Teaching Thought: Take a Breather — The 10-2 Lecture Method

  • Taking a short break every ten minutes or so when lecturing or presenting new material can help students better learn the material.

In last week’s post, I pointed toward some research that suggested students who write their notes by hand learn the material better than those students who take notes via laptop. This week, I want to continue on a similar path, but suggest a teaching strategy that dovetails nicely with handwritten note taking. It’s easily incorporated, takes very little time or planning, and could produce big gains for your students.

After every ten minutes or so of lecturing, pause for two minutes and instruct students to review the notes they’ve been taking for the past ten minutes.

That’s it. No fancy dances, no scheduled social media posts, no reworking of the syllabus. Just a short break every so often during the lecture where you explicitly instruct students to review what you’ve just told them. I first learned of this strategy, often called the 10-2 Lecture Method (for 10 minutes of lecture followed by 2 minutes of student reflection) at the AVID Summer Institute. I like it for a number of reasons. First, it’s based on the research that suggests the key to learning, especially basic mastery of new concepts, is frequent and persistent review of material. This simply begins that review immediately after encountering that new material, giving some time in class for that process of learning to really begin. I always picture students taking that new stuff, which is sitting unorganized at the front of their brain, and beginning the process of sorting and organizing it, boxing it up to put on the conveyor belt to long-term memory. Maybe that’s a bad metaphor, but the idea that that sort of processing needs to begin early is a sound one, I think.

Second, pausing gives students (who are handwriting their notes, remember?) time to catch up. They can finish jotting down whatever it was you were just saying without risking falling further behind in their note taking. It’s a simple benefit, but one that is important, especially for students who may not be used to taking notes by hand or taking such comprehensive notes.

Third, students can use the processing time to formulate questions. I can easily envision a classroom routine where, after the two-minute pause, the instructor always begins again with “Okay, what questions do you have about what we’ve just gone over?” Maybe they realize they’ve got some gaps in their notes as they review them during those two minutes; they can ask for clarification of a key concept or ask for you to restate a definition. Even better, perhaps they are able to formulate a challenging question to a key idea or concept, something that goes beyond mere clarification of what is known to asking the why and how questions that are so important to critical thinking. Regardless of the types of questions they come up with, taking a breather allows them time to actually generate them. Coupled with a routine expectation that the lecture restart with student questions, this could become a powerful tool to generate student participation and encourage learning.

Forth, it’s easy. It does not require much from the instructor other than mentally noting that one needs to pause every so often. Just look at the clock, stop, wait two minutes, then ask for questions and start again. Sure, you could try to be a bit more precise in your timekeeping by using your phone or watch to keep track of time. I’ve made a bit of a gag in my classes by using wacky alarm tones on my phone to signal transitions. They always giggle at the quacking duck that tells them their time is up. You could also incorporate more community building activities as part of the review or debrief. It would be a simple matter to instruct students to spend one minute reviewing their own notes and then one minute checking on the notes of their neighbor. This technique easily dovetails into a Think-Pair-Share if you want to make the break a little longer.

In any case, the 10-2 Lecture Method is a simple thing to try in your classes that could lead to some big learning gains.

If anyone is already doing something like this, or tries the method and wants to report, just let me know in the comments below!

3 Responses to “Teaching Thought: Take a Breather — The 10-2 Lecture Method”
  1. Stacia says:

    Thanks so much for expanding my conception of the 10-2 and its usefulness! The refreshing and awkward silence that comes with the breather (especially if you talk rapidly as I do when lecturing) also serves to refocus those students who have drifted off to their cellphones or other apps on the laptop in front of them. 😉 The students who lead by asking good questions after the breather also help those “unfocused” ones realize, on a peer level, that good stuff is happening and that they missed it.

  2. Nakia Pope says:

    Exactly, Stacia!

    And, as far as the laptops go, I’ve done a 180 on using them on any regular basis in class, but that’s another column.

  3. BrainPlus IQ says:

    Aw, this was a very good post. Taking a few minutes and
    actual effort to make a great article… but what can I
    say… I put things off a lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

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The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Texas Wesleyan University (CETL) promotes a student-centered university by providing resources and professional growth opportunities to faculty on enhancing instructional practice, integrating technology, and promoting essential student skills.

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