Save the Last Word for Me Teaching Strategy | Facing History & Ourselves
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Teaching Strategy

Save the Last Word for Me

This discussion strategy helps students practice being both active speakers and active listeners in a group conversation.


At a Glance

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Teaching Strategy


English — US


  • Advisory
  • Civics & Citizenship
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies




What Is the Save the Last Word for Me Strategy?

The Save the Last Word for Me discussion strategy requires all students to participate as both active speakers and active listeners. Working in groups of three, students follow a pattern of sharing and discussing their responses to a text. By creating a clear structure for the discussion, this strategy encourages reserved students to share their ideas and ensures that frequent speakers practice being quiet. It can be a useful strategy for helping students debrief a reading or film.

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Lesson Plans

How to Use the Save the Last Word for Me Protocol

Identify a reading or video excerpt that will serve as the catalyst for this activity.

Have students read or view the selected text. Ask students to highlight three sentences that particularly stood out for them and write each sentence on the front of an index card. On the back, they should write a few sentences explaining why they chose that quote—what it meant to them, reminded them of, etc. They may have connected 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.

Divide the students into groups of three, labeling one student A, one B, and the other C in each group. Invite the A students to read one of their chosen quotations to their group. Then students B and C discuss the quotation. What do they think it means? Why do they think these words might be important? To whom? After several minutes, ask the A students to read the back of their card (or to explain why they picked the quotation), thus having “the last word.” This process continues with the B students sharing and then the C students.


This same process can be used with images instead of quotations. You could give students a collection of posters, paintings, and photographs from the time period you are studying and then ask students to select three images that stand out to them. On the back of an index card, students should explain why they selected this image and what they think it represents or why it is important.

Ask students to think about three “probing” questions the text raises for them. (A “probing” question is interpretive and evaluative. It can be discussed and has no clearly defined “right” answer, as opposed to clarifying questions, which are typically factual in nature.) Students answer the question on the back of their card. In small groups, students select one of their questions for the other two students to discuss.

  1. Prepare Students
    Determine how you want to introduce your students to the activity (for example, through video or written instructions or during a synchronous meeting). Then, share the reading students will respond to.
  2. Students Read and Respond
    Ask students to finish the reading before meeting with their small groups. Students should write down one sentence that stood out to them and then write a few sentences explaining why they chose that quote. Share questions with your students to guide their explanation, such as:
  • What does this quote mean to you? Does it remind you of something that has happened in your own life? Or something that you have read or watched?
  • Does this quote relate to something that happened in history or is happening in current events? If so, how?
  1. Assign Groups
    Assign students to groups of three and ask each group to appoint a timekeeper.
  2. Students Share in Groups
    If students are meeting synchronously, they should join the other members of their groups in a virtual breakout room. Students should decide on an order to share their quotes. The first student should read their quote but not their explanation. The other two students should discuss the quote for three minutes. The timekeeper should keep track of discussion times. After three minutes, the first student should read their explanation. Then, repeat this process with the other two students.
    If students are discussing asynchronously, ask them to post their sentences in a document/forum shared by the members of their group. Students should comment on their group members’ quotes, but not their own. Once the time for commenting has ended, each student should post their explanation for why they chose their quote and read the explanations of their group members.
    The following questions can help guide students’ synchronous or asynchronous discussions:
  • What do you think the quote means?
  • Why do you think these words might be important?
  1. Students Complete Exit Cards
    Ask students to reflect on the activity in an exit card. Prompts you might use on an exit card include the following:
  • What went well during this activity? Was there anything challenging or unclear about the activity?
  • Connect: How did the ideas and information in the reading and your discussion connect to what you already know about this topic?
  • Extend: How did this activity extend or broaden your thinking about this topic?
  • Challenge: Did this activity challenge or complicate your understanding of this topic? What new questions does it raise for you?

This step can be completed asynchronously. Students should submit their completed exit cards to the teacher.

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