Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

The First Five Minutes

Friday January 15, 2016 by Anonymous (not verified)

This week, I have the pleasure of discussing what may be my favorite part of any single lesson: the first five minutes.  Not just 300 seconds of time,  it is also an extraordinarily powerful teaching technique.  Using the first five minutes of class as a pedagogical tool goes by many jargon-y names (the “anticipatory set” and the “initiation,” for example), but make no mistake:  capturing students’ attention, dispersed over many mental landscapes as they enter and settle in your class, is a feat that pays great dividends for effective learning.  The attached article, “Small Changes in teaching:  The First Five Minutes” (Lang, 2016) is not research, but an academic essay based on research. In this essay, Lang discusses four simple ways to use the first five minutes of one’s class in ways that are likely to have manifold effects. 

For example, I taught a segment of a workshop this morning, and used a 30-second Intel ad to illustrate how jokes are context-specific and can create academic cultures of insiders and outsiders. It was an effective way to introduce a difficult concept, and it allowed student to begin to process the point without my saying a word.  The first five minutes are also an easy way to integrate supporting materials from other disciplines (art, music, popular culture); they can also be a great deal of fun, and beginning a class with laughter relaxes everyone.  Relaxed brains are then ready to learn more.

As Lang concludes, “In writing as in learning, openings matter.”  See how you might use your five minutes differently – and let me know!  I’d love to hear about your work.

Very best wishes for an enjoyable and productive last weekend before the semester begins,


Nancy S. Niemi, Ph.D.
Director, Faculty Teaching Initiatives

Supplementary Materials and Resources

Contact Information 

Contact Dr. Niemi via email Nancy.Niemi@yale.edu or phone 203.432.8644 with thoughts about the collection and/or to receive these notes in your inbox.