Do Now

“Do nows” are brief starters or warm-up activities that occur at the beginning of a lesson. As a teaching strategy, “do now” activities are rooted in constructivist theory (Dewey 1916, 1938) and student-centered learning (Hinton, Fischer, & Glennon, 2012), both active learning theories. 

Today, “do now” activities are widely used across elementary, secondary, and higher education classrooms. The activities usually last between three to ten minutes (Morris, 2007), ranging from responding to prompts to asking questions, and exist in formats such as writing, discussion, quizzes, or games.

Examples from research and practice prove “do now” activities to be effective across educational settings, although mostly in primary and secondary classrooms.  An example from higher education is a roundtable review, where, at the beginning of the class, students write down one important idea from the previous lecture on his or her paper, pass the list to the next person, and ultimately return to the original owner with a list of key takeaways for future review and study (Kohler-Evans, 2009).

Researchers found “do now” an excellent technique for classroom management. It helps to “set the tone for the day” (Perez, n.d.) with a purposeful start. As students are kept on task from the moment they enter the classroom, instructors will save the efforts of getting students back on task when the lecture starts. Also, with a small, non-threatening starter activity that most of the students can work on individually, instructors are allowed to focus on students who are disengaged or have special difficulties, making sure the entire class will be ready to embark on new content.

“Do now” activities are also facilitators of student motivation and engagement. Brief and engaging activities help to create a risk-free environment at the beginning of the lesson (Bonwell, n.d; Bonwell, 1995), and encourage group learning (Michael, 2006). They help prepare students to participate in more traditional class activities. This ultimately leads to improved learning outcomes.

To implement “do now” activities most effectively, practitioners have suggested supporting the assigned activities with proper assessment and feedback to “encourage would-be ‘Do Later’ or ‘Do Never’ students” (Ginsburg, 2011). For example, instructors can create a Do Now sheet for each student and collect the week’s work to rate using a point system (Walton MS Teacher Tools, n.d.). 

It is also important to link the activity with what the students have learned previously and what they will learn in the new class. Instructors are recommended to write the activity instructions on board or project them, to save the time spent repeating what to do and to attract students’ attention when they come in. Finally, the most frequently used strategy involves using Do Nows as a routine, so that students form the habit of immediate focusing on learning when they step into the class.

Written by Danxi Shen, Ed. M., Harvard Graduate School of Education
and Heather Frances, Ed.M., Harvard Graduate School of Education


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