A Pause ButtonThe pause principle is a simple concept based on research that student concentration during a lecture declines after 10-15 minutes. By using two-minute pauses (one every 13-18 minutes) during a lecture, students are able to clarify and digest the material from the mini-lecture. After the two-minute pause they can then reset their focus for the next topic. Over 20+ years of research has found that the pause principle leads to better understanding, information retention, and even higher grades (Rowe, 1976; Rowe, 1980; Rowe, 1983; Ruhl, et al., 1987; Bonwell, 1996).

During the pause, ask students to review their notes or the main ideas of the mini-lecture with a partner, identify key questions, or even ask them to identify an example or application of the material. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do during the pause, just take the time to break up your lecture. These breaks can, at a minimum, help student concentration throughout the lecture, but they can also serve as opportunities for students to better understand the content you just covered.

How can you start improving teaching and learning in your courses? Use the pause principle and take a 2-minute break every 15 or so minutes during your lecture. It’s a simple concept, so give it a try!


  • Bonwell, C. C. (1996). “Enhancing the lecture: Revitalizing a traditional format” In Sutherland, T. E., and Bonwell, C. C. (Eds.),Using active learning in college classes: A range of options for faculty, New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 67.
  • Rowe, M. B. (1976). “The pausing principle – Two invitations to inquiry”, Research on College Science Teaching, 5, 258.
  • Rowe, M. B. (1980). “Pausing principles and their effect on reasoning in science”, New Directions in Community Colleges, 31, 27.
  • Rowe, M. B. (1983). “Getting chemistry off the killer course list”,Journal of Chemical Education, 60, 954.
  • Ruhl, K. L., Hughes, C. A., and Schloss, P. J. (1987). “Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall”, Teacher Education and Special Education, 10, 14.

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