Do Nows: Activities That Begin Your Lesson for You

By Stephanie Mortimer
Mrs. Mortimer has been a science teacher in the United Kingdom for 16 years. She is currently on maternity leave and is exploring the variety of roles found within the field of education. Her research interests include mental health within the teaching profession.

Let me paint a scenario: You, as the teacher, have greeted your students at the classroom door. You have let them into the classroom, and they are now waiting for you to begin your lesson. You need to take the class attendance and possibly deal with minor issues a few students have brought to your attention. What are the rest of your students doing during this time?

Your students should be doing a short warm-up activity called a “Do Now.” Do Nows are brief and engaging activities that help to create a risk-free environment at the beginning of each lesson (Bonwell, 1995; Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Students should be able to complete Do Nows without any instructions from you (Lemov, 2015). Giving students an activity before you start the main portion of your lesson means students begin learning before you begin teaching.

Here are seven tips for creating and running successful Do Nows:
  1. Your Do Now should be ready for students as they enter the classroom. It will begin their learning or help them recall key information before you begin your lesson. The activity can be on a piece of paper and handed to the students, or it can be projected on the board ready for them to work on as they enter.

  2. The activity needs to be quick enough for the students to work through within 5–10 minutes—and for you to go through the correct answers in a short amount of time.

  3. The content of a Do Now can be anything you want. It can test students to find out what they already know about a new topic, or it can test what they should know from previous lessons, regardless of when you taught it to them. If your students need to know the material for a test or an exam, you can use it for a Do Now.

  4. The Do Now needs to challenge them without being too challenging. It is a 5– or 10–minute activity, not 30 minutes. For a 5–10-minute activity, 2–3 questions should be enough, depending on the skill level of your students.

  5. The activity can either be completed in silence or used as an opportunity for discussion between students based on your lesson goals. If they are discussing the work, are they seeking clarification? Are they figuring things out?

  6. The activity should contain some element of literacy. We all have a responsibility to teach our students better literacy skills, no matter what subject we teach.

  7. The activity should run itself without any input, explanation, or instruction by you.

The following are examples of Do Nows that I use in my science lessons.
Make two columns, one with words and the other with definitions; students need to match them.

Sequencing methods
Give students a sequence and have them put it in the correct order.

Give students a sequence with some parts missing, and they fill in the blanks.

Diagram or image descriptions
Have them describe a diagram in words.

Remove some parts of a known cycle or sequence; students fill them in.

Odd one out
Show four to five images on the board and challenge students to determine which image doesn’t fit.

Students must justify why that image is the odd one out.

True/false statements (turn false into true statements)
Provide five true/false statements for students to answer. Challenge them to correct any false statements with a “true” sentence.

Students are given a graph and need to answer questions relating to the data on the graph.

If your students seem able, give them data from which they draw a graph.

Paragraphs with missing words
Type a paragraph and choose words to remove. Cover the words with a box. Students need to fill in the blanks.

This is easily differentiated: You can provide the first letter in some boxes and give them a word bank, or you can remove the word bank, but keep the first letter of the missing word.

Words from words
Find a long, subject-specific word and have students find new words from the letters.

Differentiate this by not allowing words fewer than a certain number of letters.

Jumble key vocabulary words for students to work out.

Extension: Students write definitions for a certain number (or all) of the vocabulary words.

Give them the answer; they write the question
Provide students with three to four vocabulary words. They write questions for which the word is the answer for that question.

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Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE–ERIC Higher Education Report, No. 1). Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Bonwell, C. (1995). Building a supportive climate for active learning. The National Teaching and Learning Forum, 6(1), 4-7.

Lemov, D. (2015). Teach like a champion 2.0. San Franscico, CA: Jossey-Bass.