A teachers guide to Lesson Plenaries

Paul Main

A teachers guide to Lesson Plenaries: Ideas, tips and classroom strategies.

What is a Lesson Plenary?

Effective Plenaries in a lesson are those that help the teacher to make sure all students understand what they have learned. They can be used as an opportunity for reflection, or simply as a way of summarizing and reinforcing key points from the day's lessons. The following example shows how one might use such a plenum:

"Today we talked about the importance of using our senses when learning new things. We also discussed some ways you could do this at home." "Now I'd like us to take turns sharing something with each other that has helped you learn more effectively by using your senses." 

Mini plenaries work well if there is time left over after the main lesson. If not, then it may be better to spend the extra time on another activity.

How Do You Use Lesson Plenaries?

The most important thing to remember is that effective plenums should always be planned ahead of time so that everyone knows exactly what will happen next. This means that teachers need to plan their lessons carefully before class starts, and think through which activities would best fit into any given situation. Teachers who don't prepare enough often find themselves scrambling during the lesson itself, trying to figure out where to go next.  

Using Lesson Starters & Plenaries

Lesson starters are the most important part of your lesson. They’re what you use to teach students, so they need to be well-written and organized. But there is a lot more that goes into making lessons work than just writing them out! In this post I want to share some tips on how to make sure your lessons are effective for both you and your students.

The first thing we should do when planning our lessons is decide which starter or plenary will best help us get started with each topic. In addition, it helps if we have an idea about where we would like to go in terms of content before we start teaching. This way we can plan ahead and avoid having to scramble at the last minute. Here are three ways to choose starters:

1) Choose starters & plenaries based on student interest

2) Use a “lesson map

3) Pick something from your own experience

Getting students to engage in reflection time can be a difficult task. The key here is to create opportunities for students to reflect on their learning throughout the year. One option is to ask questions during whole group discussions. Another option is to set aside specific times for individual reflections. You could even try asking students to write down 3 things they learned today. These options all require students to think critically about their experiences and apply those concepts back to their daily lives.

Build mini plenaries into your lesson plans. As part of an english lesson, a mini plenary allows you to focus on a single concept without getting bogged down by too many details. For example, instead of spending 30 minutes covering vocabulary words, spend 5 minutes talking about synonyms and then 10 minutes discussing word parts. 

Lesson Plenaries give students the space to explore topics independently and allow you to move quickly through material. If you don't already have a good grasp of the language being taught, consider creating a "learning journal" for yourself. A learning journal is simply a notebook where you record any new information you learn over the course of the week. Learning journals are especially useful for languages that aren't spoken very often in everyday life. When you read a book or watch a movie, take notes in your journal. Then review the notes after every session.  

Engaging Plenary Exercises
Engaging Plenary Exercises


What makes an effective lesson plenary?

A ‘good’ plenary summarises the main learning focus and gets pupils thinking and talking together. It is also important that the teacher has planned well for this part of their lessons. The following are some tips on how you can make your plenaries more successful:

* Make sure there is enough time in each lesson so that all pupils have a chance to participate. If necessary, plan extra activities or use other resources such as videos or interactive whiteboards.

* Ensure that everyone understands what they need to do during the plenary by using clear instructions at the beginning of the session. This will help them stay focused throughout the activity.

* Use visual aids (e.g ., pictures) where possible. They may be used to explain concepts, provide examples, show progress etc.

* Keep it simple! Don't try to teach too much in one go; instead break down tasks into smaller steps. For example, if teaching about fractions, start with dividing numbers by 2 then move onto 3/4 before tackling 5/8.

* Be prepared – think ahead and prepare materials beforehand. You don't want to find yourself having to improvise when things get difficult.

Plenary Cards
Plenary Cards

Purposeful Classroom Plenaries

100 words: Find out what learners think they have learned about a specific area of subject knowledge. Gauge their understanding to inform what you do next. This is an excellent way for teachers and students alike to reflect on the learning process, as well as how it can be improved in future lessons. Plus, this activity will help your class feel more engaged with each other.

