I added a new piece to my class routine this year. I still start each class with a five-question Do Now. It’s fast, I aim for three minutes flat. Then I do a few other quick things.1

Next comes the routine. Every day I have students grab a mini whiteboard and a marker. I ask them a few questions, have students write their answers and hold them up for me to see, spend time on topics that students are struggling with, make a note of specific students who I should find time to support, and often do a mini-lesson on something. This serves a bunch of different purposes, depending on the day. It might seem simple, but keeping the routine consistent helps us to be efficient and helps students know what to expect, and I can use this routine for lots of different goals. Here are a few of those goals:

**Reinforcing a question students struggle with on the Do Now.** Before when a lot of students got a Do Now question wrong I did something that didn't work very well. "I'm noticing that a lot of you said that 8 * 1/2 is 16. Remember, multiplying by one half is the same as dividing by 2." Students would dutifully correct their answer to 4... and then make the same mistake the next day. Instead, I note the mistake and add a clarification and a few quick problems to our whiteboard work. It's way more likely to stick with a little bit of targeted practice.

**Reviewing content from previous days.** Review is so important. But what's really boring is waiting until the end of a unit and then reviewing everything all at once. Instead, I mix in review problems in small chunks each day. If students have forgotten something, I realize it early and can give a reminder and add some extra practice. The small chunks spaced over time are a lot more effective than reviewing everything all at once, and I spend more time on topics that are a high priority.

**Checking for understanding from the day before.** Exit tickets are a nice way of getting some quick formative assessment data. If lots of students struggle on an exit ticket, I know I need to reteach that. But exit tickets can also give false positives. If we spend a class working on a skill, it's pretty likely that students can do it by remembering what they were doing a few minutes before. Asking them at the start of the next class is harder, and gives me a better sense of if that knowledge will stick. This has the added benefit of reminding students of what we learned the day before so we can build on it in the day's lesson.

**Checking for understanding of prerequisite knowledge.** Lots of skills involve some prerequisite knowledge that students might not have seen recently. Students need to know how to find perfect squares to find the area of a circle. They need to know the names of basic shapes to describe cross-sections of 3-d figures. This is a great time to check for that prerequisite knowledge and consolidate if students are shaky on it.

**Previewing topics to come.** Building off that last piece, there's lots of knowledge that requires a bit of practice for students to be confident. For instance, knowing the meaning of the four inequality symbols is a 6th grade skill, but by the time we get to inequalities in February they have often forgotten the difference between < and >. If I try to do a quick prerequisite knowledge check the day we start inequalities it will be a mess. Instead, I will start including inequality questions two weeks before that unit. It's a mini-lesson, then a question or two a day on whiteboards and a few mixed in to our Do Nows. The spaced practice helps that knowledge stick way better than if I try to do it all the day of.

**Reinforcing key foundational knowledge.** Finally, there's some stuff that's just good to keep practicing. Multiplication facts. One-step equations. I don't want to take up a ton of class time for it, but dropping in a question here and there is helpful, especially with mini whiteboards where I can adjust and respond to what students know and don’t know.2

I don't do all of these in one lesson. That’s important. The time I spend on this varies. Sometimes it's 2 minutes, sometimes it's 10 minutes. The time stretches and shrinks depending on how much I have planned for the rest of class. It’s also flexible; since we’re working on mini whiteboards I can spend more time on a topic if students are struggling, or keep moving if they know something well. Some lessons I focus on checking for understanding from the day before and consolidating prerequisite knowledge, prioritizing that day’s lesson. Other days, maybe when we’re doing some practice and a quiz, I have more time to preview topics to come and do mixed review. It all depends. I map out a rough progression of what I want to focus on at the beginning of each week, but I often adjust that as the week goes on.

One way this has changed how I look at teaching is that I see lessons less as discrete chunks to teach and then move on. Each lesson blends into the lesson before and the lesson after.

Instead of this:

It's this:

One important note: not every topic is the same size. Some require more lead up, some have more connections to what I'm doing the next day, and some stand more on their own. There's no magic formula where every day looks the same.

Anyway, I'm loving this change. It's hard to imagine going back. I'm doing all the things I always mean to spend time on but never get to. I'm spending time revisiting the previous day's lesson and previewing what's to come. I’m checking for understanding and then responding when I need to. The connections between topics are more clear. I’m checking for prerequisite knowledge. Quick chunks of regular review mean I spend less time reteaching old stuff. All that takes time, but it means the time I spend teaching new content goes more smoothly and sticks for students.

If you’re curious about my full beginning-of-class routine we do an optional number puzzle for students who finish the Do Now with time to spare, a quick thinking routine that’s designed to get students talking and participating early on in the lesson, and I give any announcements or reminders I need to.

Astute readers will remember a bunch of these ideas from my post a few months ago about the Direct Instruction program. This routine was inspired in part by learning about DI. I’ve adapted a lot of things to my context so this isn’t really what DI does, but I want to acknowledge that influence.

Excellent.

Mastery is in the pursuit, not the arrival.

I'm trying to figure out the second image and how it represents the change to a "traditional" lesson progression in which I assume each lesson takes the same amount of time and there is little spiraling (hence the lack of overlap).

I'm intrigued by the practice you describe and I might see how I can adapt an equivalent practice for my Pre-Calculus students. Thanks for sharing!