Exit Tickets: A Sneak Peek at Literacy and the Common Core by Sarah Tantillo

Below is an excerpt from Sarah Tantillo’s new book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action, which will be released at the end of this month. If you’re interested in learning more about Tantillo’s work, check out her website at literacycookbook.com. And if you like this sneak peek, you can preorder your copy here.

Exit Tickets [from Chapter 5: “Lesson Planning”]

exitticketIn my first year of teaching, I was observed every single period by the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, the principal, the Humanities Department chairwoman, and another English teacher for the first twenty days of school. It was a tiny affluent district, and the administrators clearly had too much time on their hands. I was required to carry a four-inch binder from class to class, handing it over to the next person who would take notes on my performance. The principal often dozed off in my class, and no matter what I did, he wrote, “Closure???” every day. If he felt particularly alert, he would add extra question marks. I tried all kinds of things towrap upmy lessons, and he was never satisfied and never gave me any suggestions for how to improve. That was fun.

The term exit ticket—some call them exit slips—has become popular. I prefer exit ticket because it sounds hip and cool, as if you’re leaving my class and going to a rock concert. Or maybe my class was the rock concert, and it was so cool that you need a ticket to leave. However, for something so widely used, there appears to be some disagreement about what it is and why it’s used. I’ve seen some people asking students, “On a scale of 1 to 5, how well do you think you understand _____ now?” I think this approach puts too much emphasis on how students feel about what they’re learning instead of determining what they have actually learned. I am much more in agreement with Lemov and others who see exit tickets as a measure of understanding that is reflected by students’ actual performance on objective-related tasks, not by a rating of how much they think they know. If you’ve ever asked a student, “How do you think you did on that test?” you know what I’m talking about. Either they say, “Oh, it was easy,” which tells you nothing (maybe they didn’t realize how little they actually understood), or they say, “It was hard,” which doesn’t tell you anything about what they struggled with. The purpose of an exit ticket, by contrast, is to gather data: to measure quickly how well students have mastered the objectives. What did they get, what didn’t they get, and what do you have to do tomorrow to fill in the gaps? One challenge when designing exit tickets is that some objectives will require more than one day or lesson to master, and we must be careful not to be too reductionist: you can’t always walk away with a new skill. Many key literacy skills take lots and lots of practice, so we need to take that into account. In other words, on some days, we will be measuring progress, not necessarily mastery.

That said, exit tickets should be quick and short: no more than three questions. Lemov notes that they also “make great Do Nows.” (You can look back at the sections “Designing Effective Do Nows” and “Using DoNows to Strengthen the Four Key Critical Reading Skills” for some ideas.) While you might ask content-specific questions (“What did we learn about Gatsby in this chapter? What do you think he will do next, and why?”), you might also take a more generic approach. For example, no matter what grade or subject you teach, you could use the “one-minute essay” as a way to assess understanding, asking two basic questions: (1) “What is the big point you learned in class today?” and (2) “What is the main unanswered question you leave class with today?”41 Or instead of an essay, you can direct students to jot down three bullet points to record their key learnings of the day.

Using exit tickets routinely offers two important benefits: in addition to providing useful data on how well students have met the objectives, they also boost engagement because when students know that you will always ask them some variation of, “What did you learn today?” they will spend the class period trying to figure out how they are going to answer that question. And that makes me want to say, “Woohoo!”


Literacy and the Common CoreTools and insights for meeting and exceeding the Common Core standards.

preorderLiteracy and the Common Core offers K–12 teachers clear guidance on how to design units, lessons, and objectives to meet the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts; it’s filled with practical strategies that teachers can use immediately to target key standards; and it describes how to analyze the standards to support instructional planning and curriculum development.

“Our teachers and administrators hunger for sound guidance on best practices for Common Core implementation. Sarah Tantillo has done the heavy lifting for them; this text should be in the hands of all who yearn to create the most powerful and effective lessons for their students.”

—Judith A. Wilson, former superintendent of
Princeton Public Schools


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