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2.4 Use of breaks in lectures

Given the decline in student attention after some 15 to 20 minutes, it makes sense to give students a break during the lecture. When the lecture resumes, attention is likely to be restored to its original or near original level. This does require, however, that you avoid the temptation to fill the lecture time with you talking, under the mistaken belief that the more you succeed in saying, the more students will be receiving.

If you do opt to give students one or more short breaks, there are several things that you can ask students to do with this time. Some are related to the lecture; some are not.

Breaks related to the lecture

You can ask the students to use the break to reflect on what they have learned so far in the lecture. A good way of using this ‘pause for reflection’ is to get them to look through the notes they have taken and ‘revise’ what you have covered in the first part of the lecture. They could also ‘tidy up’ their notes. One way in which they could do this is to re-work the material into a ‘Mind-Map’ diagram (Buzan and Buzan, 1994). If this lecture follows on from a previous one, you could also ask them to check that their notes follow on from the previous lecture.

An alternative is for students to exchange notes with their neighbour and for the neighbour to comment on them. This both provides useful feedback to each student on the notes they have made and also helps students to learn from their neighbour’s notes. The process should help to clarify understanding and to identify gaps.

Top Tip 8

You could ask students to compare and discuss notes with their neighbour. Students will benefit from giving as well receiving feedback.

Breaks unrelated to the lecture

The simplest form of break is to give the students a few minutes just to stop and have a bit of quiet time or to chat to their neighbour. If the room lends itself, you could let them move around. Such breaks can get noisy and so it is important to set ‘rules’ that allow you to end the break quickly so that the lecture can resume.

An alternative to the ‘pure’ break is to provide some form of entertainment. Many lecturers may feel uncomfortable about this, but it can prove very popular with students and the complete change can be very effective in helping to restore concentration. For example you might show an entertaining video clip or read a diverting and interesting text. The video clip could be a cartoon or a comedy sketch, or anything that you feel the students might like (within reason). You could even serialise a programme.

Alternatively you could show an economics item from the week’s news which, even if unrelated to the lecture, can reinforce the relevance of economics to current issues. This can be very useful at level 1 for students who will not study the subject again, or who might be persuaded to do so if their interest can be sufficiently aroused.

You might choose some text from a news extract or even a poem. You could even arrange with a colleague to come into your lecture to read something (a ‘favour’ you could reciprocate). You could assign students in rota to bring something to read out – although you may have to vet their contribution in advance!

Top Tip 9

A short 'entertainment' break is likely to prove popular with students and thereby improve motivation. The break would improve concentration afterwards. If students end up learning more, it could be time well spent.