Save the Last Word for Me discussion strategy

I was browsing through some old History Tech posts and ran across this 2016 entry. It caught my attention as several of us were chatting about ways to encourage student to student conversations. If you’ve been thinking about that issue as well, you might give the Last Word strategy a try.

I spent some some last week with a group sharing strategies around the blended learning concept. It was compelling conversation, I walked away smarter, and had the chance to meet some interesting people.

But one of my biggest walkaways was a strategy that the forum’s facilitator used to jumpstart the discussion.

He called it the Last Word. Others in the group used the term Final Word. No matter what it might be called, I thought it was a perfect fit for strengthen the speaking and listening skills of social studies students. So if you’ve used Last Word, post some comments on changes you’ve made or things you like about it.

New to Last Word? Read on, my friend.


The strategy basically requires all your kids to participate as active speakers and listeners. I like that the structure helps those quieter kids share their ideas and encourages those students who are the more frequent speakers to work on their listening skills. We used Last Word to break down a longer piece of text but I think you could also use the strategy to debrief a video clip, audio, or movie.

It can also help your kids better understand the meaning of a text by hearing how meaning can be constructed and supported through the thinking of other students. This seems like a great strategy for those kids who might struggle with understanding context and meaning within more complex pieces.


1. Select a article, text, primary source, or multimedia piece that you want your kids to discuss.

2. Have students read or view the selected text. You may need to modify the text or jigsaw the text into smaller chunks. Ask students to highlight two or three phrases or sentences that particularly stood out for them and write each sentence on the front of an index card. On the back of the card, they should explain why they chose that quote. They might connect it to something that happened to them in their own life, to a film or book they saw or read, or to something that happened in history or is happening in current events.

3. Divide the students into groups of three, labeling one student A, one B, and the other C. Invite the A students to read one of their phrases or sentences to their group. Then ask students B and C to share at least one thing that comes to mind about what A has shared.

What do they think it means? Why do they think these words might be important? To whom? Do they agree about the importance of the phrase? How might someone else interpret it? After several minutes, ask the A students to read the back of their cards and how their thinking may have changed based on the comments of the others. This is the “the last word.” Interesting similarities and differences will develop as other students share their thinking. The A student listens and may then change his or her perspective, add to it, or stick with their original ideas.

4. The process continues with the B students sharing and then the C students.

Our facilitator used the strategy in a group of 15 without the cards, simply asking for volunteers to share their phrase or sentence to start. I think you could adapt the process in a variety of ways – as kids get used to the process, eliminate the cards and expand the groups perhaps – depending on your kids and situation.


In early uses, you might need to design and post evidence-based terms and phrases for students that support historical thinking:

  • What’s one reason why . . . ?
  • How do you know . . . ?
  • How did . . . show this?
  • What’s the evidence for . . . ?
  • What would happen if . . . ? Why?
  • How has your thinking about . . . changed and why?
  • What do you predict . . . ? Why?


You should be able to use this same process with images and photographs instead of quotations. You might give students a collection of World War II propaganda posters, paintings from the 1880s, or photographs from the Dust Bowl. Then ask students to select three images that stand out to them from the collection.  Using the same process of writing on index cards, students explain why they selected those three images and what they think it represents or why it is important. 


I would ask kids to create a quick written response to the process by asking them to summarize their own “Last Words.” This could be on index cards or online via something such as Google Docs or Padlet. I like the idea of a collaborative document for each group or class so that others can interact with the thoughts of others. This also provides you with an easy to access formative assessment.

About Glenn Wiebe

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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