The importance of the first five minutes of class

Maybe they just woke up. Maybe they rushed over from their previous class. Maybe they just finished a big paper or assignment. Whatever the cause, it’s most likely that your students are distracted and not really mentally ready to be in your classroom when they first get there. I’m the same way. I usually need to take about 10 minutes before I enter a classroom to sit quietly with my class plan and prepare to be in the class.

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We need to add a little transition time to the beginning of class to help our students get mentally ready to focus. We want our students to remember what we did the previous class session (or the readings/assignment they did the previous evening). We want them to have a clear idea of what we will focus on during the current class session. We want their full attention.

Here are some strategies that I use during those first five minutes or so of class.

1. I try to get to class a few minutes early and write some very specific class goals on the board. As students file in, they get out their notebooks and jot down what I’ve put on the board. Then, I spend a couple of minutes mentioning the goals. I usually put different types of goals in this list and make explicit the learning processes I hope to emphasize.

  • Content goal. This goal describes the concept(s) that that session will address. Usually, I phrase this as, “Understanding how cells obtain energy, ” or “Mastering how populations evolve through natural selection.”
  • Process goal. “Integration of xxx with xxx to arrive at new insights.” Or “Approaching xxxx with multiples levels of analysis…” This goal emphasizes a type of learning or type of thinking using the concepts.
  • Meta-goal. “Continuing to develop a class community by working in groups.” Or “Practice speaking the language of biology.” I make it explicit to the class each day that we are working on other types of cognitive processes that will deepen their learning experience. I have found, since I started making explicit lists of different types of learning goals, that my students seem to have a keener awareness of why we do what we do in class.
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2. Brief re-cap of the previous class. I don’t just talk about what we did “last time.” Instead, I have students answer a quick question about the previous session by working with the student next to them. Or, I ask a few brief questions and solicit answers from the students. I have also had them look back at their notes from the previous session and create an exam question that addresses the main concept of the previous class and then ask a few to volunteer their questions and others to try to answer them.

These first five to ten minutes get the class ready to learn, but also help them reflect on their learning. It’s time well spent!