Design your Reviews

What did we talk about yesterday?

Why should you fool around with games in the middle of classes? 

I distinctly remember someone on the instructor team approaching me and saying he wanted to use a multi-media game (based on television game show) in one of our courses. After talking with him for a few minutes it hit me like a 2×4; a game was the perfect vehicle for a review that would tie day three information to day four! Actually, it was a tremendous way to review each day of instruction and link it to the next.

Pretty basic concept, right? But we weren’t doing it…

We had made great improvements in the effectiveness of the curriculum, but when did we check to see if anyone remembered key points from the previous day? When did we cover foundational concepts so they were clear to everyone before we moved on? Information from each day did flow into the next day, but when did we discuss the hard connections necessary to master the mechanics and move into critical thinking? We hadn’t designed or developed reviews. Remember that 2X4?

Always pay attention when you get hit with a piece of lumber…


They’re not like French fries!

Ever noticed how you can eat French fries pretty much anytime and they are always good? You don’t even have to be hungry; you can add them to any meal any time and they are always good…

Reviews don’t work like that.

Reviews must be designed just as much as any class in your coursework. They are not just placeholders; they are critical links between building blocks of information from different periods of instruction and a vehicle for students to internalize challenging concepts they will need for follow-on material.

Good reviews will:

  • build a bridge from one day’s instruction to the next
  • ease tension and break the monotony in a classroom
  • let students have fun (maybe even compete!)
  • reveal areas where students are struggling
  • help students answer questions that are keeping them from moving forward
  • restate important foundational concepts

Reviews are worth the effort it will take to design them into the coursework. Don’t just throw them in like French fries. Take the time to make them effective and valuable. Set-up your audience for success by clarifying building block concepts and linking them to the ‘next’ material.


Who is Silas Marner?

Your reviews should be robust, interesting and valuable to your audience. Design them that way; it will not happen by chance.

If your review is two minutes and consists of simply asking, “does anyone have any questions?”, then I reckon it is not robust. It should take some time and be the focal point of the morning. It should reinforce all the important information from the prior class period. Finally, it should incorporate an explanation of any concepts the audience is still misfiring on.

Know your audience and tailor the review vehicle to them in terms of language, humor, age appropriateness, etc. For them to gain something from the review, it has to be relevant; you must meet them where they are. The review is for them, not you. Make it interesting for them and, as much as possible, fun.

Cover only important information and concepts. Re-introduce and reinforce them. Do not simply fill up 45 minutes with minutiae. If the review turns into just another power point session, the opportunity is lost.

 Experiment to find out which vehicle works best; a game? A quiz? A team event?

  • Pay attention to the participation/interest level. It may not match what you planned for…
  • See what they respond to and be prepared to make format & content changes
  • Don’t assume they need something ‘techy’ or ‘shiny’; they may want an old-fashioned pencil & paper quiz!
  • Review key points that are still giving them problems
  • Get student feedback before, during & after; be observant and ask them to give a critique

In 1939 Indiana Ralphie, Esther Jane, Flick and Schwartz got a review of George Eliot’s Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe before they began the day’s reading on page 32. I don’t know what Miss Shields said about the novel’s protagonist, but she did provide some connection from one day to the next. Devote some time and energy to designing good reviews that will help your audience so they don’t spend the first hour asking themselves, “who the heck is Silas Marner?”


But where will I put it?!

But, “Vance”, you say, “how can I add one more thing?” Answer: Stop thinking of it as ‘one more thing’. Reviews are necessary for successful instruction. Reviews are ‘doing’, not talking. (If you’re like me you can always find lots of ‘talking’ that you would trade for ‘doing’.) Good reviews emphasize key concepts and allow students to crystallize information. Good reviews provide valuable feedback to instructors about how well the audience is retaining information and where they are struggling.

Good reviews captivate an audience because they are interesting, fun and they have a purpose.

A friend of mine pulled me aside one day to tell me how impressed he was watching one of our instructors run a game-based review. His comment was, “I’ve never seen the whole room engaged like that!”.

Whether yours is a traditional quiz, a multi-media game, or a web-based format, make the effort to engage your students with well-designed reviews. Start with the questions you want answered, think about how to connect periods of instruction, design your reviews, then teach with a purpose so your audience wins.

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