Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

03.28.14The Do Now: A Primer

teacher candid 12 cartwright Today a section from a technique you might describe as a ‘fundamental’: The Do Now.  The best part of it, to me, is the examples (see below).  One key thing to remember with a Do Now is the speedy review.  When I see Do Nows go wrong it’s most often because a teacher loses track of time and reviews for 15 minutes- thereby unintentionally turning the Do Now into the lesson and leaving the lesson truncated and shoe-horned into a space where it can never fit.  The result of THAT is usually a dearth of independent practice—arguably the most important part of a lesson.  So my advice is to run a stop watch and keep the review of the Do Now to five minutes max.  THAT means practicing the art of selective neglect–wherein choosing what NOT to review is as important as choosing what TO review.

The Do Now

The first step in a great lesson is a “Do Now”– a short activity that you have written on the board or that is waiting for students as they enter.  It often starts working before you do.  While you are greeting students at the door, or finding that stack of copies, or erasing the mark-ups you made to your overhead from the last lesson, students should already be busy, via the Do Now with scholarly work that prepares them to succeed. In fact, students entering your room should never have to ask themselves, “What am I supposed to be doing?” That much should go without saying. The habits of a good classroom should answer, “You should be doing the Do Now, because we always start with the Do Now.”

An effective Do Now should conform to four critical criteria to ensure that it remains focused, efficient, and effective:

  1. The Do Now should be in the same place every day so taking it and getting started is the habit of all your students.  The options for where it goes:  1) You can write it on the Board- ideally in the same place everyday or post it on a piece of newsprint having written it in advance.2) You can put it in writing on a sheet of paper or as the first page in a packet for the day’s lesson(see technique #19, Double Plan). You’d then either leave the Do Nows in a stack on a table or desk just inside the door and that students take as soon as they enter or place a Do Now on each student’s desk before they enter.  (I tend to see this one most at the elementary school level)
  2. Students should be able to complete the Do Now without any direction from the teacher, without any discussion with their classmates and in most cases without any other materials save what you provide.  So if the Do Now is to write a sentence interpreting a primary source document that is an 19th century Punch cartoon, that cartoon should be posted somewhere easily visible to all or else copied into the Do Now packet.  This by the way his a significant benefit to paper-based Do Nows and probably explains why over the past four years I’ve seen more and more of them—and fewer DO Nows on the Board—in top teachers’ classrooms. Some teachers misunderstand the purpose of the Do Now and use a version of the technique that requires them to explain to their students what to do and how to do it: “Okay, class, you can see that the Do Now this morning asks you to solve some typical problems using area. Remember that to solve area problems, you have to multiply.” This defeats the purpose of establishing a self-managed habit of productive work. If you have to give directions, it’s not independent enough.
  3. The activity should take three to five minutes to complete and should require putting a pencil to paper, that is, there should be a written product from it. This not only makes it more rigorous and more engaging, but it allows you to better hold students accountable for doing it since you can clearly see whether they are (and they can see that you can see). And of course this allows you to Check for Understanding (see part 1) while they work, deciding, as I observed Taryn Pritchard do in a recent lesson, which questions to review and possibly who to call on for a quality answer or a common mistake.
  4. The activity should generally 1) preview the day’s lesson (you are reading The Jacket, and the Do Now asks students to write three sentences about what they’d do if they thought someone stole their little brother’s favorite jacket) or 2) review a recent lesson (you want your kids to practice all of the standards they’ve mastered recently so they don’t forget them).

Here’s a gallery of Do Nows below plus a few notes on each.

  A Gallery of Do Now examples

The formatting was tricky so the Do Nows are in the attached PDF but you definitely want to open it. And to intrigue you, here’s an index of the samples:

Do Now #1

This is a good example of a teacher using the Do Now to reinforce a wide array of skills the class has mastered over the course of the year in math The goal here is to keep those skills ‘alive and kicking.’ (Often students initially master skills only to forget them when they stop using them so this kind of shuffle practice can be helpful.  

Do Now #2

This Do Now emphasizes critical thinking a bit more than the straightforward review in the previous example.  It’s also more open-ended.  This emphasizes student writing but also makes about twice as long to complete. And review—meaning more choices about what to review—and score.

Do Now #3

This Do Now is forward-looking.  Rather than reviewing previously mastered skils, it’s designed to anticipate the discussion in the coming lesson and build context and insight.  It includes a block of text for reading and both multiple choice and open response questions.  My guess, given the density and challenge of the text, is that it took more than the usual five minutes to complete. If you were inclined to be a little more cautions in this regard you might give students just the first paragraph in the Do Now and the rest in the heart of the lesson.

Do Now #4

This Do Now is a “reading check” on Elie Wiesel’s Night, the using it to make sure students have done the reading in preparation for class.  It’s less common  for teachers to use the Do Now in this way but if you have a vibrant culture it can be done. It certainly makes sure that you are set up for a successful lesson to create a strong incentive for doing the reading.  Interesting to note that even on a quiz there’s still a challenge question for those who want to push themselves.  There’s also a task for when students are done.

Thanks as always to Joaquin Hernandez for helping me put this together. Wait til you see his Plug and Play!!


14 Responses to “The Do Now: A Primer”

  1. Keith Miller
    March 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I’d love to hear more about the grading process you’d recommend, I’ve noticed that when my do nows are longer, the process of grading and reviewing it as a class can drag a bit. Would you always recommend reviewing the whole do now, or can the all-class review focus on only a few key questions?

    • Anthony
      March 31, 2014 at 6:19 pm

      Pick some key ones (or ones where students struggled, as Doug suggests) and allow students to pair/share the others–it’s a great way to do some quick correcting of misconceptions while having all students process & share.

  2. Doug_Lemov
    March 29, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Great question. Yes, this is one of the hidden skills of Do Now i think- you can’t review everything so i think you observe students while they’re working and then choose which questions to review… based on the data.

  3. Carl Newman
    April 3, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Sometimes I’ve made my Do Nows to proof read their work and correct obvious errors. It doesn’t seem to fit into your guidance above but I find it valuable when essays are due in

  4. K Kandi
    April 6, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I have always used the ‘Do Nows’ as a formative assessment and graded them everyday. My ‘Do Nows’ are very short, assess previous knowledge. I have ‘Do Now’ sheets ready for each class and one of my students takes up the responsibility of distributing the sheets at the beginning of the class. My ‘Do Nows’ last only for first five minutes of the class, this ensures timely arrival of students into the classroom. The sheets are collected after five minutes and placed on my table. I go over the correct answer after I collect the sheets, this way, students get the correct response and do not carry wrong information in their minds. I ask them to copy down the ‘Do Now’ response in their notebooks if they did not get it right. As my ‘Do Nows’ are very small, it takes exactly 5 minutes to grade a class set of 30-33 sheets. Each day students get 5 points for a correct response, 3.5 for trying it. This becomes a motivator for everyone to try and respond to the question! ‘Do Now’ works great in my classroom serving number of purposes!

  5. Marna M Blanchard
    May 15, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    The Do Now for my class is always written on the board, next to the smart board (just in case tech is wonky) and then written on the smart board. It must be connected to the day’s lesson and/or previous night’s work. One thing I loved that I read in this article is having the Do Now written on paper that can be collected. I plan to have a half sheet that students can grab as they enter the room and get ready for the day with all the directions. Student could then write the response in their notebooks or in the case of students who do not come with materials, write directly on the paper. I also want to find a way to keep a file for each student in the room, ready, to hold blank copies of work on days that they miss or again for those students who can seem to get organizes to keep work for that class. I do like the structure of the DO NOW and will work to make it stronger.

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