Use Pomodoro Method to Engage Your Students

According to a study conducted in the chemistry department of the Catholic University done by Diane M. Bunce, Elizabeth A. Flens, and Kelly Y. Neiles in Washington D.C., it was found that while the original belief of the 10-15 minute attention span may be true, it was not the whole truth. Here is the rest of the story.

It is true that the first lapse of attention (or first break in attention) occurred at approximately the 10-18 minute mark, but after this initial break, the later attention lapses occurred more and more frequently. By the end of class, attention breaks were cycling every 3-4 minutes. In other words, in the last parts of class, students are only paying attention for 3-4 minutes at a time!

So what does this mean for you?

This means that introducing different elements into the routine may benefit both you and your students by helping them pay more attention so that you can be a more effective teacher. This is where the pomodoro method comes in.

Introducing the Pomodoro Method

The pomodoro method, so named for the tomato kitchen timers used by the creator (pomodoro is the Italian word for “tomato”), is a time management technique. Started by author, entrepreneur, and developer Francesco Cirillo, the pomodoro method divides hours into shorter intervals, usually 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break. This allows for an enhanced level of focus for longer periods of time with less drop-off in terms of attention span.

So by reducing the time interval that students have to focus on a given task, they are actually able to increase their level of focus and productivity.

This has been a profound finding in the classroom as well as in the business world. Entrepreneurs like Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby (which sold for $22 million in 2008) use the technique as well. In his blog, he writes, “You get lots of stuff done, not by focusing on getting stuff done but by focusing on focusing!”. And that is exactly what this is about. By figuring out ways to improve student focus, we are able to help them retain more information and be more attentive in the classroom.

This is how the pomodoro method works:

Step 1: Choose the Task

The first step is to decide the task you want to complete. You must also decide how much total time you will allot this particular activity. For example, if the homework is doing math problems and you are being generous, you can give them an hour to work.

Step 2: Set the Timer

Using a timer, there are two times you need to set:

  1. Amount of time for students to work with intense focus

  2. Amount of time for students to break between work periods

The idea behind the pomodoro method is short bursts of hyper-focused work. Therefore, the time should not be too long. On the other side of the same coin, the time should not be too short either, in order to allow students to transition into work mode.

The original method allotted 25 minutes for work and 5 minutes for break periods. Adjust these times as you see fit for your classroom. I personally have my clock set for 28 minutes to work and 7 minutes to rest.

Surprisingly enough, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) smartphone timer apps are great for this method. For Android, use A HIIT Interval Timer and for iPhone, use HIIT Timer (Intervals). Both have simple interfaces and are easy to set up.

Step 3: Go

Press the start button and tell them to get to work. The idea is that they focus 100% of their energy toward the assignment for a very short amount of time. It is important to remember that break times are just as important as the work times. So when the alarm rings for break time, students should drop everything and relax….until the alarm rings again!

Final Thoughts

The Pomodoro Method is a very simple way to excite and challenge students while teaching them effective productivity methods to help them work efficiently. Chris Grabau, an Instructional Developer at the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning, writes that using the technique helps students track their own progress and time of work, which improves goal-setting skills for the future.  Not only does this help students in the classroom, it helps outside it as well. Whether you use this method to stimulate students to work hard, or to give them breaks between long lectures, the Pomodoro Method is just one creative way to design a valuable classroom framework.