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One-Sentence Summary

Using the One-Sentence Summary technique in a large lecture class.
Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Low
Student Activity Time Low
Instructor Response Time Low
Complexity of Activity Low
Room Considerations None


The One-Sentence Summary activity asks students to summarize the most important ideas from a lecture by crafting them into a single sentence. 

Use it when you want...

  • To give students practice summarizing content covered in the lecture into their own words.
  • Students to organize information effectively.
  • Students to think critically about what information is central and what is ancillary.
  • To receive evidence of what students took away from the lecture.

What students will need

  • A smartphone or laptop.


The following workflow is meant to guide how to facilitate a One-Sentence Summary learning activity in a large lecture class.


  • Create a structure for the summary that students will use in the activity. Examples:
    • __________ is a kind of  __________ that __________.
    • open-ended format 
  • Determine how much time it will take for students to complete the activity.
  • Create a Top Hat question for students to submit their results.
  • Create an example of a successful response to show in class.

Example of Open-Ended Top Hat Question Type 

Summarize the role pH levels play in affecting soil toxicity. (Limit your response to 1-2 sentences)


  • Announce the activity at the beginning of the lecture.
  • Deliver the lecture.
  • Present the summary prompt and give students time to complete it. Communicate how much time students have to complete the activity.
  • Communicate the rationale and desired outcomes of the activity. Show the example of a successful submission. Before starting, check whether students understand the question and/or activity. Remind students that this activity is ungraded but should help them apply concepts covered in the lecture.
  • Allow students to decide how they want to complete the task. Students can work in pairs or individually.
  • Ask students or pairs to submit their statements via the Top Hat question.
  • Ask for volunteers to share their summaries with the class. 
  • Facilitate a discussion around the summaries shared with the class.
  • Let students know that all submissions will be reviewed after class and that you will summarize the responses.
  • Offer follow-up support for those who struggled with the activity with the teaching assistant or during office hours.


  • Ask the teaching assistant to review the full list of responses and summarize them at the beginning of the next lecture or in Canvas promptly. 
  • Make sure to highlight successful submissions and address submissions that do not match your expectations.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation


Example 1

An Immunology course has students who plan to work in the medical field upon graduation. The instructor believed that they must understand the core of various concepts to apply them. She used the One-Sentence Summary activity to help students develop skills in this area. After a lecture on the common cold, for example, the professor gave students five minutes to write a One-Sentence Summary explaining the causes and effects associated with the common cold. She provided them with the following structure to guide their work: __________, __________, and __________ caused the common cold, and the effects are __________, __________, and __________. She stipulated that only the three viruses she had mentioned had to be the subject or cause of the summary statement. Students were also to list at least three common cold symptoms as effects. She gave students five minutes to work and collected responses via Top Hat. She reviewed the responses and selected three well-written summaries  (Barkley & Major 328-329).

Example 2

The Fundamentals of Oral Communication course focuses on the theory and practice of oral communication.  The course meets twice a week and is team-taught. The professors used the One-Sentence Summary activity after lecture segments to ensure the students grasped the foundational concepts they would need to succeed in future courses. After a lecture on visual aids, for example, the professors asked students to write a One-Sentence Summary about the key points and submit it via Top Hat. The professors reviewed the responses to gauge students' understanding of the lecture content. The responses were sorted into excellent, fair, and poor and graded accordingly in Canvas. The instructor used Canvas SpeedGrader for those whose answers were considered poor. They were given additional information and feedback that addressed misconceptions  (Barkley & Major 329).


Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (2018). Interactive lecturing: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons, 327-330.

Keywordssummary, summarize, lecture, listening, recall, sense, takeaway, large course, large lecture, large enrollment, pedagogy, lecture hall, large classroomDoc ID128268
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2023-05-12 12:01:18Updated2024-04-16 12:55:16
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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