Listen to my interview with Betsy Potash (transcript):
Have you heard the whispers about one-pagers in the online teacher hallways? The concept of a one-pager, in which students share their most important takeaways on a single piece of blank paper, has really taken off recently.
The one-pagers I see on Instagram draw me in like a slice of double chocolate mousse cake. The artistry students bring to representing their texts on a single piece of paper, blending images and ideas in creative color, is almost hypnotizing for me. Perhaps you’ve had the same experience.
But it’s the very beauty of the models that get posted that can drive students and teachers away from the one-pager activity. Sure, it’s great for super artistic students, we tend to think, but what about everyone else?
Turns out it CAN be great for everyone. As long as you know how to structure it.
What Is a One-Pager?
Let’s backtrack a bit and talk more about what a one-pager is. It’s pretty simple, really. Students take what they’ve learned—from a history textbook, a novel, a poem, a podcast, a Ted Talk, a guest speaker, a film—and put the highlights onto a single piece of paper. AVID first developed this strategy, but now it’s widely used in and out of AVID classrooms.
But why is this seemingly simple assignment so powerful?
As students create one-pagers, the information they put down becomes more memorable to them as they mix images and information. According to Allan Paivio’s dual coding theory, the brain has two ways of processing: the visual and the verbal. The combination of the two leads to the most powerful results. Students will remember more when they’ve mixed language and imagery.
Plus, one-pagers provide variety, a way for them to share what they’ve learned that goes beyond the usual written options. Students tend to surprise themselves with what they come up with, and their work makes for powerful displays of learning. Plus, they’re fun to make. Let’s not pretend that doesn’t matter.
So, assuming you’re sold on trying this out, you’re probably wondering what exactly goes into a one-pager?
Students might include quotations, ideas, images, analysis, key names and dates, and more. They might use their one-pagers to make connections to their own lives, to art or films, to pop culture, to what they’re learning in their other classes. They might even do it all. You’d be amazed at how much can fit on a single piece of paper.
Many teachers create lists of what students should put inside their one-pagers. Knowing they need two quotations, several symbolic images, one key theme, etc., helps guide students in their work.
The Art Problem
When creating one-pagers, artistic students tend to feature more sketches, doodles, icons and lettering. Students wary of art tend to feature more text, and can be reluctant to engage with the visual part of the assignment at all.
It was this issue—the issue of the art-haters—that first drew me into one-pagers two years ago. I had seen some stunning one-pagers posted in my Facebook group, Creative High School English. But the comments that followed were always the same. “That’s amazing work! But so many of my students don’t like art….”
Those comments struck a chord with me. For years I had dealt with comments from some of my own students about their distaste for artistic materials when I would introduce creative projects. No matter how much I explained that it was the intention behind their choices that mattered, I always got some pushback if there were any artistic elements involved in a project.
Was there a way to tweak the one-pager assignment so every student would feel confident in their success?
Another problem was one of overall design: Though they knew they needed to hit all the requirements their teachers listed, students still seemed to be overwhelmed by that huge blank page. What should go where? Did colored pencils really have to be involved?
A Simple Solution: Templates
As I thought about the problem, I wondered if students would feel less overwhelmed if they knew what needed to go where. If the quotations had to be in the middle, the themes in the upper left, the images across the bottom, etc. I began to play around with the shapes tool in PowerPoint, creating different one-pager templates.
Then I began shaping my requirements, correlating each element with a space on the paper. Maybe the border could be the key quotations. The center would feature an important symbol. The themes could go in circles around the center. I developed a bunch of different templates for varied ways to respond to novels. Then I tried podcasts. Films. Poetry.
As I shared these templates with other teachers, I kept getting the same feedback: “It’s working!”
That little bit of creative constraint actually frees students to use their imagination to represent what they have learned on the page without fear. They know what they need to put down, and where, but they are also free to expand and add to the template. To choose their own colors. To bring out what is most important to them through their creativity and artistry. And those super artistic students? They can just flip the template over and use the blank page on the back.
There are so many ways to integrate this creative strategy into your classroom. While one-pagers lend themselves beautifully to final assessments after reading independent novels, literature circle selections, or whole class novels, that’s really just the beginning.
You can use them to get to know students better, as with a name tent or “about me” one-pager at the beginning of the year. One school used templates to have every student create a one-pager about their own lives, collecting them all into hallway displays as part of a project they called “Tell your Story.”
You can also use them to help students focus in on the most important information in nonfiction articles and books. One EFL teacher in Croatia used the templates to have students share key takeaways from articles they read about social media. Not only did students have to analyze the text deeply to figure out what was most important, but the dual-coding theory suggests the process of creating the one-pagers will help them remember the information better.
Another great use for one-pagers is to keep students focused while absorbing media. When students are watching a film, listening to a podcast, or even attending an assembly with a guest speaker, they can be creating one-pagers as they listen, a kind of formalized version of sketchnotes.
Simple Steps for One-Pager Success
Whenever you’re considering your options for assessment, throw one-pagers into the mix. The steps below should help you in creating an assignment for which every student has a roadmap to success.
1. Choose the elements you want your students to put onto their one-pagers. For example, quotations, key themes, literary elements, discussion of style, important characters or dates, connections to other disciplines, connections to their lives, connections to modern culture.
3. Connect your instructions to your layout. Make it clear which elements should go in which area of your template.
4. Create a simple rubric with the key categories you want your students to succeed with. With literary one-pagers, I use “Textual Analysis,” “Required Elements,” and “Thoroughness.”
5. As you introduce the assignment, show students some examples of one-pagers to give them a sense for how they might proceed.
6. Give students time to work on their one-pagers in class so they can ask you questions. Consider providing some artistic materials if you can, or inviting students to bring them in. You can always let them complete the work at home if necessary.
7. Do a gallery walk of the one-pagers before you collect them, or have them present to each other in small groups. The students will learn a lot from seeing each other’s representations.
8. Create a display after you grade the one-pagers with your rubric.
You can find more of Betsy’s great ideas on her website, Spark Creativity.