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Take a break

This is not specific to mathematics but is so effective in my teaching that I thought I’d share it:

Halfway through a lecture I take a two minute break.

During that time I let the students do what they want (within reason, of course!). The idea behind this one should be obvious. All of us like a break and feel refreshed after one. Just a short period is enough to reinvigorate the students’ enthusiasm.

I’m sure most of us have seen the statement that people have an attention span of about 20 minutes. So in a 50 minute lecture a break at the half way point is approximately right. I think that the other in-class activities help break up the lecture as well and so attention spans are not being over-stretched.

A possible cost associated with the break and a serious point raised by colleagues is that two minutes each lecture over a term adds up to a significant amount. My reply is that the lost quantity of time is more than made up for with the greater quality of the rest of the time — students are refreshed and happier and both are good for learning. (If you are so desperate for time that you can’t spare two minutes, then there is probably too much content in the course.) Furthermore, I feel energized too and I believe that helps my teaching.

In conclusion, this is one activity (non-activity!) that is easy to do and is much appreciated by students — it’s often mentioned in the end-of-teaching questionnaires as a positive.

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