How to Plan 5-Minute Science Talks for Student-Centered Learning

We’ve all been there, sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture, trying unsuccessfully to stay focused. We have experienced first-hand that long lectures are not an effective teaching strategy. At the same time, a teacher must share information, right? Direct instruction is an important part of the learning process. But how do we keep it short enough for students to remain engaged while including the important concepts we need to share?

This post gives you 5 simple steps for keeping your talks short and student-centered. Not only have I been a student in a classroom where the teacher talked on and on, I have been that teacher myself. I’m not proud of it. It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out how to keep my direct instruction to a minimum. The year I decided to shake up my teaching style, I began to take note of when my student’s attention began to wander. It was quickly apparent that after five minutes I needed to vary instruction with a more student-centered activity. This process was the foundation of the first program built for Scientific Minds and continues to be the backbone of all our successful programs.

Here are the 5 steps to follow when planning and delivering your 5-minute science talks:

Start with a Learning Objective

This may be a state standard, curriculum standard, or NGSS that you are required to teach. Stay focused on this objective. As teachers we are tempted to add additional information that WE find interesting. This extra information is distracting and overwhelming to students who are being introduced to a new concept.  Keep your talk focused on what is most important. Begin your direct instruction with a statement about what your students can expect to learn. Conclude your talk by letting students know how they will be expected to demonstrate understanding.

Make it Relevant

Find a way to connect the concept to a real-word experience. Tap into what your students have personally experienced. Cognitive science research tells us that eliciting prior understanding is an important part of the learning process. (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000). This screenshot shows an example of using a real-world experience to introduce cell differentiation.

Include Pictures

A picture really is worth a thousand words. Picture representation helps students to create mental images of new information, an encoding process that significantly improves learning (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). Today’s presentation software makes this so much easier than the chalkboards and overhead projectors of my early teaching days!

Practice Proximity Teaching

During direct instruction, stand among your students. Walk around, make eye contact and give your students a pat on the back as you walk by. In The Fundamental Five, Sean Cain and Mike Laird call this “working in the power zone”. They report that “On-task behaviors increase, discipline issues decrease, and student retention of the content increases.” At Scientific Minds all of our online teaching modules can be advanced with any standard remote presenter because we know that proximity teaching is a powerful practice. 

Allow Time to Talk

We know that when students have time to talk about what they’re learning they are more likely to remember it. This practice is especially beneficial for English Language Learners. This works best in student groups of 2-3 with a timer set to allow a discussion of 30 seconds to one minute. Often called “Turn and Talk” or “Think, Pair, Share”, we call this meaningful activity “Partner Power” in our Science Sidekicks program. Each of our five-minute, teacher-guided talks includes two Partner Power discussion topics.

Learn more about our programs!
Science Sidekicks for grades 3-5
Science Starters for grades 6-8
Biology and Chemistry


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