How the Pomodoro technique can help improve student focus

How the Pomodoro technique can help improve student focus

If you’re teaching secondary school students, then exam season is looming. It’s a busy time of year where students are trying to complete projects, teachers are making their way through the last of the material covered in the exams, and everyone is flagging after a...

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If you’re teaching secondary school students, then exam season is looming. It’s a busy time of year where students are trying to complete projects, teachers are making their way through the last of the material covered in the exams, and everyone is flagging after a long winter term.

So, how can you help your students focus and make the most of the time of their time in class? The Pomodoro technique can help.

What is the Pomodoro technique?

This time management technique was invented in the 1980s by university student Francesco Cirillo. He was struggling to concentrate while studying for his exams, and challenged himself to focus for a ten minute block, using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. This approach proved to be so effective in boosting his productivity that he wrote a book on the Pomodoro technique – and today, millions of people swear by its efficacy!

Why is the Pomodoro technique so effective?

The modern world is designed to grab our attention, so shutting everything off to concentrate has become more challenging than ever. There are a lot of factors which degrade our ability to focus and pay attention, from the tech which surrounds us, to the always-on culture of social media and work, to the very food we eat.

The Pomodoro technique requires you to focus – but for 25 minutes, which feels like a manageable amount of time. At the same time, it’s a lot longer than the standard nowadays. A study of office workers found that the average amount of time workers focused on a single task was just three minutes.

The good news is that we can relearn to concentrate and enter a focused state. The Pomodoro technique is one way of putting up barriers to distractions in order to focus your students’ attention on a specific task.

How to adapt the Pomodoro technique to your classroom

The Pomodoro technique is popular with people working on their own – so how can you adapt it to a group of students working in your classroom?

Well, first of all, the technique won’t work in every lesson. It’s best for lessons which are less communicative and more focused on independent work. Do you have a lesson coming up where students need to complete a longer task of around 20 minutes? Or a period where students will need to do some solo research on a project or topic? These types of classes are perfect for introducing students to the Pomodoro technique:

1. Explain the technique to your students

At the start of the class, explain the technique to your students. Show them the timer, and tell them that the period is going to be split into two blocks of 20/25 minutes. The length of a block will depend on the length of a school period. If it’s an hour, then you’ll have time for two 25-minute blocks of time. If it’s 50 minutes, then you’ll need to set the timer for two 20-minute blocks of time.

2. Make sure they have everything they need to be able to work for 20 minutes, uninterrupted

Before the first timer is set, make sure students have everything they need at their disposal in order to be able to work, uninterrupted, for the first block. You don’t want to break their concentration by offering extra information or materials that they might need. Now is the moment to explain the task clearly, and offer students the chance to ask any questions they have.

3. Set the timer

Feel free to ham it up a bit when you’re setting the timer – call everyone’s attention, make sure they’re poised and ready to start, hold the timer over your head as you set it.

4. Enforce the break

Once the timer goes off after the first block, make sure your students take a break, no matter how absorbed they have become in their work. Get them to stand up and move around, chat to their classmates, have a drink of water – anything to reset and give themselves a 5-minute brain break. This is also a good chance to resolve any questions that came up during the first block of time.

5. Set the timer again

After five minutes have passed, reset your timer. Again, make a big deal of this, so students know it’s time to get their heads down for the second block of work.

6. Assess the process

Once your class is over, assess how it went. Did the students seem like they were focused? Have a look at what they actually produced in the time – is the work good quality? Did they get through as much as you expected? If not, then have a think about how you could improve the process. For example, would they have worked better with more resources at their disposal? Did they have all the information they needed? This will allow you to tweak the process for next time.

Learn more

As students get used to working with the Pomodoro technique, they’ll be able to reap the benefits in other areas – and you might even notice a difference in their attention span in regular classes. What’s more, you’ll have furnished your students with a useful and effective technique to enhance their focus when they are studying, completing homework or revising for exams.

Another useful learning approach for students is mastery. Read more about helping students to achieve mastery of learning. And explore the debate around skills vs. knowledge-based education.

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