Review Strategies and Retrieval Practice

When learning new content, review strategies are so important because they promote retrieval practice that is drawing information from memory and then storing it again with even stronger neural connections). In many studies, intentional retrieval practice has a significant impact on learning (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel. (2014). Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning). For more information on retrieval practice in higher education, visit the Retrieval Practice website (

Review strategies help to strengthen memory related to course material, reduce testing anxiety, and increase student confidence in their learning (Lang, .J. (2016). Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning).

Sure-Fire Strategies from Experienced Faculty

In the Centre for Teaching and Learning, we realize that most experienced faculty have many successful review strategies already built in to their courses. However if you are relatively new to teaching, here is a list of sure-fire strategies gathered from faculty, as well as some that we have used successfully ourselves. Thank you to everyone who took a minute to share their favorite strategies (Brian Dormer, Derek Martin, Brandy Mullen, Heather White, Matt Kohler, Kim Getty, Rosie Healy, Carley Panzer, Scott McCrindle, Rob Theriault, Brian Mandeville). If you have a sure-fire strategy, please share it with Annique Boelryk so we can add it to the list. Below you will find a collection of 15+ sure-fire review activities recommended by our faculty.

Strategies based on Educational Technologies

There are many digital tools that can be used to support the review and retrieval of information and gain deeper insight into student learning. The Learning Technologies section of our website has many free tools listed that are commonly used at Georgian College. The Tools for Digital Assessment, Review and Feedback page includes a description of each tool, links to text based and video tutorials, and access to support guides. Some examples of these tools commonly used by faculty include:

  • AnswerGarden
  • Kahoot!
  • Quizlet
  • Socrative
  • TodaysMeet

Strategies Based on Student Collaboration and Interaction

Students work at completing a quiz collaboratively. They submit one copy of the quiz as a group so they have to discuss answers so that everyone agrees. You can also have student do it individually first, hand that one in, and then work on the collaborative one. This allows students to (Shared by Brian Dormer)

Have students work in pairs to quiz each other. Students would change roles – questioner, responder after a pre-determined block of questions.

In class, put the students into groups and assign a chapter to each group. Have each group review the chapter outcomes and make the outcomes into questions. Then have each group work on point form answers to the questions. To share the content with the class, have students type up their work and post it on Blackboard – that way those who want to review have access. (Shared by Heather White)

Have students work to create a list of things they believe will be on the test and why. Students then share what they have on their lists with the class and the faculty member can use some way of giving feedback on the importance and whether they have a good understanding or not. (Shared by Brandy Mullen)

Have students work in pairs or teams to create questions and answers to challenge classmates. As a teacher, you can commit to using some of the questions on the test. The questions rotate amongst the groups and then are marked by the group that created them. Could have a winning team if this is appropriate in your class. One variation of this activity is to assign a certain number of questions on a given topic to be added to a collaborative file in Google Docs.

Provide each student with a diagram of a process that they need to know for the test. In a pair, each student will have a different diagram. Student A “teaches” their diagram to Student B by writing in the labels and explaining the process. Student B can provide feedback long the way. As a large group, you can clarify anything that was unclear. Then, Student B teaches their diagram to Student A using the same process. (Shared by Kim Getty)

Working with students to visually map out a process and having them practice this mapping can reinforce the neural networks related to that process. (Shared by Brian Mandville). Click the button below to download an example of graphic organizers that were developed to support learning in an economics course

Download the “Use of Graphic Organizers” Resource

Provide review questions focused on various units/topics/concepts etc. Students a certain amount of time at each station and move around the room adding, reading, revising to existing content. Take photos of the responses and post them in Blackboard. Stations could include tips for learning/remembering.

Four Corners Plus

Step 1: Organize students in groups and assign each group a starting station and a colour of marker.

Step 2: Ask students to consider these questions individually. Don’t discuss at this point but come back to this at the end of the exercise)

  1. How prepared are you for the test?
  2. Do you know significantly more about your starting station than the other stations around the room?

