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One minute papers
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
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
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,
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.192Ð211 (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
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)
"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?"
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.
- "Justify your answer in 2 or 3 sentences"
- "Imagine you are writing a paragraph for a client"
Questions could be classified in various ways e.g.
- Fixed response sets (Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)) requiring only
recognition by learners) or open-ended (as here in one-minute papers,
requiring recall by the learners).
- Explicit requests for feedback to the teacher (e.g. "what
don't you understand"), or implicit feedback from content
questions (e.g. "what is Newton's third law?"), or in-between
reflection questions asking about the overall structure and
connections of the content (e.g. "what is the connection between this and
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.
- What was the muddiest point in the lecture?
[i.e. students may not be
able to articulate even the question if they got muddled: this asks about what
point they got lost at.]
- "What was the best, and what was the worst thing about that lecture [or
Note that best/worst is asking for judgements on what was written, while
stop/start/continue is asking for specifications for what should change i.e.
for constructive comments only.
- Stop i.e. what is bad and should be stopped?
- Start i.e. what was omitted and should be added?
- Continue i.e. what was good and should be retained?
- "At what moment did you feel most with what was happening in class?"
"At what moment did you feel least with what was happening in class?"
[Asking about engagement: most/least]
- Many of the most straightforward ways to ask about content fit easily
in MCQ (Multiple Choice Question) format, and are discussed
Here are some other techniques more suited to the format of the one-minute
- Present a case study during the class. At the end, ask for
justifications of the decisions that were taken. (Justifying decisions.)
- Present some data, and ask students to draw inferences about it. (Drawing
inferences. I.e. exercise the concepts that have just been taught.)
- Session presents a legal case and shows how the legal principles apply to
it. End with hypothesising some change in the facts of the case, and asking
how that might change the legal arguments. (What if questions.)
- The session described a process (in engineering or management). Ends by
asking students to "draw a flow chart of the process". (Flow charts.)
Most of the reasons for using this technique apply more generally to
but can be spelled out as follows.
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:
- "What was the most convincing argument / counter-argument / the most
[Prompt student reflection over the content]
- "Formulate the questions that the writer (of the piece being
covered) is asking."
[Prompt student reflection by requiring abstraction of the underlying main
- "What is the most significant reason why Italy became the centre of the
"What is the one question puzzles you most about Italy's role in the
[Prompt reflection about the context.]
- "Write a few sentences stating how the principles we talked about this
time differ from those last week?"
[Require connections with other theories. "Integration cards"]
- "Provide a real life example of your own of the principle talked about"
[Require case/instance -> concept links. "Application cards"]
- Session covers a number of concepts and issues. Ends by asking students to
"draw a concept map relating them". (Concept maps. This will take more than
one minute; and require prior training on concept maps; but shows how this
technique can extend into playing a bigger part.)
- Its time scale is once per course, so typically one attempt at improvement
per year. This method can be once per lecture so typically once per week.
Hence it is literally 20 times better (for a 20 lecture course). Since it
also means you can repair things for the same set of students before
continuing, it is actually much more than 20 times better. And since students
can then see the effect of their feedback, they are much more motivated to
give it, to see you and your institution as responsive, etc.
- The standard feedback questionnaire is hopelessly non-diagnostic. Knowing
that a lot of students are rather unhappy with your "manner" or "lectures"
doesn't tell you what to change and how to change it. Discovering that many
missed the main point of lecture 4, or that they didn't understand your use of
the word "iteration", tells you what needs to be fixed.
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").
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:
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.
- Re-process the ideas (rather than at most remember what was said)
- Think about other connections to the ideas (deep learning)
- Develop listening skills
- Develop holistic thinking
- Develop questioning skills
- Develop writing skills
- Develop the habit of re-processing a lecture ASAP: what was the main
point, what was unclear and to be followed up?
- Develop reflection in at least 3 senses:
- Thinking over what they are learning: simple re-processing
- Seeking connections to/between things they know (deep learning)
- Self awareness (and monitoring) of their process and progress of
learning, and of their own state of understanding.
Aspects of this, and of how this technique contributes and can succeed at this,
And finally: this technique may also be very valuable as a complement to
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.
- It is anonymous: so much more likely for students to get started at it, no
matter how shy.
- All students contribute, including silent or shy students: questions
spoken aloud necessarily cannot be done by all students in a large group.
- Provided the teacher responds in some way (probably next time), students
get feedback on feedback: they see it being effective in some cases, not in
- Provided the teacher mentions this, students discover if their point was
in fact common to many others, or not; and whether the teacher valued it (or
- Students start to see (correctly) the teacher as responsive. Develop a
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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