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Does every lesson need a plenary?

Does every lesson need a plenary? That is a question you may be asking yourself during the last 5 minutes of a lesson as you try to hastily cram in a quick discussion about what your students have been learning. In an ideal world, each lesson you teach would have three carefully planned sections, your lesson starter, the main part, and the plenary. However, anyone who has been teaching any length of time will know that unexpected situations come up and very few lessons you teach go exactly as planned!

In this blog post we are going to talk about why plenaries are important as well as what a good plenary looks like. I am also going to give you some quick plenary ideas that you can use with your students. My plenary activity cards include 100 different plenary activities that can be used with any lesson topic and age group, so if you are looking for a bank of engaging plenary ideas click here!

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What is a plenary?

A plenary is used by teachers either during or at the end of a lesson to summarise intended learning and encourage students to reflect on their learning. During a plenary teachers and students may discuss and ask questions about the learning that has taken place. This is where next steps are also identified. A plenary is a good time to celebrate any successes during the lesson. There are many different strategies that can be used to carry out a plenary. They can be a quick activity such as a show of hands to a question, quiz or a question-and-answer session. Or it can be a more substantial activity that can mean students create something to show and share their learning. Plenary activities can be carried out as a whole class, in small groups, pairs or individually. The aim of a plenary is to help the teacher evaluate their student’s learning.

Why is a plenary important in teaching?

Plenaries are important as they enable teachers to evaluate their student’s learning. Plenaries allow teachers to identify and plan for their student’s next steps in their learning. They also allow them to see how effective the lesson was, so they can decide if they need to change or keep strategies and approaches being used. Plenaries are a good time to provide students with feedback. They are also they ideal time for students to provide their teacher with feedback about the lesson.

Plenaries round off the lesson and they ensure students are reminded of the intended learning. Students are more likely to leave knowing what they have learned and can more easily talk about their learning. Plenaries also encourage students to reflect on their learning and therefore identify their next steps. This means they are more aware of their learning and know how they can improve and be more motivated. Plenaries give students a sense of ownership of their learning and helps to develop increased confidence in their learning too.

What are the benefits of plenaries?

Including a plenary within your lesson has many benefits which Include being the ideal time for the teacher and students to exchange feedback on their learning and the lesson. This means students and the teacher can make improvements in the future if needed.

Including a plenary means the teacher can evaluate the learning of the entire class which will then inform the teacher’s planning.

Any misconceptions about the lesson content that students may have had will have been highlighted. The teacher now knows who will require extra support.

Students will have been able to reflect on their learning. This will allow students to consolidate their knowledge and skills they have been working on during that lesson.

Students will be more confident talking about their learning and will be able to identify and talk about their next steps. Including plenaries in a lesson will result in more confident learners, increased ownership in learning and increased student motivation.

Does every lesson need a plenary?

You have probably learned when training to teach about the three-part lesson model – starter, main part and plenary. You may have also learned that you “must” carry out a plenary to effectively round off a lesson. However, we are all guilty of sometimes dropping the plenary, due to running out of time, maybe spending more time than thought on the main task, or clearing up misconceptions, that we don’t get onto a plenary activity.

When you think about it, the end of any lesson is a really challenging time to sum up learning. Students (and the teacher) may be tired, especially if it is just before lunch or is the end of the school day. Also, students will have tasks, work etc from the lesson to refer to, when you ask them about their learning, so the teacher will be unsure of what has sunk in and what they are just reading from their notes, the smart board etc.

The end of a lesson is also a bad time to learn if students have completely misunderstood the learning. It would have been useful to learn that earlier in the lesson so we can address it!

Yes, plenaries would be beneficial to have at some point in every lesson, but these could be done at the end of a lesson or midway through. It will depend on your students and how the lesson is going. If you do run out of time, don’t worry about it. You can always do a plenary after lunch etc. This may be more effective as it will really encourage students to think and recall what they learned!

What does a good plenary look like?

