4 Review Activities that promote High Level thinking and student discussion about YOUR content

As we look toward the end of a lesson, a unit, or even a school year, we plan time to review the content. This often results in asking students questions (sometimes in creative ways to make the review a game or more fun). I love me a fun game for review, but when I think about the level of thinking in order for the review to be quick and teams to be able to take turns, it usually ends up being pretty low-level questions – recalling and regurgitating information. The other thing I often observe (ahem… and maybe did a lot as a teacher) during reviews (especially prior to a big assessment) is talk a lot. I never meant to talk my students’ ears off – I always started with a review game of some sort and then if a student got something wrong, or if we came to a topic I felt the class still didn’t fully understand, I would suddenly break into lecture mode for 5-10 minutes to tell them everything I wanted to make sure they knew about the topic. As if hearing me talk about it would cement it in their brains? I think we sometimes think if we make sure we tell them everything one more time before the big test, they’ll get it… but that is far from the truth.

I’ve been reading the book 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong by Antonetti and Garver in which the authors take all that data from those thousands of walkthroughs to find the most effective ways they saw STUDENTS LEARNING rather than teachers teaching. This seems like a small difference – teaching and learning go hand in hand, right? but really – if you review like I (admittedly) did – with pretty low-level review questions in a game paired with tiny lectures here and there, there is a lot of TEACHING happening, but quite possibly, not a whole lot of learning. I’m not saying there is never a place for lecture or knowledge-level review. These are both good strategies for teaching and reinforcing concepts. Antonetti and Garver share strategies that focus on getting students working with and thinking about the content at high levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy- and provide the brain research to prove this more effectively helps students learn and remember the content! I want in! Thinking specifically about reviewing, I’ve taken a couple of their suggested strategies and turned them into templates and I share some examples for how you might prompt students in order to use these templates with your own content.


Antonetti and Garver suggest asking students to place topics you’ve been learning about on a continuum from least important/influential/impactful to most important/influential/impactful.

To me, it is easy to imagine using this with events in history. For example, if you’d been studying the American Revolution you could give students the topics of

  • the signing of the Declaration of Independence
  • The Boston Tea Party
  • The Stamp Act
  • The forming of the Continental Congress
  • The Battle of Saratoga
  • The Battle of Yorktown
  • (or the specific topics you covered)

Then, you ask students to work in partners or small groups to place the topics on a continuum showing increasing impact or importance the father the right a topic is placed. Since there is no right answer, students must use their opinions along with what they know about each topic to justify those opinions. You can imagine, this causes passionate and sometimes loud conversation as students justify and defend their answers! This can also be done with historical figures you have been studying.

What could this look like in practice? Check out the image below of my google slides template “The Continuum Challenge”. It includes directions along the sides in the “grey space” for students as well as topic boxes that students can drag into the slide.

Gran your own copy of this Google Slides template – The Continuum Challenge to edit and prepare for your students with your content!

Do you and your students prefer Jamboard for drag and drop activities? No problem!

Grab your copy of the Jamboard version of The Continuum Challenge here

How to use the continuum challenge in your classroom

You could print the template or share with students digitally – or even better, do both. Have students complete in partners or small groups and then call on one or two to share using your touch screen board or by sharing their screen. Then call on others to share their ideas if they have different ideas or different rationale. You could also have students complete the activity with sticky notes or index cards arranged on their desk or table.

Okay… so that sounds great for a history lesson, but what if you don’t teach history? Imagine the same activity using science vocab terms. You may need to create a scenario for students to apply these terms to in order for them to place them on the continuum. For example, you could list all the terms you’ve been studying as a part of photosynthesis and ask which are the most important for the plant’s survival in a dessert (or marsh, or tundra…). Remember, that students should be able to explain each of their decisions and why they placed them in the order that they choose. AND remember to choose a prompt that really has no “right” answer. The point is to get students discussing and justifying by applying their knowledge.

What about writing? How could you have students use the continuum as a review to think deeply about the writing process? Well, what key terms and strategies have you covered? Younger classes might have things like “using a period at the end of the sentence” and “having a subject and verb” while an older grade level’s topic lists might include:

  • a hook to get the reader interested
  • a story as an example to prove your point
  • a clear thesis statement
  • a consistent theme throughout
  • a conclusion
  • use of a simile
  • use of a metaphor
  • etc.

