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Maintain students’ focus

These are examples of learning activities carried out in a course at KTH. The examples include different ways to get students to focus on material in information-intensive lectures, both by activating the students and creating variety in the presentation.

During long and intensive lectures or exercises, it can be difficult as a student to keep your focus in step with the information given. In a course where the lectures were very information-heavy, the teacher used different types of techniques and exercises to engage the students and help them maintain focus. All the exercises presented below take about five minutes to complete, so not too much lecture time should be taken up. In this case, the lectures were given on site on campus, but many of the exercises can be completed remotely.


This exercise began with the teacher asking an open question based on the learning objectives that were touched upon during the lecture. The teacher asked the students to think individually for one minute and write down their thoughts. The students then had to turn to their table neighbor and share, compare their ideas and try to reach a consensus. Finally, the teacher asked a few randomly selected pairs to present what they came up with to the whole group. The teacher thus had the opportunity to clarify any ambiguitites and redirect the students' focus to the central content.

The muddiest point 

The students were asked to identify what they found most difficult or unclear during a lecture. They were thus given the opportunity to vent and share what they considered unclear or difficult to understand. In the example, the students used post-its to write down ambiguities, these were then collected directly during the lecture. Here it is also excellent to use digital tools, for example Mentimeter or Canvas's discussion forum. As the teacher you can choose to give feedback directly during the lecture, or afterwards via Canvas or during the next teaching session.

One minute paper 

The teacher used a timer and asked the students to write a one-minute text documenting what was most surprising or outstanding during the day's lecture. This was done during the lecture as a focus resetter, but the technique also works as a so-called "exit ticket". What the text should be about can be varied, but a tip is to start from the students' attitude or opinion about a concept. As a teacher, you get an insight into the students' thinking and learning process. 

Real-time reactions 

The teacher allowed students to share their reactions in real time during a lecture in a Canvas discussion forum, helping students see trends and giving them new perspectives. The technique works just as well to use while the students are studying a video and with other digital tools such as Mentimeter. 

Chain notes 

In this example, the teacher wrote down a number of questions in advance (one per A4 sheet). During the lecture, the teacher then handed out a question sheet to each student in the front row. The students were given a short moment to fill in their answer before passing the sheet on. In this way, each questionnaire was subsequently filled with more and more detailed answers. Several student contributions in this chain form together create a greater understanding. The students got to see all the answers afterwards by the teacher uploading the question sheets in Canvas. The exercise can also be carried out completely digitally using shared documents or discussion forums in Canvas.

Answer questions by physical activity

In order for the students to get a bit physically active during the lecture, they had to answer a question from the lecturer by standing up and sitting down instead of raising their hand. First, all students had to stand up. Then the lecturer gave the answer options in turn, and when you as a student felt that an answer was correct, you had to sit down. This made all students think about the question, and created variety in the lecture. In addition, the teacher got a picture of all students' understanding of the material. 

Find the error

Already at the beginning of the course, an interactive method of reflection was introduced for the students - a so-called "Find the error". This meant that the lecturer deliberately made a small mistake in the presentation material, and if you as a student discover this during the lecture, you must shout "ERROR!". If no one spotted the error, the lecturer did it himself and explained why this was not correct. 

This made students pay attention and reflect on the material presented. It also caused students who had not seen the error to stop and reflect. Sometimes there were things that a student didn't understand right away and suspected it was an error, but after an explanation it turned out that it was actually correct. If a student shouted "ERROR!" for something that was actually correct, it gave the lecturer an opportunity to hear the students' thoughts and convey how to think instead. 

Personal topic switch

In the course, intensive lectures were given with much material for students to remember. A slightly different focus resetter was when the lecturer included a personal picture in the middle of the information intensive presentation to break up the possibly monotonous teaching. The teacher briefly commented on what was in the picture and then went back to the topic. The students experienced this as fun and gave them some new energy for the last minutes of the lecture.