Conversations in Teaching: Five-Minute Recipes for Success

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By Elecclock (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This post originally appeared in the Instructor College Blog hosted on

On January 27, 2010, the Instructor College hosted a brown bag discussion of five-minute teaching techniques.  Angie Oehrli and Harold Tuckett lead the discussion.  The notes below capture some of the tips shared by Angie, Harold, and other discussion participants.

Techniques for Michigan time, before all students are present:
  • Ask students' names, majors, etc. to have "someone on your side" once instruction begins.
  • Listen in to students' conversations; get a glimpse of student life.
Things to accomplish in the first 5 minutes of class:
  • Convey how large the Library system is.
  • Establish authority.
  • Build rapport.
Techniques for the first 5 minutes:
  • Use humor to establish rapport.
    • "I've got an email address older than you."
    • "To purchase the books you want, I will accept bribes of chocolate, etc."
  • Leverage both positive and negative motivation.
    • "The techniques you'll learn today will save you time."
    • "We're here to help you do well on your assignment."
Techniques for the second 5 minutes of class:
  • Amanda's "tattoo technique" - ask students to discuss groups who are likely to get tattoos.  This leads to a discussion of keywords, builds rapport, demonstrates how seemingly simple topics can be complex and multidisciplinary.
  • Establish objectives - for example: "When you leave today, you'll know how to find a book."
    • List objectives on the white board and refer to them throughout the session to create a framework and to address various learning styles.
  • Draw attention to key information - "If you only remember one thing from this session, remember..."
    • the Ask a Librarian service
    • the location of smaller unit libraries
    • how to find the LibGuide for your class
  • Distribute an article and ask, "What is this article about? What do you search for if you want to find books on the same topic?"
Other Techniques & Comments:
  • Keep students' attention spans in mind.
    • Students focus best and longest at the outset of a session; focus can be regained but only for decreasing lengths of time.
    • Are attention spans at an all time low?  Do they vary with or correspond to age?
  • Keep students engaged by "chunking" class time into various activities: work in groups, lecture, work alone, tour the library, watch videos, etc.
    • Try creating a worksheet or exercise to accompany a video so students are not entirely passive while viewing.
  • Mind mapping engages graduate students.
  • Try creating a bibliography out of an entire RefWorks library -- rather than just a few references -- and ask a student to time the process.  This demonstrates the power of the tool and provides an impressive session finale.

We invite you to continue the discussion online.  What questions or comments do you have?  What is your experience with "chunking" class time?  How do you manage students' flagging focus?  What recipes for success do you have to share?