When planning an effective plenary ensure and use language of learning. Instead of asking questions like “what did we do today” use “what did we learn?”. Encourage students to consider their learning in different ways. Ask questions like “how would we use today’s learning in real life?”, “what could some misconceptions be about today’s learning?” etc.

Encourage students to be specific about their learning. You can ask what knowledge and skills they have learned and maybe encourage them to give examples.

As plenaries are usually carried out when students and teachers are perhaps tired or needing a break, keep plenaries fun and engaging. Make it something students will look forward to doing!

Plenaries should evaluate the whole class’s learning as well as individual’s learning. Plenaries should also happen at the most useful part of the lesson. This could be the end, or it could be throughout the lesson. Whatever suits you and your students. This may change depending on how the lesson is going. It’s good to be flexible and responsive to your student’s needs. For example, it is clear several students all have the same misconception about the lesson topic halfway through the lesson, it would be useful to stop and do a mini plenary rather than waiting until end.

A good plenary should also be differentiated in some way to suit the needs of all your students. This doesn’t need to be difficult and don’t over think it. Maybe just adapt how students feed back to you or adapt the plenary activity slightly. You could also give more support or challenge where necessary.

A good plenary encourages students to reflect on their learning from the lesson, identify next steps and therefore prepare them for the next lesson.

How to do a lesson plenary?

If you keep in mind the purpose of the plenary, you should always be successful at carrying out an effective plenary with your students.

As previously mentioned, plenaries can be done at the end of a lesson, or mid-way through, depends on how the lesson is going.

Plenary activities could be discussion based, using questions. You could even use Bloom’s questions to encourage higher order thinking. If your plenary is discussion based, it would be straight forward to evaluate your student’s learning.

You could also do an activity where students may need to create something to summarise their learning. Here, you would need to be clear on what you are looking for in this type of activity and that the result you are looking for will help you effectively evaluate your student’s learning. My plenary activity cards can be adapted to many different lesson types and are ideal for this purpose.

Ensure and allow enough time to carry out whatever plenary activity you have planned. Oh, and ensure you spend time planning a plenary, don’t just wing it or have it as an add on to your lesson. You may need a shorter space of time if it is discussion based. You will need to allow more time if you have other resources involved or a longer activity. If you don’t finish, don’t worry, you could revisit it later or even the next day.

How long should a plenary take?

You should aim to give yourself enough time to carry out any plenary activity properly. If it is an activity where students will be writing or creating something, give them enough time to realistically do a good job. If your plenary is more discussion based, you may need less time to complete it. You could aim to give yourself and your class at least 10-15 minutes at the end of the lesson to carry out a plenary.

What is a mini plenary?

Mini plenaries are short, check ins with students to check their understanding of the lesson so far. These can be done during the lesson and can be done more than once. These are especially useful if you have identified that some students have misconceptions about the lesson topic and will enable you to get them on the right track. Carrying out mini plenaries during the lesson is way more useful if students have misunderstood a concept during the lesson rather than at the end! These don’t need to be full blown activities with separate resources. These can be quick, fast paced activities using a lot of questioning techniques. Identifying misconceptions related to the lesson topic could be the focus of your mini plenaries.

Quick plenary ideas

If want to get a quick snapshot of your student’s learning, these quick plenary ideas are perfect. For more plenary activity ideas, my plenary activity cards feature over 100 to choose from!

  • Write down 5 things you have learned today.

  • Write down what you would like to learn more about from today’s lesson.

  • Using what you have learned today, write a lesson starter for our next lesson.

  • Make a list of the strategies you have used in today’s lesson.

  • Write down 3 targets you would like to achieve in our next lesson.

Overall, there are many benefits for ensuring you purposefully plan and make time for a plenary in your lessons.

Keep in mind you are your students may find mini plenaries throughout your lessons more useful than waiting until the end of a lesson.

Remember to keep plenaries engaging and fun to increase student motivation and confidence in their learning.

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