First, use retrieval practice to engage all students, not just one student being called on. Second, keep in mind that retrieval practice should be used as a learning strategy, not an assessment opportunity. In other words, make retrieval practice low-stakes or no-stakes (i.e., not for a grade). Third, always provide feedback.


What types of retrieval practice strategies do you use in your classroom? Let us know!
 

Brief Writing Activities

Give students one minute at the beginning of class to write down one thing they learned from the previous class. This can be done without a pre-determined prompt, without grading, and without materials other than paper and pencil. Student responses can be used to foster discussion for another 3-4 minutes, thereby requiring less than 5 minutes of class time and no prep time in advance.

To conserve even more class time, consider giving students a minute to write down what they've learned as a form of an "exit ticket" and brief feedback can be provided at the beginning of the next class meeting. 

Keep in mind that by keeping these activities no-stakes or low-stakes (i.e., ungraded), emphasis is placed on learning and discussion, instead of assessment or test scores. These brief writing activities engage students in retrieval practice, while conserving classroom time so you can focus on teaching – but don’t forget to give feedback, even if only a minute-long discussion!

 

Clickers or Colored Index Cards

Clickers, or “remotes” for personal responding, are an engaging way to implement retrieval practice, helping students recall information from mind. Do you have to use clickers? No! Clickers may be easiest for gaining instant feedback for both the student and the teacher, but the key to retrieval practice is to engage students in recalling information from memory. Paper-and-pencil and computer- or web-based quizzes can be used to accomplish the same retrieval practice goals as clickers. Note that clickers/online quizzes may require you to write retrieval questions in advance. 

Alternatively, each student could have their own set of colored index cards, with the letters A, B, C, and D on them (or true/false, or 1, 2, 3, etc.). This way, you can ask a question (on the fly) and students can close their eyes while raising the appropriate index card to identify their response. It’s an easy, cheap alternative to using clickers, and you can provide immediate feedback after students respond. 

 

Page Protectors with Dry Erase Markers

Insert a piece of paper or cardboard into a page protector. This becomes a cheap, do-it-yourself “dry erase board” for each student. You can call out a question and students can write down an answer – even a short answer response – and hold up their dry erase board. Again, you can quickly scan the room and provide appropriate feedback.

 

Is retrieval practice effective for different grade levels, subject areas, and students?

All Grade Levels

Whether you use retrieval practice with 3rd graders or college students, a great deal of research has shown that retrieval practice is beneficial for all ages (even older adults). It is a straightforward technique that can be applied in a variety of ways, for a variety of ages.

 

All Subject Areas

Research has demonstrated that retrieval practice improves learning of:

  • Science
  • Mathematics
  • Social Studies and History
  • English Vocabulary
  • Foreign Language Vocabulary
 

All Students

A wealth of research demonstrates that retrieval practice benefits both low and high ability students. Because retrieval practice is a simple, flexible learning strategy, it can be adapted to a wide variety of situations, including special education and gifted classrooms. Further, students can practice retrieval at home (e.g., answering practice questions, using flashcards) or in the classroom (e.g., with low-stakes quizzing). In other words, retrieval practice isn’t just a teaching strategy; it’s a powerful study strategy, too.