The First 5 Minutes of Class

Students gather and watch a professor give a lecture.The calendar shows we are more than half way to May and most of us are comfortably into the rhythm of another semester. With that in mind, it might be time to mix it up a bit and help students re-focus their efforts in your course as they prepare for the last push to finals week.

I recently came across an article titled Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class. In it the author suggests incorporating four simple actions at the beginning of class to help focus student attention. It helps set the stage for what will be taught that day and pulls them away from the plethora of distractions many walk into class with each day. The ideas are simple, straightforward, and easy to implement:

  • Open with a question or two related to the course material for that day. This helps frame what will be taught that day and can also help them understand the relevance and relationships of course content.
  • Ask students to summarize “What did we learn last time?” Having students summarize rather than the faculty member summarizing for them, helps students reengage with the course material.
  • Have students describe or consider what they have learned in previous courses, inside or outside of the discipline, so they make connections to what they already know as it relates to the course material at hand.
  • Have students write down answers to the questions you posed about the day’s topic, their summary of what they learned last time, and or connections to their prior knowledge. Writing their responses helps formalize the connections and gives them something tangible to refer back to after the class session ends.

Here’s hoping everyone has a great Spring Break!

Ann Marie VanDerZanden, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching