Engaging Students, Part Four: The Minute Paper

The techniques in this series generally serve three purposes.  Activities like lecture summaries and the muddiest point are generally classified as assessment techniques–methods that help an instructor check and see whether students are understanding the lesson.  This is useful, but secondary to the purpose that I see them fill: when students know that they are going to be assessed at a certain point in the lesson, they have a greater incentive to

One set of questions you can use in a Minute Paper.

pay attention.  And the process of writing down or orally reporting on what they understand or their greatest points of interest requires them to check in on their own learning. In this sense, the fact that students turn in work that instructors can quickly check to get data on understanding and comprehension is just gravy.

Today’s technique, the Minute Paper, is a great example of a tool that hits all three of these benefits.

The Minute Paper is, as its name suggests, a very short paper that students write in a minute in response to one or more prompts from the instructor.  Typical questions ask students to identify the most significant, important, interesting, or unsettling aspect of the lesson, or to pose a question they have about the material.  You can also make it more free-form, letting students simply react to the day’s lesson and write whatever comes to mind for that minute.  In a way, the Muddiest Point is a specific type of minute paper, one that focuses on clarifying what students do or do not understand in a lesson.  The Minute Paper is more versatile, allowing you to check on comprehension, have students design potential exam questions, or generate discussion points.

One danger in these sorts of techniques is that if students know they have to do them at the end of the class, they may simply identify a concept early in the class and write that down–allowing them to complete the assessment they know is coming, and avoiding the need to pay attention during the rest of the lesson.  The Minute Paper, therefore, is perhaps best used sparingly, and without advance notice to students.  Another option may be to make the prompts very specific to certain material, so that students cannot anticipate the topic on which they will need to write.

For some resources on the Minute Paper, see:

Stead (2005), “A Review of the One-Minute Paper”

The Field-Tested Learning Assessment Guide

Starting Point: The Minute Paper


Previously in this series:

Part One: Quotes

Part Two: Lecture Summaries

Part Three: Muddiest Point