words: What learning is essential for every student to attain by the end of the session?
  • Present a limited series of questions related to essential objectives.
  • Pose a problem, scenario, or case study that can be addressed by class content.
  • Share a story, reading, visual, or video clip with some prompt about what to attend.
  • Ask students to do something or observe you do something.
  • Ask students to create a simple mind map related to the essential content of the next lesson elements.
  • Give a quick ungraded quiz or assessment task.


In everyday parlance, closure is often thought to be review. In a sense this is true, but when reading the design principles below notice the nuanced difference between the instructor doing the most work by reviewing important information and the student providing the review and doing the most work. Closure can changed from wasted instructional time, marked by students packing up to leave the room, to a significant learning experience by considering the following:

Key Design Principles
  • Relate any instructional strategy directly to the learning target(s) of the lesson.
  • Involve all students through speaking, writing, or doing. Students (rather than the instructor) are reviewing the essential learning of the class session.
Possible Instructional Strategies
  • Point to the learning targets for the class session and ask students to do complete them. For example, if the learning target says “I can explain_____.” they do this with a partner. If the target says “I can compare_____.” they do this with a partner.
  • Ask students to write down or share with a partner the most important information discussed in the class. Then, hear student thoughts and add instructor comments as appropriate.
  • Have students complete a “ticket out the door” in which they must respond to a specific instructor-created question for each learning target. The results of this can be used as part of the anticipatory set in a subsequent lesson if there is shared confusion about any of the questions.
  • Give a simple ungraded quiz related to each learning target.
  • Ask students to create a simple 4-minute summary of the most essential learning they experienced during the lesson. This can then be shared in a partner, small group, or large group setting.
  • Present students with a problem or situation to solve that is directly based on new learning developed that day.
  • Ask students to create a simple mind map related to the essential content of the completed class session. If the map was started in the anticipatory set it can be added to/corrected in closure.

Many of you have likely developed your own anticipatory sets or closing activities. I invite you to use the comments section here to share your own exercises and strategies.

Jay Rasmussen
Jay is a Professor of Education with areas of expertise including active engagement of learners, curriculum design, classroom-based assessment, content area reading, flipping instruction, online learning, making thinking visible with Harvard Thinking Routines, culturally responsive instruction and Learner Perspective on Instruction.

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