Broadly speaking, there are two purposes behind a great "Do Now" activity: preview or review.
Personally, I am a fan of review, as this gives us a chance to build in opportunities for spaced retrieval at regular times. I have talked about retrieval practice several times before (here and here). But I also will try to build preview into my review. When I use my Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back starters, if the last lesson does not link to the new lesson, then I will try to make the further back set up any prior knowledge. This is important as all new learning is built upon what we already know, so activating prior knowledge before teaching new content is a great way to make learning more "sticky".
But planning starter activities can take time. Especially if you are trying to reinvent the wheel every lesson. So here are some ideas to get you started. Personally, I find keeping to a fixed structure for my "Do Now" makes it easier for me to prepare (I don’t have to think about the layout etc) and also gives students more consistency so they are more aware of exactly what they need to do. But some teachers prefer variety and that is also fine.
Keeping in mind the tips for a successful "Do Now", here are some ideas that you might like to try.
Here are four ideas that can be adapted to any subject when trying to use the ideas of spaced retrieval.
Retrieval Roulette is an idea created by Adam Boxer for use as a starter activity. There are a bunch of examples available here.
Retrieval Grids were one of the examples in the INSET session that people found really interesting.
I have talked about my own Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back before.
Use an exam question! I have done this with IB classes for a few years now. I simply open an exam paper and choose a question to project. I mix up topics from lesson to lesson to make sure they are retrieving ideas from a range of previous units of work.
NO Preparation Required
Sometimes we just need something for the next lesson, and we have not prepared a starter activity. Although it is obviously best to plan the activity to either review learning in a systematic way, or prepare students for the objective for that lesson, sometimes we just get caught up and let things slip. Here are some ideas for those times.
I blogged about Thinking Activities for the classroom a couple of years ago, and these all make great starter activities. Have a bunch of templates ready for those times when you just need something available quickly. I particularly like the Frayer Model and Two Truths and a Lie. As with anything, students will get better at doing these the more they practice.
Ask students to "Write down what you learned last lesson" or "Write down two questions you still have about what we covered last lesson".
You could ask students to be more reflective by asking them to write down how they are going to make the most of today's lesson.
Previewing for today's lesson
It is a little more difficult to speak in general terms about previewing content, as subjects are so different. But here are a couple of pointers.
Think carefully about what the required prior knowledge is for students to be successful in this lesson. Do they know this stuff? How do you know? Could you build this into the starter activity?
Is there a connection you could make from today's content to another topic students have previously studied? Is there a comparison between this book and another? If so, you will want to bring the previous material to students mind before making the comparisons, priming them to make connections.
Some other ideas
'Find the error' or 'What could make this better' are great activities to start a lesson. Have a less than perfect response to a question, copy it and give all students a copy on their desk. They have to identify and correct the piece of work. You could use an actual piece of work from the class (though you need to be careful you have a positive and safe environment before doing this), or you could make one up to deliberately identify key misconceptions.
Finish the exercise from last lesson. It's not glamourous, but if students run out of time to finish the work in the previous lesson, then giving them time to finish the independent practice is important. Many of us ask them to do this for homework, but actually building this into our lesson plans could be a way to introduce some spacing in our teaching.
Remember, a key point to a great "Do Now" is that students should be able to start it as soon as they enter the classroom. Showing a video does not work here, as you have to wait for the whole class. Doing an icebreaker or grouping activity does not work here for the same reason. These are great for after the "Do Now", but not as the activity at the start.
Ideally it will also involve all students writing something down. This increases the challenge as students have to clarify thoughts rather than just having vague ideas.
And a vital one is that they must be able to do it without any input from you. If you are asking a question like "What were the causes of World War 2?", be more specific and add a second line that states "Write a short paragraph to answer this question, making sure to remember to use PEEL." This extra clarification means students do not need to ask you if bullet points are OK, or even if they have to write anything down.
If you want to read about "Do Nows" then they are Technique 20 in Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov (we have a few copies in the CPD Library).
Have you got an activity that you regularly rely on? Something you tried once that went well, but forgot about it since then? Any ideas you have but haven't tried? Feel free to share these in the comments below so we can build up a repertoire of ideas we can all turn to.