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One minute papers

By Stephen W. Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

The basic idea is that at the end of your session (e.g. lecture) you ask students to spend one minute (60 seconds) writing down their personal (and anonymous) answer to one or two questions, such as "What was least clear in this lecture?". Then you collect the scraps of paper and brood over them afterwards, possibly responding in the next session. It's wonderful because it takes only a minute of the students' time (each), requires no technology or preparation, but gives you immediate insight into how your class is doing. There are probably other benefits too.

That is the short version, which is all you really need to give it a try out. Trying it out is probably, if it is at all possible, the best second step in understanding the technique. However when you want more information, theory, and examples, then the rest of this document offers some.

The longer version

This is a note on the simple but excellent technique summarised above to use in teaching, particularly lectures. These particular notes are mainly adapted (stolen) from David Nicol, although the ideas also appear in the literature if you look for them. [Angelo,T.A & Cross,K.P. (1993) Classroom assessment techniques: a handbook for college teachers (San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers) p.148. Stead,D.R. (2005) "A review of the one-minute paper" Active Learning in Higher Education vol.6 pp.118-131.] For more, you should go on his workshop (as part of a course for new lecturers, or see here), or bother him personally.

Credit might go to: The "minute paper" has long been ascribed to Wilson as he was apparently the first to describe it in the literature: R.C.Wilson "Improving faculty teaching: Effective use of student evaluations and consultants" J. Higher Educ. vol.57 pp.192211 (1986). More recently, it has been acknowledged that the original source of the idea was Berkeley physicist C. Schwartz. See Barbara Gross Davis, Lynn Wood, and Robert C. Wilson, A Berkeley Compendium of Suggestions for Teaching with Excellence (University of California, Berkeley) (1983) available at See equally

I am addressing this note to teachers like myself: what they might do, and why. However a student could usefully read this, and carry it out privately. They could then use what they write for these one minute papers a) as a useful study habit; b) as a procedure for generating a question to ask as part of their good practice in being a student.

Although your first uses are likely to be generic, if you use it regularly you can focus it to your particular concerns that day for that class, by designing questions with respect to the learning objectives, or important disciplinary skills, or the sequence of development important for that course.

Remaining Contents (click to jump to a section)

How to do it

Most common questions to set

  • "What question do you most wish to have answered at this moment?"
    [I.e. tells you what you failed to get across, what you should fix at the start of next time.]

  • "What was the main point of today's lecture?"
    [Often a lot of what you said went aross, but the overall point is not apparent to them, or not apparent that it WAS the chief point.]

  • "What are the most important questions remaining unanswered?"

  • "What was the muddiest point?"

    More questions

    Asking questions

    Many of these questions could be asked either at the end, or in the middle, or at the start.

    Many are best announced at the start but written at the end i.e. "At the end I am going to ask you to write for a minute on ....". This should promote more thinking during the class.

    In asking each question, don't forget to specify the "rubric" i.e. state what kind of response is required e.g.

    Classifying questions

    Questions could be classified in various ways e.g.

    Many questions can be fitted under both of two contrasting types e.g. asked either as MCQs or as one-minute open ended papers; or be both reflective and about testing content retention.




    Rationale: theoretical articulations of why this is good

    Most of the reasons for using this technique apply more generally to interactive lectures but can be spelled out as follows.

    Course feedback; feedback from learner to teacher

    The first kind of benefit from this technique is to get good feedback from learners to teacher on how the learning and teaching process is going. Standard course feedback is largely ineffective in improving things. Two massive drawbacks, each alone sufficient to render it ineffective, of the standard method of one feedback questionnaire per course, are:

    You can get, if you wish, still more precise information by focussing the question you ask e.g. on a learning objective from the course, on a specific skill you think important to the discipline, etc. In other words, as an evaluation technique, it can be sensitive to context, to the discipline, to the course, to a particular (perhaps unusual) session. But also, it can be completely open-ended, and detect the surprises the teacher would never have thought to ask about (e.g. "I had no idea my graphs were not self-explanatory").

    Direct benefits to the learners

    If your teaching is too perfect to need improvement, or if you are too wimpish to take negative feedback, or in addition to the course feedback function, there are arguably direct benefits to the learners even if the teacher never reads the collected bits of paper.

    Above all, they can be used to get learners to:

    Fostering interaction / dialogue between teacher and learners

    Independently of private benefits to the teacher and of private benefits to the learners, there are the benefits of establishing real "dialogue": that is, an iterative (to and fro) process in which a common understanding is progressively established rather than communications each succeeding or failing as one-off acts. This is both immediately valuable, and makes it progressively easier for little interactions such as clarification questions to be made and dealt with easily, and quickly.

    Aspects of this, and of how this technique contributes and can succeed at this, are:

    And as a complement to handsets

    And finally: this technique may also be very valuable as a complement to using handsets in lectures. Handsets are excellent in many ways, above all in promoting dialogue. But they are essentially a technique revolving around Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) which have fixed response sets. One minute papers use open-ended responses, and so collect the unexpected and the unprompted. MCQs invite guessing; one minute papers do not.

    The handsets give an immediate shared group response, and so can move the dialogue forward faster (every 5 minutes rather than once per session). However one-minute papers are better at uncovering complete surprises (students saying things it didn't occur to the teacher to put as an optional response in an MCQ); and at giving you a chance to think about each answer even if it does take you by surprise.

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