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Just like a good essay hooks the reader, an effective class engages students right from the start. I challenge you to rethink the way you use the first 5 minutes of your class. Instead of diving straight into lecture or administrative announcements, try to spark student curiosity and contextualize new material with the tips below.


  • Open with a question or challenge

Get students excited about new material. For example, in a Linear Algebra course, the first question of the day could be: “Do you think it’s possible to encode a secret message using matrices?” This question is a perfect segue to talking about invertible matrices, and the students will get lively talking about spies or German secret codes from WWII.

Choose a question that requires the student to make a decision or create a plan. Research shows that when students generate a hypothesis, they are more invested in the learning process. [2]

Posing a question is a great way to get students thinking, especially if you don’t answer the question–at least, not right away. Focus on creating a dialogue, challenging students, and encouraging critical thinking skills. 


  • Recall previous material 

Recall is one of the best ways to transition lectures and connect the big ideas in your course. This can be as simple as listing the topics covered in the last class. In just a few minutes, you can give students concrete take-aways from the old material and transition to the new.

Another option is to have the students recall the old material. This can be done in the form of a low-stakes quiz, a word cloud, or a Think-Pair-Share with a prompt to think of the three main take-home points from the previous class session or unit. The goal here is to get students to think about the most important ideas from the last class and practice memory retrieval


  • Outline the class and establish learning goals

Give students a roadmap of what to expect. Create an outline for the structure of the class and be clear about what you want your students to take away from it. Learning goals are the best way to make these intentions explicit. Good learning goals will:

    1. identify content and skills to be mastered and
    2. connect to broader goals and outcomes.

Consider Bloom’s Taxonomy when phrasing your learning goals!


  • Create context

Place your lesson in the context of your course, history, or student experience. Context helps students to develop connections and deepen understanding. You can make connections to previous lessons and to the learning goals for your course. You can illustrate the “big picture” by giving historical context or addressing current events. For example, in a Political Science course, before covering the framework of the US Constitution, you may discuss the current controversy of the electoral college. Or you can have the students draw upon their past experiences or previous courses to create context. This is a great way to understand your students’ backgrounds in and preconceptions of a new topic.


Investing in the first 5 minutes will dramatically increase the odds that your students will be invested in the remaining 45 (or 70) minutes. Don’t be afraid to try something new! Get students thinking, talking, and contextualizing right away.




  1. Chandler, C. (2017, January). The First 5 Minutes: Ignite Student Learning. Retrieved from https://www.middleweb.com/33852/the-first-5-minutes-ignite-student-learning/
  2. Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: everyday lessons from the science of learning.
  3. Lang, J. M. (2016, January 12). Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Small-Changes-in-Teaching-The/234869?cid=wcontentgrid_hp_13
  4. Marzano, R. J. (2013). Classroom instruction that works: research-based strategies for increasing student achievement.


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