While the 10-minute limit on attention span for college students has not been effectively evinced, we do know there is an inverse relationship between the length of lecture and retention of material learned during that time. Additionally, Bradbury suggests that teachers matter more than the teaching format/length of the class. Thus, active learning at all age levels is a pretty well accepted and encouraged practice.

Active learning incorporates student-centered pedagogies fostering student engagement through a variety of tools such as group work, guided inquiry, debates, role-playing, among others. The truth about active learning is that it can still be done while sedentary. A bigger challenge as an instructor in higher education is to involve students in a physically active way so they aren’t sitting during the entire class period.

4 Activities for College-Aged Students

As a teacher of undergraduate and graduate students, I try to incorporate some sort of movement within each lesson. Here are some ideas that might resonate with college-aged students:

  • Carousel activities – Place large post-its around the room with topics listed for each. Students divide themselves into fairly equal groups and begin at one “station”. Discussion ensues at each location for a set amount of time. Students use markers to include discussion points. When time is up, students rotate to the next station to discuss that topic and record their ideas.
  • Four corners – Post questions with four possible responses on each corner of the board. Students walk to the corner of the room that represents the answer they choose.
  • This or That – For debatable topics, have students stand in one line in the room. If they agree with “this” position, have them move to “this” side. If they agree with “that” position, have them move to “that” side. Lead discussions following each point.
  • Walkie Talkie – Post questions or topics to review. You can also print questions on individual sheets of paper. Have students pair up and talk about their questions while they walk and talk in the hallways. Have them meet back in the classroom in a specific amount of time, prepared to share what they discussed.

With students who stay up late, don’t get enough sleep, work at random times, and have inconsistent schedules, it is important to gauge their attention while they are with me. I hope these strategies help you draw your students into the content in meaningful ways!


Bradbury, N. A. (2016). Attention span during lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more?. Advances in physiology education40(4), 509-513.

McLeish, J. (1968). The lecture method. Cambridge Institute of Education, Cambridge, England. National Research Council, 1999, How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice.

Wilson, K., & Korn, J.H. (2007). Attention during Lectures: Beyond ten minutes. Teaching of Psychology 34:85–89. doi:10.1177/009862830703400202; 10.1080/ 00986280701291291.