Literary Puzzles: Using the Do Now in English

With the exception of A Level, the vast majority of my lessons begin in much the same way:

1. Students come into the classroom
2. They find waiting for them a task that will take about 5 minutes to complete
3. They complete the task
4. We talk about it

This is such an embedded routine in my classrooms now that it happens flawlessly. It’s especially gratifying watching as students, without thinking, sit at their desk, get their pencil case out, and instantly begin working. I don’t even have to do anything any more. Of course, this didn’t happen automatically: we practised and rehearsed this, but the initial time to do this was well worth it.

This general routine isn’t remotely new or original: it’s a version of Doug Lemov’s ‘Do Now’. Whilst the nature of the task will vary, there is one element that I try to incorporate each time: that it’s a puzzle. I mean puzzle, here, in the manner Dan Willingham describes: a cognitively demanding task that requires ‘working out’ and this working out provides a gratifying sense of intellectual stimulation.

When I set this kind of ‘Do Now’, which is most of the time, I look around the room and see my students scratching their heads, biting the end of their pencil, staring up into space clearly trying to work something out. They are really thinking hard about whatever the task is and really trying to work it out. I do it with them most times too. And it is genuinely fun. It becomes a literary puzzle with which we begin each lesson and it is something, they tell me, they always look forward to. So do I.

As well as making the task into a kind of puzzle, I also, in more traditional Do Now fashion, try to follow the below criteria. The task should:

1. Look backwards to previously taught material in some fashion and so function as a kind of retrieval task
2. Look forward to the material being discussed or taught in the current lesson and so priming and readying prior material
3. Be self contained and require no further instruction or explanation
4. Be completed in about 5 minutes

What makes these tasks a kind of puzzle is that they require students to think hard about the material we’ve previously discussed and often to manipulate it in a new or invention fashion, making new links across and within the topic.

I also make sure we have time to discuss the task once completed. Given the task usually functions as a puzzle, this means there is often more than one way to complete it. So, this discussion, rather than functioning as asking who got it right, will become a discussion as to how people approached it, myself included. We share and discuss different directions that we took and explain our rationale.

Below you can find various example of the kind of tasks we’ve used in the past as well as, at the bottom, an editable PPT.

And here’s an editable link with all of these available:

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