Teaching Strategy

Save the Last Word for Me (3-5)

Grade Level
Community Inquiry


Save the Last Word for Me is a comprehension strategy that builds speaking and listening skills by structuring a text-based discussion for students. Students highlight two to three of the most important sentences of the central text, then discuss their text-based responses in small groups.


During and after reading


Save the Last World for Me builds active reading, speaking and listening skills. Giving students a task to complete while reading engages them with the text, and the structured format draws all students into the discussion. Students with stronger comprehension model their process for others, and all students benefit from hearing the alternative viewpoints and different interpretations of the text.


  1. Choose a central text for students to read independently
  2. After reading, instruct students to determine the text's main idea. Ask them to summarize it in their own words in two or three complete sentences and record the summary in a place they can easily reference during the rest of the activity. 
  3. Ask students to choose two to three sentences from the text that they think are important, keeping their main idea summary in mind.
  4. Put students in small groups to share their selections. Group size may vary.
  5. Have the first student begin by reading her first quote to the group without making any disclaimers or comments about the quote.
  6. Prompt each member of the group to respond briefly to the quote until everyone has had a chance to comment. Remind students not to engage in cross-talk.
  7. After everyone has commented, the first student elaborates on why she chose that phrase or sentence as important to the central text. That student gets “the last word.”
  8. Monitor the discussion as students take turns reading their quotes, listening to the group’s responses and explaining their reasons for choosing those quotes. Repeat the process until all students have shared.

English language learners

Pre-writing tasks build confidence for students to express their thoughts and ideas. Encourage English language learners to make connections to their own lives and diverse experiences when selecting quotes. The Common Core emphasizes that English language learners enrich the school and society by building on their cultural practices and perspectives.

English language learners also benefit from Save the Last Word for Me because there is no right or wrong answer; all students have the opportunity to share without judgment. Modify this strategy for less proficient students by having them highlight pieces of text they find confusing or unclear. This not only aids comprehension and provides practice speaking with peers, but also gives other children the opportunity to teach, support and offer feedback.

Connection to anti-bias education

The strategy creates the structured conditions necessary for equitable classroom discussion. Students who are typically reluctant to speak up and those who tend to dominate discussions both get to practice appropriate speaking and listening habits. Students practice sharing their own thoughts in a low-stress situation, building confidence to speak in larger groups.