I spend time over at Mary Frazier’s helpful A Chat with Mary site and was recently reminded of a great strategy that encourages deep thinking and helps teachers assess learning. The strategy is called Exit Cards. I had the chance to learn more about the idea several years ago while working with teachers on differentiated instruction and still use it.

I’m also re-reading the book Brain Rules by John Medina and am in the section that talks about using structured repetition to encourage long-term memory. Everything that the brain research says about how learning takes place supports the idea of exit cards. The strategy is a very simple one but is also a very effective way to help kids retain information. The added bonus is that you gain data that helps you gauge students’ understanding. This can lead to re-teaching, to compacting the curriculum or to individualized instruction with specific students.

So how does it work?Index Cards

At the end of a lesson, learning activity or class period, the teacher poses a simple prompt or question. To exit the room, each student must respond to the prompt on a 3 x 5 index card. The teacher collects the cards as the kids leave. They can also be dropped in a box by the door.

Plan for about three to five minutes for kids to finish and to collect the cards. Cards are not usually graded but you may find that over time kids start to “blow off” the prompt. You may need to cut back a bit on using cards or put a simple rubric into place
to keep kids accountable.

Some possible prompts:

  • What was the most important thing you learned today?
  • What was the most difficult for you today?
  • Explain the concept of popular sovereignty in a way that makes sense to you.
  • Something I still don’t understand is . . .
  • What is the one question you would ask if there were more class time?
  • List three ways that the North and the South were different in 1861.
  • What’s an example of supply and demand that you deal with every day?

Remember . . . the goal is to help kids cement learning and to provide feedback so that you can modify your instruction.

Have fun!

“My toolkit for reading.” Wenxin’s Photostream February 24, 2005. April 25, 2008. http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevin/5387998/.