The Mighty “Do Now”

Today I have a simple idea for teachers: Have a routine where students begin working the second they get into your classroom.

Many (perhaps most) but not all teachers are aware of the “Do Now” but for reasons I cannot comprehend, not all make full use of it. I’m going to stick to the simplest form I know.

When students are coming to your class, write something for them to do on the board or project it on a screen.

Seriously. That’s it.

As a high school mathematics teacher, I put a couple of simple problems or exercises on the board. These will either directly review recent work, or will review material from previous grades that will be important in upcoming lessons. I expect students to spend 2-10 minutes on the problems (usually the lower end) and use the work as a starting point for today’s lesson.

When I taught English, I would give a short writing prompt. For example, I might ask students to write a paragraph describing something we recently read or observed in class. Or to respond to a statement. Or to do something silly and fun, such as to describe a kitchen appliance, or write a short monologue from the point of view of a dog. The big deal is that students will be thinking in terms of writing and expression before the lesson begins.

What’s the point?

There are two main ideas here. First, it provides a mental warm-up for the students. As soon as they begin the Do Now, they are engaged with their subject matter, their cognitive tools, and their communication. Second, it gives me (and the students) feedback about what they know and can do relative to the topic I have just given them.

The second idea is a surprising and wonderful side-effect of the Do Now. Students come to class earlier, and they settle into their work more comfortably than otherwise. In most middle and secondary schools, class break is a nuisance. Students slowly wander into their classrooms as late as they can get away with, socially catch up with their friends, and only open their books when instructed by the teacher to do so. If the teacher has to rush out of the room during the break (aging bladders and all) then the situation is even worse. With an established routine of Do Now, students actually come to class quicker. Settle into their seats more quickly. And they take care of their social engagements while opening their books and beginning the task. Seriously. They really do.

Popular myths to the contrary, students generally want to be successful. They want to feel clever. They want to achieve something in their school day. An established routine with established expectations helps this. Students know exactly what to do, when and how to do it, and how to get help. So they do it.

I never have to hector students to get into my class on time. I put the Do Now up (without fail) and I stand outside my door welcoming students. No shouting. No nagging. No cajoling. I’m glad to see you. And in a few minutes we discuss the Do Now and move on.

Can’t believe I didn’t do this for the first half of my teaching career.

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