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3-2-1 Summary: A Multi-Tasking Strategy

Laura L. Sagan, Ed. D.

This article addresses how a teacher can utilize one teaching strategy to collect data and inform instruction.

 Dr. Laura Sagan is Adjunct Professor at Touro College in New York, teaching special and general education graduate-level courses. She has been a teacher and administrator in the New York State Public Schools for 25 years.


           With more emphasis placed on teachers using research-based strategies and formative assessments, teachers often struggle with how to incorporate everything into one lesson. Ideally, a teacher would use a few strategies on a routine basis that would target several teaching tasks.  One such device would be the 3-2-1 Summary (See Figure 1). With this tool, you are asking students for information based on three different summary statements or questions (Saphier & Haley, 1993). This tool can be adjusted to fit whatever you are teaching on a particular day and can ask for a variety of information.

            According to Saphier and Gower (1997), students remember most clearly the first and last 5 minutes of your lesson. Keeping this in mind, you would first use a 3-2-1 (summary) as a summarizing strategy where you ask students to put into their own words what they learned that day. In this case, the tool serves as a Ticket-To-Leave. Therefore, students must complete it during the last few minutes of class. They hand you their summaries as they leave for their next class or transition to the next lesson.

            Now, what do you do with this summary? This same 3-2-1 Summary also serves as an informative assessment and a collection of ongoing data. You can determine whether or not the students understood the main points of your lesson (list three things you learned today) and what questions they still have (list two questions you still have). This determines the beginning of your lesson the next day – how much re-teaching you have to do before you move on. Make note of any confusions and the most frequently asked questions. Once students realize that you are using their input to structure your lesson and that you actually care about what they think, they will take the activity more seriously and the quality of the data you collect will improve. This is a simple way to find out what your students know before the unit summative assessment is given.  Other examples of a 3-2-1 Summary are found in Figure 2.  

            The next step takes some time and effort in organization, but once you establish a process that works for you, it will become one of those teacher routines that have a huge impact on student achievement. Before class starts, group the desks into three or four; make sure the desks are facing each other. Then, randomly place three or four of the completed 3-2-1 Summaries on each group of desks. Each student must locate his/her summary upon entering the classroom. In this way, the teacher has established the groups and the teammates with whom each student will work for the day. Immediately at the start of class, students start working on the Do-Now activity.  Using their summary sheet, they are to share the three main points they learned from the day before; this allows them to hear different perspectives. They then work together to answer their questions – anywhere from two to eight questions (depending on how large the group and how similar their questions are). They finish the activity by discussing how to study this information (the last point of the summary sheet); this might give students other ideas on how to learn the information, especially if they don’t know or unsure of how to study.

            Assign the students five minutes to complete this activity; make sure you announce how much time they have. This allows you to walk around the class and listen to their thinking, as well as take care of housekeeping activities like taking attendance, collecting forms, or handing out material. If students are working productively you can give them more time; it they’re finished before time is up, you can cut the activity short and move on. Students often lose all sense of time when they are actively engaged, so they probably won’t realize if they are getting more or less time. Regardless, give them a one-minute warning and then end the activity.

            Once you have the entire class’s attention, share with them the observations you made about the summary – the main points of the lesson, any confusions, and the one or two most frequently asked questions. Then give them two or three minutes to add to your comments and to ask any questions that they still have. At this point you’ll know if you can move on or need to spend more time addressing their confusion. You’ll also know if you need to work with the entire class or a small number of students to reteach the information. Again, it’s best to address any issues while the students are still learning the material instead of waiting until they fail the unit test.

            This simple tool can be used to support several points of your lesson: as a summarizer of the lesson, an informative assessment to determine if students are learning the material, an activator for the opening of the lesson, and as a way for students to work together to monitor and take responsibility for their learning. Investing in the time to establish this routine in your lesson will lead to increased student achievement.

Figure 1

Example of a 3-2-1 Summary Worksheet

3-2-1 Summary

3 points you learned in class today:

  • ___________________________________________

  • ___________________________________________

  • ___________________________________________

2 questions you still have about what you learned:

  • ___________________________________________

  • _______________________________________________

1 way you are going to study this information tonight:















Figure 2

Additional Examples of 3-2-1 Summaries (Saphier & Haley, 1993, p. 58)

States of Matter:                                                           Volleyball:

3……liquids                                                                3…..rules of the game

2…..gases                                                                    2…..ways to score points

1…..kind of matter – name it as a liquid,                 1…..question you have about the game

a solid, and a gas and explain how it

changes from one form to another.

New Vocabulary Word:                                                  Famous People:

3……sentences using the word                                    3…..interesting facts   

2…..synonyms of this word                                           2…..questions you would ask him/her

1…..sketch/picture to remember its’ meaning             1…..important contribution






Saphier, J. & Gower, R. (1997). The skillful teacher: Building your teaching skills. Acton, MA: Research for Better Teaching.

Saphier, J. & Haley, M.A. (1993).  Summarizers: Activity structures to support integration and

            retention of new learning. Acton, MA: Research for Better Teaching.

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