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Pause Techniques Help Students Focus During Online Instruction

Pause Techniques Help Students Focus During Online Instruction

The “pause procedure” (Ruhl, Hughes & Schloss, 1987; Bachhel & Thaman, 2014) is an approach that integrates pauses at strategic times during instruction to promote greater student engagement.
by LSA Learning and Teaching Technology Consultants

One of the challenges of online synchronous teaching is that time can feel very limited, especially if there’s been a technical glitch. This can lead to rushing the course content in an attempt to leave sufficient time for questions. Students need time to process information even before Q&A, though. 

The “pause procedure” (Ruhl, Hughes & Schloss, 1987; Bachhel & Thaman, 2014) is an approach that integrates pauses at strategic times during instruction to promote greater student engagement. The pauses should stimulate and assist students to comprehend and process course material. Here are four techniques to try with your students which can all be used in remote classes:

  1. Start class with a pause: Students may be moving quickly between work, home responsibilities, or classes and meetings held on Zoom. Give them a few minutes to settle in and focus at the beginning of class. Play music, post an image and a quote on the screen, or post a question about the course on the lecture slides. Consider using such a prompt to activate prior knowledge about course content and get them prepared for the upcoming lesson. 

  2. Pause and predict: Before introducing a new content area, ask students to predict the answer to a broad, overarching question about the upcoming material. Ask students to come up with three or four potential answers. For example, students in a class on modern European history might be asked “What economic problems did Germany face after WWI?” They will have some prior knowledge to answer the question initially, but they will have a much deeper understanding of the question after instruction about WWI. Asking students to sketch out an initial answer to the question will tap into their curiosity and get them invested more deeply in the lecture. This will help them make connections and better understand the topic.

  3. Pause, prepare, and prioritize: Students will benefit from a pause to reflect on their progress in high stakes assignments, such as a final project or research paper. They often won’t take the time to assess their progress on their own, so it’s helpful to pause for this during class. Give students a few minutes to prepare a list of tasks they still need to complete for their project. For example, they may need to submit a proposal, complete an annotated bibliography, or meet with their group. Then ask students to prioritize the tasks so they know where to begin. Having students prepare and prioritize what needs to be done can help reduce stress, meet assignment criteria and learning goals, and allow time for questions far before the assignment due date.

  4. Pause to retrieve prior learning: Retrieval is one of the stages of the learning and memory processing that helps move information to the long-term memory (Myers, 2014). Students benefit when given the opportunity to recall prior learning. For example, ask students to write down their understanding of a theory or concept presented the week before. Then give them the opportunity to apply their knowledge to a new situation, such as a new equation or new case example. This will be especially helpful with crucial foundational material or theories that are difficult to understand and remember correctly. 

Planned pauses are a quick and easy way to encourage students to reflect and engage during synchronous instruction. Pauses also give students the opportunity to review what they have learned and clarify any confusion about the day’s lesson. Try adding just one pause technique to your next class!


Works Cited

Bachhel, R & Thaman, R. (2014).  Effective use of pause procedure to enhance student engagement and learning. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 9(8).

Myers, D.G. (2014). Exploring psychology. New York, NY: Worth.

Ruhl, K. L., Hughes, C. A., & Schloss, P. J. (1987). Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall. Teacher Education and Special Education, 10(1), 14–18.



Release Date: 10/29/2020
Category: Learning & Teaching Consulting; Teaching Tips
Tags: Technology Services