Interspersed short exercises
This is a variation on a traditional lecture, which is interspersed with short problem-questions and activities. The theoretical material is broken down into 20 minute ‘chunks’, which are presented in a lecture format. The trainer can then test if the trainees comprehended each theoretical ‘chunk’ in turn using questions, exercises and activities that require a whole class response. The technique has a number advantages over a traditional lecture format. Breaking the theoretical content up at 20 minute intervals promotes engagement. Ensuring that the exercises require a whole audience response enables the trainer to assess progress, and if necessary adjust the pitch of the content as the session progresses. Interspersed short exercises can be used for acquiring and deepening knowledge, conceptual and theoretical understanding.
SynonymsInteractive lectures, chunking
You will need
There are no essential prerequisites for interspersed short exercises.
Optional but good to have
- slides to display the exercises
- textbooks or other resources
- flipchart or whiteboard
- mini whiteboards ro aid instant feedback and assessment
- depending on the number of students, one or more facilitators might be helpful
Benefits and limitations
- Engaging and motivating for longer
- Maintains student attention for longer
- The trainer obtains instant feedback on the learning taking place
- Allows for the trainer to vary their pace and pitch appropriately
- Learning is reinforced, as the problem questions challenge the learner's comprehension
- Time efficient method if a lot of material is required to be covered
- Devising realistic and challenging problems questions can be time consuming
- The method is not recommended for prolonged periods unless a greater balance of problems-questions is added and the proportion of lecturing is reduced
- The method provides little opportunity for 'discovery' of new ideas and concepts beyond that covered within the course materials
What do I actually do as an instructor/facilitator?
Preparation / before class
Based on the desired learning outcomes you select material and concepts to be covered and devise accompanying problems-questions to assess whether the students have learned these concepts. The lecture and exercises are often prepared as a set of slides but this does not need to be the case. This can be varied by using slides for the lecture combined with printed paper exercises for the problems-questions, or simply by preparing a 'chalk and talk' session, whereby you decide in advance what you will cover and your problems-question, but only reveal these using a whiteboard and marker at the time of the talk.
Implementation / during class
During the class you lead the session in delivering the lecture component, and providing the problems questions. It is advised to wait for most but not all people to finish a question before proceeding to survey the whole class response. There are various ways to gain this feedback but the quickest is to ask the whole class: "Put your hand up if you thought the answer was X", "Put your hand up if you thought the answer was Y". This ensures that you are also assessing their progress to gain valuable feedback which allows you to find out whether a concept should be explained again in a different way.
Szpunar, K. K., Khan, N.Y., & Schacter, D. L. (2013). Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lectures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Agarwal, P. K., Bain, P. M., & Chamberlain, R. W. (2012). The value of applied research: Retrieval practice improves classroom learning and recommendations from a teacher, a principal, and a scientist. Educational Psychology Review, 24:437-448.
Examples and materials