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III. Instructional Variety

Effective instruction relies on the idea that students will attend (pay attention) to the lesson and not become distracted; therefore, one of the most important aspects of planning must include a consideration for avoiding timing-out, or the loss of focus, of one or more students. The typical instructional time allotted for the secondary class period is approximately fifty to fifty-five minutes (instructional time is less). As a rule of thumb, loss of focus can be detected within a time period of about fifteen minutes. The loss of focus can lead to distracting behaviors, including daydreaming to text-messaging a friend in secret. After thirty minutes of instruction, several more students may show signs of distraction, and these students now are especially prone to a growing restlessness and may be seeking diversions.

To defend against the onset of distraction, teachers should plan for a change of pace as a built in part of lesson planning. I suggest that there should be three planned changes of pace (three different types of instructional approaches or activities) that may be used to focus on the objectives of the lesson. For example, a lesson in American history might focus on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that was presented as a part of the dedication ceremony of the nation’s first national cemetery. A background lesson is needed to prepare students to read and analyze Lincoln’s Address. Important objectives of this lesson are to:

(1). List three reasons for Lee’s invasion of northern territory.
(2). Compare the relative strengths of each opposing army.
(3). Explain why Picket’s charge ended in defeat for the South.

Because this lesson contains three objectives, the teacher might employ three different approaches (or strategies) to address each of the objectives of the lesson. For objective (1), the teacher might ask students to answer questions related to the location of Gettysburg and its importance as a strategic location for dividing the North into eastern and western sections based on a “divide and conquer” plan. For objective (2), the teacher might provide each student with a desk map (a map that can be inserted in the student’s notebook) as a means of tracing the movement of each of the opposing armies prior to the actual battle. For objective (3) the teacher might read from a diary entry or letters describing Picket’s charge and the futility of attempting an up hill attack against a line of Union artillery located along the ridge. Each of these instructional activities would be designed to take approximately 15 minutes. This would be a fast-moving lesson that would not allow time for questions or discussion; however, during the last minutes of class time, the students would be encouraged to write a question or two for a discussion period that would follow on the next day. Please notice that this lesson relied on a variety of approaches and a variety of activities. This, in turn, allowed for a change of pace that would most likely defeat any tendency toward distraction, boredom, or the advent of the distraction.

Another approach for this same lesson might be developed by combining all three objectives into a more holistic form of integrated instruction such as computer research or library research aimed at completing a well-designed worksheet and small group work. The teacher also might choose to organize the students into three separate panels designed to address each of the pre-determined objectives.


1. Instructional effectiveness is improved by providing for a change of pace in approaches, strategies, and or activities.
2. It is wise to plan for a variety of forms of instruction as a change of pace to prevent or to offset distraction.
3. A change of pace should be built into the planning of every lesson, which might require the development of activities and materials.
4. A change of pace in instruction requires a timeframe for each lesson that will be followed without deviation.
5. A change of pace should be based on a number of different strategies that could be segmented according to lesson objectives or according a holistic approach.
6. A change of pace lesson should include some form of direct student participation in the lesson, which might include worksheets, maps, reporting activities, or some form of simple project work.
7. More important still, instructional variety allows the teacher to refocus students’ attention on lesson objectives, which allows the teacher to be more effective.

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