Despite all the buzz around active learning, did you know that lecturing is still the most common teaching method? The good news is that we don’t need to abandon the lecture because research has shown that it can be effective (Baeten, Dochy, & Struyven, 2013). Lectures are efficient ways for the expert (otherwise known as the professor!) to share knowledge with students.  While many argue that lectures are passive and not effective as more active learning approaches, this is not the case when lectures are done effectively.  Mayer (2009) argues that cognitive engagement is what matters most and there is no doubt that students can be quite engaged during captivating lectures.  Incorporating brief, active learning strategies into lectures can further improve engagement and learning (Davis & Hult, 1997; Drabick, Weisberg, Paul, & Bubier, 2007; Ruhl, Hughes, & Scholls, 1987).

One particularly powerful technique is the pause procedure. In an experimental study conducted by Bacchel and Thaman (2014), the effectiveness of this technique was explored. In this study, first-year medical students were divided into one of the following groups:

Harrington - Six-Minute Lecturing Strategy to Increase Learning - Study on Pause Procedure

Thus, in the experimental condition, there were three two-minute pauses during a fifty-minute lecture. Fifteen days after the lecture, students in both groups were given a thirty-question multiple choice test in addition to some additional survey questions. Results showed that students in the experimental group (23) performed significantly better than those in the control group (21.05) on the test taken fifteen days later! The majority of students in the pause condition indicated that it was helpful (85.9%) and that it increased their interaction with peers (80.1%).

This is not an isolated finding. Ruhl, Hughes, and Schloss (1987) also found that undergraduate students who were given three 2-minute pauses during a lecture to share and compare notes (84.39) outperformed students who did not have the pause opportunity (76.28) on a test taken 12 days later. Likewise, other researchers such as Davis and Hult (1997) and Drabick, Weisberg, Paul, and Bubier (2007) found that incorporating an opportunity for students to stop, think, reflect, and write during lectures increased learning.

This research is powerful evidence of how when we “teach” for just six minutes less each class and instead give students an opportunity to digest the content just learned, students learn more. This very easy to implement technique doesn’t require that much class time and certainly seems like a worthwhile strategy to incorporate into our lectures. The share and compare notes is an excellent strategy to use during the pause procedure, but there are of course other strategies you can use after about fifteen minutes of lecturing. Some other examples include having students write a summary of key concepts without using their notes, create a concept map of the main points just discussed, or informally quiz a classmate about content just learned.



Bachhel, R. & Thaman, R. G. (2014). Effective use of pause procedure to enhance student engagement and learning. Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, 8(8), 1-3. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/8260.4691

Baeten, M., Dochy, F., & Struyven, K. (2013). The effects of different learning environments on students’ motivation for learning and their achievement. British Journal of Educational Psychology83(3), 484-501.  doi:10.1111/j.2044-8279.2012.02076.x

Davis, M., & Hult, R. E. (1997). Effects of writing summaries as a generative learning activity during note taking. Teaching of Psychology24(1), 47-49.

Drabick, D. G., Weisberg, R., Paul, L., & Bubier, J. L. (2007). Keeping it short and sweet: Brief, ungraded writing assignments facilitate learning. Teaching of Psychology34(3), 172-176. doi:10.1080/00986280701498558

Mayer, R. E. (2009) Multi-Media Learning 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ruhl, K., C. Hughes, and P. Schloss, (1987).  Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall,” Teacher Education and Special Education, 10, 14–18.


Have you heard? Dr. Harrington is running Scholarly Teaching Institutes. These are opportunities to spend a full day exploring a pedagogical topic. This spring, there are two upcoming Institutes on Dynamic Lecturing, one in Orlando, Florida on February 19, 2016 and another in Hamilton, New Jersey on April 22, 2016. For more information and to sign up for her mailing list, visit