Teachers and administrators at my school often ask how I keep my students on task for an entire period despite having quite a diverse set of classes to teach. I have previously mentioned my frequent switching of activities in a period, but the key to my success is rather simple and not very exciting: the entry task.
To begin each period I have an entry task posted on the screen, and as the students walk in they know to begin the activity. Sometimes it’s for individual students, partners, or small groups, but it always involves a quick review or a simple new skill.
The reason I credit the entry task with my successes is because the entry task sets the tone for the classroom. It shows students that we work as soon as we enter the room, that the students can be social quite often, and that there are times for silent individual work time. Plus, we will regularly focus on learning new content and improving skills each day.
Below are some examples, each of which can lead into a larger lesson.
For an individual: Using one complex and one compound sentence, explain how Mark Twain reveals Jim’s intelligence (even though Jim is not educated) in the chapter entitled “Was Solomon Wise?” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You have seven minutes to be ready to share your sentences with someone in the class or turn them into me. —> Reviews two sentence types, forces students to review a chapter, and allows students to analyze a character. This entry task can easily be followed with a quick conversation with another student, a fast editing session with a partner, a small group discussion, etc.
For a partnership: Choose an “elbow partner” [this is a partner sitting immediately around a student, which contrasts with a “cross-town buddy, a partner from across the room] and sketch a picture that illustrates the definition of one of this week’s vocabulary words. Then, compose a question about last night’s reading that correctly uses a form of the vocabulary word (and please label the vocabulary word form). You have three minutes to be ready to share your work with the class. —> Reviews the previous night’s reading while also providing a start to a discussion or Q & A session, links a visual to a vocabulary word, and forces the students to know which grammatical form is used. Sometimes the partnerships exchange their questions and then answer the one received, or the class uses the questions to explore the reading through a full class discussion.
For a small group: In a group of 3-4 students seated near you, create a quick dialogue of no more than 90 seconds in length that incorporates three transition words or phrases and reveals how Brutus and Antony’s funeral speeches contrast. Be prepared to perform read your dialogue aloud with each group member having a part. You have eight minutes to be ready. —> Reviews the literature, allows for comparing and contrasting, reviews transitions, and provides a quick oral presentation to the class.
These are just a few examples, but they demonstrate how an entry task can set a tone or become a lead-in to another part of a lesson.
If you really want more bang for your buck, connect the previous day’s exit slip to the entry task. 🙂