How to Use the 3-2-1 Strategy to Break Up Your Lecture, Engage Students, and Assess Learning

teaching strategies to engage students assess learning

I recently attended a faculty development workshop focused on formative and summative assessment strategies. During one of the group discussions, a faculty member shared one of her favorite strategies which she uses to engage students and assess learning.

This strategy is easy to do, it’ll hold students accountable, and it’ll help you see where you need to provide additional resources, support, or information to clarify student confusion or misunderstanding.

The strategy is called “3-2-1” and it’ll work for any topic in any course which is why I wanted to share it with you!

What is the 3-2-1 Strategy?

The 3-2-1 strategy is a formative assessment strategy which helps you (and your students) identify not only what they learned in class, but also how the information fits into the knowledge they already have.

And, it allows a way for students to share what they don’t know which helps you make adjustments as needed. It’s called 3-2-1 because that’s the structure of the feedback. It looks like this:

At the end of class, ask students to share:

  • 3 things they learned
  • 2 things that confirmed what they already knew
  • 1 question they still have

That's it!

Benefits of the 3-2-1 Strategy

  • Gives you immediate feedback so you can make adjustments early in the course rather than waiting until the next exam.

  • Allows your students to share what they know – and more importantly what they don’t know – so you can provide more support before they fall too far behind.

  • Creates a safe and open space for students to share feedback and know that it’s okay to say tell you what they don’t know. This can increase trust between you and your students because they know you care about their success.

  • Decreases frustration since students are able to share their feedback immediately, and they know their feedback will be reviewed.

  • Gives students a voice in the process and pace of the class. With this strategy, students are telling you what they already know and what they don’t know so time is spent on the appropriate content. You’re not spending too much time on content they know and you’re not moving too fast through the content they are struggling with.

  • Allows you an opportunity to look for patterns or trends related to students’ understanding of the course material.

  • Helps you identify the places where you need to break up your lecture. Students’ responses to the “1” part of the 3-2-1 strategy (What is 1 question you still have?) will point you towards the places where you need to mix up your approach. If you see the same questions repeated by several students about the same content, then that is the content you need to redesign.

5 Ways You Can Use the 3-2-1 Strategy to Break Up Your Lecture and Increase Student Engagement in Your Course:

  1. Do the 3-2-1 strategy immediately after introducing new material. Get students’ immediate response to the slides, lecture, examples, discussion, activity, etc. so you can refine it as needed. This could be especially helpful if this is the first time you’ve delivered this particular lecture or tried this activity.

  2. Do the 3-2-1 at the beginning of class. Ask students to share their 3-2-1 about the previous lecture to help bridge the content from one class to the next.

  3. Assign a 3-2-1 to complement a pre-class assignment. This is a great way to encourage students to actually complete the pre-class work and it holds them accountable for doing so.

  4. Ask students to complete a 3-2-1 focused on the syllabus, a rubric, or the instructions for an assignment. This feedback will help you clarify expectations and refine the instructions for future classes.

  5. Ask students to complete a 3-2-1 after each group presentation (or individual presentation). This encourages the students in the audience to pay attention, stay focused, and offer feedback to their peers (which will help the presenters refine their presentation and communication skills).

These are just a few ways to adapt the 3-2-1 strategy in your course. This is also an effective strategy to integrate into training sessions, orientations, and onboarding processes.


Felder, R. & Brent, R. (February 5, 2019). How to Use Assessment to Evaluate Students’ Learning. In-person faculty development workshop. Meredith College. Raleigh, NC.