The 5-Second Rule

20140520-234852-85732310.jpgThere is a common adage that any food dropped on the floor is safe to eat if picked up within five seconds. Now I’m not sure if this is a theory I subscribe to wholeheartedly but I’d be lying if I said I had never done it. An alternative 5-second rule I do subscribe to however relates to an important interaction between teacher and students in the classroom.

Back in September 2012, at an AISLi DoS Days conference in Bologna, I was listening to Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill presenting their views on Demand High Teaching. This was the first time I’d heard their ideas on this and I found many of the suggestions for tweaking classroom interactions struck an immediate chord with me. Jim talked about avoiding rubber stamping when getting feedback from students, he summarises this here in a short video from IATEFL 2012 in Glasgow:

I can remember Jim’s words in Bologna as he spoke about this:

…hold for five seconds… read the room… allow for space…

…wait a little longer than is comfortable…

This was something I immediately took away with me and tried out in my classes.  I have found it has made quite a difference.  The most natural thing for a teacher to do is jump in and respond, but just letting things hang in the air a little longer can have a great effect, allowing ideas to brew, perhaps allowing other less vocal students to contribute their ideas and stronger students to question their answers.  This encourages more interaction between students, rather than a teacher->student->teacher->student interaction loop.

I also remember Jim suggesting a way to avoid jumping in, making use of ‘The Finger Lock’, as demonstrated by Obama below:

Not only does this physically prevent the teacher from jumping in, but it also has the benefit of making them look very wise, like they are in deep intelligent thought, which can’t be bad!

Try it out in class!

But remember, the 5-second rule does not apply to ice-cream!


My thanks obviously go to Jim Scrivener for introducing me to the ‘five second rule’ and the ‘finger lock’. If you don’t already own a copy of his book ‘Classroom Management Techniques‘, I would highly recommend it for more practical tweaks to help with classroom interactions and interventions.

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6 Responses to The 5-Second Rule

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  4. A. Becker says:

    Thanks for reminding me of this great rule. Why did I forget it?


  5. Claire says:

    Don’t quite get the rubberstamping ban. There are so many times when errors are being corrected, either as self-correction, peer correction – isn’t it nice to be able to say ‘fantastic’ when the answer is right?


  6. jonnyingham says:

    Hi Claire, thanks for dropping by. Rubber stamping is certainly not banned! I agree there are moments where it can be useful and efficient, such as error correction, as you mention above. I find it works best in feedback on a practice activity, especially where students have different answers. It encourages deeper exploration of the question.


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