In “Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class” (see http://chronicle.com/article/Small-Changes-in-Teaching-The/234869), James M. Lang offers “4 quick ways to shift students’ attention from life’s distractions to your course content.”
“The opening five minutes [of class] offer us a rich opportunity to capture the attention of students and prepare them for learning. They walk into our classes trailing all of the distractions of their complex lives — the many wonders of their smartphones, the arguments with roommates, the question of what to have for lunch. Their bodies may be stuck in a room with us for the required time period, but their minds may be somewhere else entirely.”
He goes on to offer “four quick suggestions for the first few minutes of class to focus the attention of students and prepare their brains for learning”:
1. Open with a question or two. To grasp students’ attention and get their minds working, Lang recommends opening class by posing one or two questions that are important, thought-provoking, and otherwise relevant to the day’s material. Exploring these questions can then serve as the roadmap for the day’s activities, and returning to them at the end of class can provide an effective summary of what students are to take away for the day.
2. Ask students, “What did we learn last time?” While summarizing the previous class is an effective strategy to reinforce learning and connect course content, it can be even more powerful if students are asked to do it themselves instead of the instructor doing it for them.
3. Reactivate what [students] learned in previous courses. Asking students to relate what they already know (or think they know) about the course material (1) “lights up the parts of their brains that connect to your course material, so when they encounter new material, they will process it in a richer knowledge context” and (2) “lets [instructors] know what preconceptions students have. Armed with this information, instructors can tailor instruction to the class’s learning needs more effectively.
4. Write it down. Building some student writing into the beginning of every class teaches students to associate writing with thinking. Writing engages and focuses students on the day’s learning. All three of the previous activities can be enhanced through writing about them.
Lang closes by reminding us that first impressions matter. Just as what happens on the first day of class sets the instructional tone for the rest of the term, what happens in the first five minutes of class can go a long way toward making for the most successful day’s learning experience.
Lang, J. M. (2016). Small changes in teaching: The first 5 minutes of class. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Advice section. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Small-Changes-in-Teaching-The/234869