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This summarizing technique is a quick and useful tool to assess students’ background knowledge or their level of understanding.  Asking students to determine the most important concepts, facts and points is a valuable skill.  Intermediate students can use their responses as a note taking device and the teacher can quickly check for understanding. 

How to use

1. Alone

Pose a question or topic related to the lesson that has many possible responses. Then have students individually brainstorm five possible answers or things they know about the topic.

2. Pair

Ask students to work in pairs to come up to share their lists and then decide on the three best answers or ideas from their two lists.

3. Group

Instruct the pair to join with another pair to choose the one response they think is best or most significant.

When to use

Use 5-3-1 at any point in the lesson to structure meaningful conversation.

  • Before introducing new material to tap into prior knowledge
  • After watching a film clip to gauge a reaction
  • After reading a short text to begin a discussion
  • When posting a guiding question for the upcoming lesson
  • After a science experiment to summarize findings
  • To assist in determining main idea of texts, media, etc.



To assess what students attained on an individual level, ask them to independently list three new facts, two questions about the topic, and one idea that they would like to know more about.

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