Give me ten (or five): Learners are asked to rank ten things they learned from reading the text. They then write down why they chose that particular item. The teacher reads these responses aloud and discusses them together. Students may also choose to share some of their own thoughts or ideas.

Visual Summaries: Students work individually to create a poster summarizing their thinking about the topic. Each student writes one sentence describing his/her main idea. Then he/she draws a picture illustrating that idea. Finally, he/she adds three key points to summarize the whole concept.

Learning Capture: Teachers allocate time at the end of the session for the group to write down what they think they have learned. The information shared helps the teacher to see which content he may need to revisit and so shapes future planning. It includes activities such as brainstorming, creating visual representations, and developing arguments. These activities should lead to increased confidence when composing written assignments.

Challenge Cards: Using a red challenge card from the Universal Thinking Framework to use their knowledge and skills.

Exit tickets are a really plenary activity that works great as a starting point because it gives students practice using their listening skills while also giving teachers time to prepare materials. It’s easy to see why exit tickets are such popular activities – they give everyone involved a chance to participate. However, sometimes teachers find themselves scrambling at the end of class to come up with ideas for these types of activities. Socrative and a number of other student response systems give children the opportunity to let the teacher know what they know (whilst gamifying the experience).

Keyword bingo: This is an excellent way for students to practice their keyword skills, as it allows them to use these words in context. The teacher should provide some examples of what each word means so that students are able to make connections between the terms. This activity requires little preparation time but does require careful monitoring by the teacher. You can prepare this activity by placing each keyword on a piece of paper.

Word wall: A simple yet effective method of engaging all pupils in a lesson. A large sheet of paper has been divided into four columns; two contain definitions of the vocabulary used in the lesson, whilst the remaining two columns ask questions relating to the meaning of those words. Pupils take turns writing answers to the questions in the second column. When finished, they pass the board around the room where classmates read over their contributions before adding any new ones.

Build what you know: Using our specially designed building blocks, pupils can create a model of their newly acquired understanding.

The Problem with Plenaries

If you don't plan your lessons well enough, you could be wasting valuable teaching time preparing material that will only be covered once during the year. If you do decide to go ahead with a plenary, remember not to overload your class. Some things might benefit from being broken down into smaller chunks throughout the day.

In addition, plenary sessions tend to focus too much on individual learning rather than collaborative working. As a result, pupils who struggle academically may feel isolated and left out. In order to avoid this happening, try breaking up the plenary into small groups instead. Alternatively, consider having different classes present topics simultaneously. By doing this, you ensure that no-one feels excluded and you get more variety in the classroom.

Develop a solid plenary structure
Plenary Structure


Final Thoughts on Plenaries

Actively involve learners and have feedback as an everyday part of the learning sequence. The following are some thoughts about plenary sessions that I’ve had over the years:

1) Plenaries can be a great way to get people together, but they need to be planned carefully so that everyone has an opportunity to participate in them. If you don't plan well enough, it's easy for one person or group to dominate the session. This is not good if your goal is to create a collaborative environment where all participants feel like their ideas matter.

2) If you want to use a plenary session to teach something new, make sure there will be time at the end of the day for questions from those who didn't attend.

3) Progress in lessons should also be reflected in plenaries. For example, if someone teaches a lesson with a lot of content, then he/she may choose to do a regular mini plenaries to check on learner progress.

4) Plenaries should be engaging activities that allow students to practice skills such as speaking up, listening actively, etc., rather than just sitting passively while others talk. Write a list of lesson plenaries ahead of time so that you know what topics you'll cover during each plenum. Make sure that every student gets a chance to speak.  

5) The teacher asks learners to prepare and deliver a one minute verbal summary of a forthcoming or completed activity, session or topic. It could be anything - a report card, a presentation, a poster, a video clip, a song...

6) A plenary session doesn't necessarily mean that everything needs to happen at once. You might start by having two groups present their findings and conclusions separately, followed by a discussion between the two groups. Then, after lunch break, another pair presents their results. After this round of presentations, the whole class discusses the issues raised. 

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