Do This, and Your Students Will Never Miss Class Again

by Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins
Senior Digital Educator, Cengage Learning

Growing up, you heard the lectures from your parents. And then you went to school and heard even more lectures. And once you arrived in college, you were just about lectured-out. However, now you teach, and you do what you know best. You lecture! Okay, perhaps you don’t—but I know when I first stepped into the college classroom in 2002, lecture is what I did!

Regardless of whether lecturing is the focal point of your classes, remember these points to help you work toward achieving your course goals while inviting student participation during class. If you do so—if you try these tips—then your students will walk away tuned in and having actually learned, and you will leave class with a sense of accomplishment in having achieved new heights in student engagement!

Studies show that people are only fully engaged for the first 18 to 30 seconds someone is speaking to him/her before external thoughts start creeping in, such as dinner plans, errands to run, email messages that need responses, and so on. (And be honest, you are having external thoughts right this very moment! Come back to me!). At the start of your lecture, think about how you might help students become more metacognitive about their thinking and more engaged in what you have to share with them during your lecture.

Within the first five minutes of class, you must excite, engage, involve, and inform your students. Engage them by making connections between the lecture topic and them, and involve your students by getting their input. The “inform” part is easy; it’s the objective material you provide in your lectures. It is the “excitement” part that requires a little more effort. Excite them simply by telling them how their lives, success, and abilities will be exponentially enhanced with what you share in that class . . . that if they can learn X, Y, and Z, then A, B, and C can come their way.

Think back to the start of this blog entry and how I shared if you do ___, then ___ would happen. You were excited! You wanted (and did!) immediately dive into reading, right?

This is good, but you may ask, “Bridgett, how do I keep the momentum going beyond the first five minutes of class?” This is how:

Your course content is like a buffet. You have so much information you can provide students. At the same time, your students’ minds are similar to buffet plates. In 1956, George A. Miller formulated the “chunk concept” when he presented evidence that the working memory is limited in capacity. Miller stated that working memory could hold seven (plus or minus two) chunks of information at once. However, it is now thought that the number is closer to four or five bits of information. The takeaway is that if a learner’s working memory is full, the excess information will just drop out. It means that if you are explaining something complex and the learner must hold several factors in mind to understand it, you will need to chunk information into bite-sized pieces and present it in organized sections.

So, the final point is for you to ensure that you provide students with chunks of information—no more than twelve to fifteen minutes of content—then pause and let them digest that information. You might use a formative assessment or a classroom assessment technique for them to process information, then give them another chunk of information. You may have heard the lessons a hundred times and can regurgitate the material at the drop of a hat. However, students are hearing your content for the first time. They need time to think. Consider this: If I asked you what you had for dinner yesterday, you would have to stop and think. Similarly, give your students the time necessary to process complex content. You may find 12 minutes is too long; 12 minutes is not a hard and fast rule. You know your students best. If you see they are starting to check out, pause and give them time to fully comprehend what you have shared.

Want more tips and specific, easy-to-use activities? Check out the recording of Lecture Light Shine, a webinar on how to make your class sessions something your students never want to miss.

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