Step 3: Students rotate through the stations, spending about 7 – 8 minutes at the first station and then about 5 minutes on the following stations.

Step 4: Once students have rotated through each station and returned to their starting point, ask them to again consider the earlier questions and engage them in the following discussion):

  1. How prepared are you for the test?
    • Everything written on the chart paper in a different colour than yours are things you didn’t know and need to study
  2. Everything you originally wrote are the things you can spend less time studying, you already know them. (Discuss the importance of spending the most time studying the materials you don’t know, since many students over-study the materials they do know because it is easier).
  3. Do you know significantly more about your starting station than the other stations around the room?
    • Look how much was added to your paper, it will be a similar amount for each other station. This gives a visual representation of your knowledge gap.

Step 5: Briefly discuss each station and correct any errors.

Step 6: Ask students to come up and write whatever topic they are still the most unsure about on the board.

Step 7: Tell students that they are to prepare a 2 minute presentation to the class in which they will teach that topic to the class. Give them about 10-15 minutes to prepare.

Step 8: Photograph the chart papers and post them to blackboard. If you have students permission, you could video tape the presentations and post them as well. Students are more willing when they know that they will be deleted after the test and are posted in a secure location that only they can access.
(Shared by Brian Mandeville)

Review questions are written on the front of an index card and answers are written on the back (These can be printed on labels so that you have them for the future). Students ask two people their question and then they switch cards with someone to get a new question.

For a variety of key concepts, use the following format to have students identify and articulate their level of knowledge. Then, have students share their points.

Terms or concepts are written on a bingo card. Students have to explain 3 different terms to 3 different students and have 3 terms explained to them to get a bingo. (Shared by Rosie Healy)

Have students write down 5 or more things they can remember related to a topic. Have different parts of the class focus on different topics. Students first write what they can remember individually, and then they work in pairs and compare their lists. Have each part of the class present back their list on the topic they worked on. The teacher can “fill in the blanks” on anything important that was missed.

placemat activity template with 4 spaces for individual thoughts and a common space in the middle

Sample placemat activity setup

Placemat Activities create a space for individual as well as collective voices related to topics. They can be used to explore what students already know about a topic and to build shared knowledge. (Shared by several faculty members)

Step 1: Individuals take a few minutes to write their responses/ideas related to the topic (i.e. What makes a positive learning environment?) in their quadrant.

Step 2: Each person takes turns sharing something that they wrote down and if two or more people agree, it goes in the centre circle.

Step 3: The teacher can have various groups share one or more things from their centre circle. Groups can be asked to prioritize thoughts before sharing in the large group.

Download a Placemat template

Targeted cases can be a great way to help students review learning at all levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. It is a great way for students and teachers to see how well students are able to apply information and use it to analyze a situation. When using cases for review, it is important to structure the activity so students focus their efforts on the appropriate knowledge and thinking. (Shared by Rob Theriault).

Other Strategies and Activities

This online crossword puzzle maker allows you to easily enter text and create a crossword that can be produce either online, as a pdf, or as a Word document (Shared by Carley Panzer)

Simple questions at the beginning or end of class can engage students in retrieval practice. Exit tickets or “Ticket Out the Door” can be a great way to have more students feel accountable for writing something since they have to hand it to you on the way out the door. A quick read through the responses can give you, as the teacher, great insight into students’ grasp of a topic. This can also be done using Socrative which allows short answer responses and tracking.

Beginning of Class

  • Example 1: From memory, try to list at least 5 things we talked about in the last class in relation to Topic X
  • Example 2: In groups of three, number off. Person A describe ____ to your peers. Person B describe _____ and Person 3 describe ________ .
  • Example 3: Here is a list of terms from last class. In pairs, come up with one example of each and be ready to explain why it is a good example.

End of Class (Ticket Out the Door)

  • Describe in your own words how _________ process works
  • Without looking at your notes, explain why __________ is important in this subject.