SOS: 3-2-1 Pyramid

Creative, research-based instructional strategies, presented by teachers for teachers.

The Spotlight on Strategies series provides help, tips, and tricks for integrating Discovery Education digital media into your curriculum in meaningful, effective, and practical ways.

The SOS series includes more than one hundred different ideas for strategies you can use to engage students in active learning with digital media.

Leave a comment and let us know how you’ll use this strategy in your class.


 3-2-1 Pyramid

PDF and Video Versions

Research conducted by Robert Marzano shows that in order to effectively summarize information, students must learn to analyze it at a deep level. This helps them make decisions about what information is extraneous and can be deleted or substituted, and what information is critical and necessary to understanding the topic being studied. Doing this takes repeated practice. The 321 pyramid organizer helps scaffold students in learning how to do these things.


Materials: digital media, paper, writing tools

  1. Have students watch a video clip or read a passage about a topic.
  2. On a piece of paper (or in a science or social studies journal), have students draw a large triangle that almost fills the entire page.
  3. Inside the triangle, have students draw horizontal lines to divide the pyramid into three sections.
  4. Next, have students:
    • Divide the bottom section of the pyramid into three boxes
    • Divide the middle section into two boxes
    • Do nothing with the top section
  5. In the bottom sections, have students write three facts they learned; in the middle sections have students write two ways the topic is significant or important; and in the top section, have students write one sentence to summarize the topic. Consider having students to do this as a Six Word Story.

The 321 Pyramid strategy provides a framework that guides student practice as they master the process of summarizing information. It also provides the teacher with evidence of student engagement in the content and what they’ve learned, which could be used as a formative or summative assessment. A benefit of using this strategy is that it is quick and requires no complicated materials or time.


  • Consider modifying the prompts used in each level of the pyramid to fit specific needs of the lesson.
  • Incorporate cooperative groups into the strategy by putting students into groups of three. Cut the pyramid up and give each student a different part to complete. Then, have students come back together and share what they’ve written, making adjustments as necessary to ensure the entire pyramid reflects an accurate summary of the information.
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One Comment;

  1. Ana @ CUI said:

    This blog is particularly useful because the academic performance of our English Language Learners (ELLs) is on a downward trend at our elementary school. I came across the Spotlight on Strategies blog and discovered the SOS: Z Chart and SOS: 3-2-1 Pyramid graphic organizers. The Z Chart is based on Robert Marzano’s research that knowledge/information can be expressed in “linguistic” AND “nonlinguistic” forms. An ELL student can demonstrate the level of thinking skills whether high or low. Also, the teacher can instantly determine if the student has comprehension of the task at hand. Another engaging graphic organizer discovered on this blog is the SOS: 1-2-3 Pyramid. This organizer is also based on Marzano’s research about helping students think critical to ultimately write a summary of information. The beauty of this graphic organizer is that students have difficulty distinguishing between a main idea and a key supporting detail. In this model, the student can begin at the base of the pyramid with general details, then use the middle section to determine the topic, and finally write one sentence that summarizes the bottom two levels!
    Too bad the school year is almost over. I have already bookmarked this blog for next year’s challenges.

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