Minute paper

What is it?

The minute paper, usually associated with physics professor Charles Schwartz, is a simple form given to students to assess the extent of their knowledge about a topic or concept, or the contents of a lecture. Usually the form involves students organising their thinking by summarising or ranking major points of the lecture, and/or asking a key question about something. It fosters deeper learning because they only have one minute to summarise the key points of a lecture in their own words, hence cannot rote-learn or regurgitate.

Why would I use it?

  • It can form part of a diagnostic assessment in order to determine whether students have understood the topic. It therefore is a form of feedback to the teacher about aspects of a topic or the lecture that have been misunderstood without waiting for mid-term evaluations and surveys. It can also highlight any misunderstandings of your teaching style and rationale, which you can then discuss with students (Draper, 2003).
  • It is useful to foster student/teacher interaction and trust in large classes (Stead, 2005).
  • The type of task set for the minute paper, and the medium, can be adapted to suit the teacher’s needs and uses.

Known issues:

  • Almer et al (1998) suggest that if the minute paper is made anonymous, it will encourage students to be honest rather than telling the lecturer what the student thinks they want to hear.
  • Although being able to summarise concisely is a key communication skill in academia,  some lecturers (Stead, 2005) felt that in lectures with more complex topics and debates, the minute paper could lead to students oversimplifying complex topics.

How has it been used?

Here are some examples of how to use the minute paper: 

  • It can form part of an exam revision class
  • It can be done at a point during a longer lecture to encourage student re-engagement if attention has been lost.
  • It can provide a stimulus for an online discussion forum

A  short video description of its use can be found on the University of Michigan’s Centre for Learning and Teaching website.

More comprehensive overviews and suggestions for use are provided by Draper (2006) and Stead (2005). 


How can I use the minute paper?