3 Ways to Start and End Your Course

Contributor: Alice Cassidy, In View Educational Development, alicecas@telus.net

(Editor's note) Note this could be a starter or a dessert - much like cheese! As a newcomer to Canada from the UK some years ago I was surprised to find cheese is often served as a starter at dinner parties - while as anyone from the UK will know cheese comes after dessert, a matter hotly contested with the French who prefer to end their meal with something sweet, so dessert comes after the cheese.... anyway the point is this can be used as a icebreaker or get feedback.

3 ways to start and end your course:

  1. Intro survey bingo combo
  2. Personal philosophy statement
  3. Concept mapping and learning portfolios

Ingredients: For 1, just a bit of preparation; for 2, nothing, and for 3, large pieces of flipchart paper, pens and tape, for use of concept mapping for a last day activity


  1. Intro survey bingo combo

Design a survey of about 8 questions to give out in hard copy on the first day (you might send one question to students by email before the course starts if you wish). After introducing the course in a dynamic way, such as by using an enthusiasm statement (see that Recipe in Starters), give students about 10 minutes or so to complete this survey. Explain that you want to find out as much about students’ interests and backgrounds to make the course as relevant to them as possible. On my surveys, the last question invites students to sketch what they see the course being about (to bring in another learning style). Here are two examples of what students have drawn (and given permission for me to use):

pic-1 pic-2

Next, make a bingo sheet using some of the most common, and a few less common responses (and I have incorporated descriptions of the sketches too, e.g. you included a tree in your sketch). Take part of the next few classes to have students play bingo to get to know each other (they have to find people who said that on their survey, and note down then name), explaining that soon, they will be choosing who to work with on a group assignment. I have given small prizes such as roller ball pens or notepads to the first people to get a full line, or a larger gift, such as a book, to someone who completes the entire sheet.

2. Personal philosophy statement

I ask students on the first day of the course, even before showing them anything of the course, to write a paragraph on their philosophy about the course topic, explaining that whatever they write is ‘right’ as is it their view. I collect these (no names but ask them to put a symbol in the top right so they recognize it later on). On the last day of the course, I ask them to do this again. After that, I give back their Day 1 statement and we have a discussion about what, if anything, changed and why.

3. Concept mapping and learning portfolios

I’ve used concept mapping in a couple of ways. First, in a course I taught for many years, a key assignment was to create a learning portfolio, to show their learning throughout the term, how they met the learning objectives and how they made connections to other courses they were taking, and their lives. One of its components was a 2-page concept map. Here are some examples, both from students who gave permission to share. The first map was done as a Venn diagram:


Here is a more traditional concept map that focused on the interconnection of the group projects done that term:


Another way to use concept maps is to cap the course. Explain how concept maps work, then arrange the students into groups, one group for each ‘chunk’ of the course, giving them flipchart paper and coloured pens (reserve one colour for another activity). Ask them to label at the top, then create a concept map for that their chunk. When done, have students tape them to a wall, ideally to a whiteboard, from the start to the end of course, and with each flipchart touching the next one. Now, give them a bit of time to look over the other flipchart chunks. That one colour of pen you saved? Hand it to a student and invite them to now make connections from one chunk to another, explaining their thinking as they draw lines. They then give the pen to another student and so on, until all interconnections are exhausted, or time runs out!

If you have had students tape the flips on a whiteboard, it’s best to use a whiteboard pen, as the lines will likely go ‘off the pages’. This activity, which can take most of a 50-minute class, is highly interactive, gives students a chance to reflect and share both visually and orally.


  1. I have used intro surveys for many years. I started to use the bingo sheet after taking part in a conference session about Starting and Ending that Nicola Simmons ran. The whole session was organized around the use of a bingo sheet. I have used bingo as described here in credit courses, as well as in educational development sessions; highly interactive and a nice take-away for participants.
  1. I borrowed a technique that colleague Carol Ann Courneya used with her Physiology students, where they ‘riffed’ on a “I am Canadian” ad, by saying “I am a physiologist” and stating why that was important.
  1. I first saw the end of course concept mapping activity in SCIE 113, a course I coordinated; I incorporated it to another course that I developed for the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, LFS 150. It came from the graduate pedagogy class, BIOL 535, that Lacey Samuels co-taught with various people, including Joanne Nakonechny, who had the idea to use concept mapping to cap the course. In developing SCIE 113, Joanne, Gulnur Birol and Lacey did the first draft, then Joanne Fox made the course operational and further adapted the concept map activity, introducing it to the skeptical science professors who would be teaching.


  1. See sample questions at https://cassidyinview.wordpress.com/in-class-activities/ways-to-get-to-know-everyone-at-the-start-of-a-course/intro-survey/ Download a template bingo sheet that you can adapt for your own use at https://cassidyinview.wordpress.com/in-class-activities/ways-to-get-to-know-everyone-at-the-start-of-a-course/human-bingo-icebreaker/
  1. See my description at https://cassidyinview.wordpress.com/in-class-activities/ways-to-get-to-know-everyone-at-the-start-of-a-course/personal-philosophy-statement/
  1. See a paper that three of us co-wrote after leading an educational development seminar at UBC about concept maps and also a paper based on a pre-conference session I led at STLHE: https://cassidyinview.wordpress.com/by-topic/concept-maps/

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