10/2 Chunk And Chew

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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How brain friendly is your teaching?

How long have you been teaching? 20 years? 5 Years? 15 minutes?

If you have been teaching for longer than 10 minutes then it’s time to stop. Any longer than that and whatever is coming out of your mouth isn’t going to have much impact on learning. If you flood learners with input then they are going to switch off because it can be overwhelming. They need to process and so do we. Forget the force feeding and pate de foie gras.

John Medina in Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School says,

“To keep students engaged, you must win the battle for their attention every 10 minutes. I call this the 10-minute rule.”

He believes that teachers, lecturers and presenters make lots of communication mistakes but one of the most common is,

“Relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. Lots of force feeding, very little digestion. This does nothing for the nourishment of the listeners, whose learning is often sacrificed in the name of expediency.”

Pay Attention

The idea of teaching or lecturing in 10 minute segments is the thinking behind the 10/2 ‘Chunk and Chew’ strategy and its one that has been found to be highly effective in supporting understanding of concepts big and small across all subjects. Chunk and Chew is also known as ‘Turn and Talk’, ‘Stop and Jot’ and  ‘Listen-Stop-and-Write’.

It works like this:

1. The teacher beaks lesson information or content down into manageable ‘chunks’ and then allows time for learners to ‘chew’ or digest the material.
2. Learners receive 10 minutes of rich teaching input and deep content (listening, watching, reading etc.)
3. Learners are then given 2 minutes to chew and digest the content sharing with a classmate or writing notes individually.



Sorry To Interrupt

The idea is that when information is delivered in chunks, we remember more and the 2 minutes given for chewing is vital for absorbing, processing, discussing and comprehending.

The key feature of this strategy is that we interrupt teaching by breaking it up into episodes, like a TV episode, and give learners valuable time to think. It is based on research that suggests the key to learning basic mastery of new concepts is frequent and persistent review of material. The brain has a break and can consciously and subconsciously replay the content. Taking a breather also allows learners to generate questions.

The 10/2 Chunk and Chew can be particularly effective because it provides learners with the space to identify gaps in their understand and ask questions in small peer groups rather than raising their hands in front of everyone else.

The 10/2 ratio could be tweaked a little and you could increase or decrease by a little here and there but generally speaking no more than 10 minutes of teaching because that’s too much teacher talk. There is a definite lesson here for teachers doing CPD: don’t speak for more than 10 minutes at a time!

Sometimes this ‘learning brain’ strategy is called Chunk, Chew and Check because before moving onto the next chunk of information you would ‘check’  understanding by assessing, probing and engaging pupils in spontaneous and structured dialogue. Chunk-Challenge-Chew-Chat-Check is an extended and meatier version of the 10/2 strategy and has also been road-tested and adapted for the classroom. After a chunk of learning, pupils are challenged with some higher order questions before the chew phase.  ‘Chewing’ in this model involves individual reflection before ‘chatting’ and pondering with peers and then a final teacher targeted check to assess next steps.

Head Space 

The 10/2 Chunk and Chew strategy is a helpful approach to teaching because it creates space for learners to stay engaged, ask questions, and participate in learning rather than being overwhelmed and disengaging from the material.

Perhaps there is a lot to be said for the 10/2 strategy but as Neil Bradbury points out, “probably the biggest aspect of inspiring students is passion for the subject on the part of the teacher.”

Bradbury notes that we have all experienced CPD where the ‘lecture’ has been so brain-numbing that 10 min of talk has been 10 min too long. Yet we might have attended a superstar CPD session where 1 hour of talk hasn’t been enough so perhaps 10/2 is a fallacy? What really counts is the teacher addressing our needs, as Jean- Luc Lebrun points out,

“If the presentation is interesting and relevant to our needs, we will keep awake and attentive. Attention wanes because the presenter, who did not bother to investigate the audience’s needs prior to the talk, does not talk to these needs.”

It’s heartening to know that research has shown that in 85% of classrooms less than half of the pupils are paying attention to the lesson at any given time.

Teaching can be like throwing darts underwater some days so if ‘chunk and chew’ helps, let’s go for it. The 10/2 Chunk and Chew takes little or no planning and is a simple method that could result in big learning gains when combined with passionate teacher input and a clear understanding of learner needs.

2 thoughts on “10/2 Chunk And Chew

  1. It makes perfect sense. By not overloading the student with cognitive data they are more likely to absorb it. The idea of chump and chew also follows as, by not going onto the next thing immediately, again the student will not be overloaded with information and it could mean that the information will travel into long term memory.

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