Classically Inclined

May 21, 2012

Communicating with students: the one minute paper

I realised recently that when I’ve been talking about the Critical Incident Questionnaire on the blog, I’ve talked about it as a natural progression from the one minute paper technique. Without ever writing about the one minute paper technique. So, for those of you who haven’t come across this method of feedback before, here’s how it works and some thoughts on using it in the UK and the US.

The method is taken and adapted from Cross and Angelo’s Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, which is the bible of Cool Stuff For Your Classroom from which most people who run workshops on this stuff tend to draw their material. The purpose of using the one minute paper is that it serves as quick and instant mechanism to pass feedback and other communication between students and the lecturer; it’s a method with a low time cost; and it encourages reflective learning in students. The process works as follows:

  • The final slide in every lecture asks students to answer two questions:
    • What was the clearest point made in class today?
    • What was the muddiest point?
  • Students anonymously write down their answers on a notecard or piece of paper and hand them in to the lecturer as they leave.
  • The lecturer (or postgraduate teaching assistant, if one is available for a large class) goes through the answers looking for broad themes of clarity and confusion.
  • Some possible responses:
    • If one big issue has confused students, write a handout addressing the issue and make it electronically available.
    • If one big issue has caused confusion, allocate time in the next lecture to resolve it.
    • If many little issues have come up, pick three or four questions that best reflect common areas of confusion; write a handout that answers those questions and make it electronically available.
  • At the start of the next lecture, the lecturer begins class with a one minute summary of the one minute paper issues, or a reminder that the handout is now available on WebCT.

There are plenty of benefits of using this technique. It means students reflect on what has just happened in the lecture as soon as it has finished, thus increasing their likelihood of retaining the information. Lecturers find out areas of confusion that otherwise would completely escape them, and can solve problems quickly. Students have the safety of anonymity, so can ask whatever they want without fear of looking stupid in front of the lecturer or their peers; it also gives them the security during the lecture of knowing that they can follow up on things they might not get rather than being left at sea. The one minute papers also serve as a useful barometer for how a class or a lecture has gone, and can help give the lecturer some hints about how to improve it next time around.

I’ve now used the one minute papers in both the US and the UK classroom, and while there are regional variations, they work really well in both. In the US, I used one minute papers as the way to measure attendance, which formed part of students’ final grades, and that encouraged a very high response rate; while initially the students in Birmingham had a similarly high level of response, it tailed off over the term. That said, there were always one or two people who had questions or queries, and not always the same people either – so even if the option isn’t always exercised, it’s appreciated (and the public dissemination of answers to questions means that the information gets shared among a wider audience than just the student who asked the question, so there’s a wider public benefit in place too). As a method, it plugs into one of the fundamental things I think about teaching – that since we can’t psychically tell what is going on in our students’ heads, we need to make an effort to get in there and help out with any confusion as soon as we can.


  1. I came across this review questionnaire but as the “Harvard” questionnaire – cannot remember when now or the source.

    The two questions were slightly different:

    1) What was the most important point covered in today’s material?
    2) What was the most inportant point uncovered in today’s material?

    The first question picks up on the general attention to the presentation, while the second picks up on the level of thinking occurring during that attention

    Comment by Anthony — June 20, 2012 @ 3:22 am | Reply

    • The nice thing about this strategy is that you can tweak it to give you the information that’s most useful for you, or that’s going to be most useful for the class. When I was teaching Word Power (a massive service course on basic Greek and Roman etymology for 122 students), I put up a different question at the end of each lecture relating to the material that we had covered that day, so that students had to apply their new knowledge before leaving the room – which led to some amusing answers, which made my job more fun!

      Comment by lizgloyn — June 20, 2012 @ 8:32 am | Reply

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