Students would work in small groups or partners to discuss which topics have the greatest impact on the intended reader and/or best help to prove the author’s point. Imagine the discussion that will result!

Click here to grab a copy of The Continuum Challenge Google Slides Template

Click here for your own copy of the Jamboard version of The Continuum Challenge Template

I believe we can kick this strategy up a notch by then asking students how they can apply this to their own writing. Ask them to pull out a previous composition and add or improve upon it by using a topic they put in their TOP three most impactful. Ask students to do this on a sticky note or separate piece of paper. Then, students can share their original sentence or paragraph and then what they changed/added. You could have students share in small groups, volunteer to share with the whole class, or you could collect them and share anonymously and ask the class for feedback and/or to identify which strategy was used to improve the work. The ultimate goal is to get STUDENTS talking about and APPLYING their knowledge rather than simply answering questions or listening to the teacher explain again.

Rank & Justify

Similar to the Continuum suggested by Antonetti & Garver is a Rank & Justify activity I created and have shared previously. In this activity, you provide students with topics you have covered and ask them to rank them in order of most important to least important and justify their answers. A big difference between this template and the continuum is that students can only select a few answers and aren’t ranking all of them. There is also room provided for their individual justifications for each choice and ranking. This can be a useful template to take a grade on because it can be done independently first, but you can then still have small group and/or whole class discussions where students share their thinking. The discussion piece is where students end up reviewing each other on the content and cementing in that learning as they passionately justify and defend their choices. Here, the teacher can ask questions and point out which topics students didn’t cover and ask them why in order to review those lesser chosen items, as well. Additionally, you can walk around the room and point out ideas shared during the small group discussion that you would like shared with the whole group. Here’s what the Rank & Justify Template looks like:

Grab a copy of the Rank & Justify Template for your own use HERE

Click HERE for the Full Blog Post on the Rank & Justify Template

Brain Dump

This strategy is not mentioned specifically within the book I referenced earlier, 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong, but the brain research referenced within the book (as well as TONS of other research) backs up the effectiveness of this one.

There are instructions and timers for students outside of the slides in the “grey space” that don’t show in the preview above.

Grab a copy of the Brain Dump template HERE

Learn more about the Brain Dump template in my blog post about it HERE

In order to get students discussing and thinking at high levels about the content, instead of having them simply “peek” at each others’ brain dump lists, instead, have them ask each other questions and explain to each other how they remember that information. After they finish the entire Brain Dump activity, have students create something to help themselves and their classmates remember one or more of the items they struggled to remember and had to “peek” or ask a classmate about. You could also ask them to find patterns and/or connections between the content they struggled to remember and their own lives. Finding these connections helps students’ brains to place the content into long-term memory. Students can share these connections and further review each other following the Brain Dump Activity.

Venn Diagram with Categories

Yes, I said Venn Diagram. Yes, I know that this strategy is not new for ANYONE. BUT to kick it up a notch and promote even more higher-level thinking than just comparing and contrasting, you can add in having students categorize each line within the Venn Diagram. For example, instead of just listing all of the traits you can think of about pie on one side, the traits of cake on the other, and the things they have in common in the middle, tell students that they can’t list something unless without a category that both have in the center of the Venn diagram or both have differences on each side of the Venn diagram. Students should label each category on the same line with the traits that fall into that category. For example:

As easy as a Venn Diagram seems to fill out, it becomes more complex when one must come up with a category for each entry. Doing this activity in small groups or partners facilitates discussion about the content as they work to complete the graphic organizer about two topics you need students to review. Click this link to get a copy of the template in black and white with text boxes, in color with text boxes, and copies of the black and white and color versions with NO text boxes if you want to print the activity for paper and pencil completion.


I hope these review strategies, templates and ideas will inspire even better and more creative ideas from YOU! I know we ALL want to find ways to help facilitate true student engagement and long-term learning for our students. Let’s take advantage of the time we have at the end of lessons and units when we are reviewing content with students and choose to look for ways (like the examples above or other ways) to facilitate student discussion, application, and interaction with the content rather than knowledge-level questioning coupled with mini-lectures as I used to do! While it FEELS like WE need to say it again… it is so much more powerful to facilitate a way for STUDENTS to talk instead of the teachers. Might feel scary… but the research shows it is worth the time and the risk! Please share what high-level review strategies you use!

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