Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Teaching Tip: Ten-Minute Teaching Segments

As we plan classes, we think about segments of time, big and small.

John Medina, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, sets out a justification for lecturing in ten-minute segments in his 2008 book, Brain Rules. We think his reasons for dividing classes into ten-minute chunks are valuable for everyone, not just those of us who lecture.

  1. Attention begins to flag after ten minutes of class. Research suggests that by twenty minutes into an activity, most brains have momentarily lost focus and must refocus actively in order to resume paying attention. Ten-minute segments preempt our brains’ normal attention cycles.
  2. Learners want to structure new information. Classes can feel like an information fire hose. Being able to order information helps our brains retain it and make sense of the mass of new data. Dividing a class into ten-minute segments can help to give strong orders to our classes.
  3. Listeners use meaning—why something matters—in order to structure and remember details. We can use the artificially-imposed ten-minute segment to prompt us to refer to the big picture or to provide emotional content that will make the details matter more.

So Medina structures his classes in ten-minute chunks, as follows:

  1. Each ten-minute segment focuses on one big idea, summed in a one-minute statement to begin, followed by nine minutes to go into details.
  2. Medina plans a “hook-baiting” break at the ten-minute mark, something with emotional content, like a story or a video, but always something relevant that connects ten-minute segments.

Medina writes that if he structures the first half of an hour-long class in this way, he does not need to employ “hooks” for the last half in order to retain student attention.

How do you structure your classes? We’d love to hear your suggestions.

By the way, John Medina has a website with interesting videos:

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