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The Pause Button

by Melissa Wehler

While you may have never said you use pause procedure, you’re almost guaranteed to have done it. In the brick-and-mortar classroom, it usually sounds like this: do you have any questions, can anyone think of an example, what would you do in this situation, what does this remind you of, and how does this relate to what we were talking about before? These questions allow you to take a quick break—or pause—from presenting materials to give students an opportunity to engage with the materials through reflection, analysis, synthesis, and feedback. And because students are actively engaging with the materials, they are more likely to retain this information.

But how do you translate these interactions to the online classroom? While you may be a master of improv in your brick-and-mortar classroom, the online classroom requires you to consciously design and build these moments into your course content. To do so, think about which points would require further examination, exploration, and reflection, and consider how you would prompt these interactions. For an example, here is one of my microlectures, which uses pause procedure:

In this example, I ask students to make a short list of reasons that answer my critical thinking question much like what I would do in a classroom. I then work through some of the common reasons that students might have written down. This is a critical thinking question that asks the students to brainstorm a list of reasons, but there are many other “pause” activities to explore. I chose the brainstorming method since this material was new to students, and I wanted to get them comfortable with the information and the terminology before asking them to engage in more sophisticated critical thinking activities.

Moreover, this is example uses an honor system since I’m not asking students to formally submit their responses. Again, since this information and terminology is new to students, I don’t want to make the activity overly complicated or formal. However, if this was repeated exposure to the information, I could make the activity more formal by:

  • translating my question into a discussion board forum and have students relay their responses.

  • assigning a journal or reflection essay based on their responses and the information from the presentation.

  • asking students to select one of their reasons and defend it in a position paper.

This versatility is what makes pause procedure an essential tool for your online lecture toolkit. You can use it—just as you already do in your brick-and-mortar classroom—to have students hit pause on receiving information so that they can have a chance to play with it.


Dutill, J. & M. Wehler. (2017). Pause, play, repeat: Using pause procedure in online microlectures. Faculty Focus. Magna Publications.

Major, C., Harris, M. S., & Zakrajsek, T. (2015). Teaching for learning: 101 intentionally designed educational activities to put students on the path to success. Taylor and Francis, Inc.

Rowe, M.B. (1980). Pausing principles and their effects on reasoning in science. New Directions for Community Colleges, 31, 27-34.

Ruhl, K., Huges, C., & Schloss, P. (1987). Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall. Teacher Education and Special Education, 10, 14-18.

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