It is well known that the traditional didactic lecture places students in a very passive role. Often they were only required to listen to what the lecturer was saying and copy down anything that was written on the blackboard. While this latter chore has now been largely removed by making notes available on the web or distributing hand-outs, lectures continue to place students in a largely passive mode. Unfortunately the attention span of a typical student tends to be considerably shorter than the length of a normal 50-60 minute lecture. Attention gradually falls as a lecture progresses, and once students are no longer concentrating little is likely to be learned. The introduction of any type of variety into a lecture presentation, however, is likely to restimulate interest and enhance learning. A lecture break can be defined as any activity that interrupts the information transfer process to students and allows them, either to have a brief rest from the material being delivered, or to interact more actively with it. Intervention can, in fact, take many forms, including a simple short period of inactivity, some questioning, a problem solving activity, a digression on to a slightly different topic, a period of group activity or a lecture demonstration.
Lecture breaks can be particularly useful in highlighting the context and relevance of material being taught. In general they tend to be popular with students, though student opinion of their usefulness and enjoy ability varies considerably with the type of activity being used. Care should therefore be taken to select activities most likely to promote the desired learning outcomes most effectively.
Further information and discussion can be found in the following reference:
Smith, D. K., (2006): Use of the Mid-Lecture Break in Chemistry Teaching: A Survey and Some Suggestions. Journal of Chemical Education, 83(11), 1621-1624.Original author: Bill Byers