Lorna Smith, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bristol, and Harry Dodds, a former subject tutor for the Buckingham Partnership SCITT, explain the role of starters and plenaries in effective lesson planning.

by Lorna Smith
5th August 2019



Research shows that more learning is likely to take place in lessons containing more than one activity, or broken into sections, sometimes called ‘chunking’. Including starters and plenaries in lesson structures allows for this variety of approach.

Starters, appropriately used, mean that learning can begin as soon as students enter the classroom. They can be used to introduce new ideas or a new topic, or to re-cap / consolidate / reinforce prior learning.

Many teachers have a task displayed on the board or arranged on desks for students to get on with straight away.

Plenaries don’t have to happen only at the end of the lesson. They can fit in at point at which you want to check that learning has taken place (‘mini plenaries’), and to share understanding.

Features of a starter: 

  • short – probably no more than ten minutes

  • has lots of pace – mostly oral – very interactive

  • designed to engage and to focus attention

  • inclusive – designed to get everyone involved

  • motivational – designed to offer early success in the lesson.

Examples of starters: 

  • matching / sequencing exercises – e.g. match words with definitions, bingo, snap

  • examining an (intriguing) image with a related question

  • summarising – e.g. write down what you know about a topic in 3 bullet points, then reduce to three words; ‘Just a Minute’ (tell your partner about a topic without hesitation, deviation or repetition)

  • questioning – e.g. groups prepare short questions on a topic for another group; answer in role (‘hot seating’); card loops; true/false statements.

Features of a plenary: 

  • refers back to and consolidates the most important learning points of the lesson or the learning intentions stated at the beginning of the lesson

  • puts the learning in context, by linking it both to prior learning and to the coming stages, and allows students to reflect on their learning

  • gives opportunities for informal assessment – your quick check that learning has taken place for the whole class

  • helps you judge the next steps – important in enabling you to plan the next lesson

  • should be differentiated to the needs of your students

  • can last about ten minutes – could be shorter (but make sure you leave enough time).

Examples of plenaries: 

  • a quiz or game (bingo, word tennis, game show quiz cards etc.) 

  • question based (card questions, teacher challenge questions, 'If this is the answer, what's the question' etc)

  • summarising (five features/key words/sentences, lesson recipe, lesson headlines etc.)  

  • reflective ('What would you do differently next time?', reflection cards, RAG or traffic lighting, exit tickets etc.) 

  • visual (summary of lesson as a word or mind map, flow chart, venn diagram, timeline or infographic etc.).   




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