Teaching with Tomatoes

Despite lingering snow on the ground, spring has officially begun. And that means tomatoes! Not the luscious red garden staple, but the productivity technique!


The Pomodoro Technique is a proven and highly favored productivity aid. It helps to focus, avoid distractions, and get things done in short bursts.

As explained on Lifehacker.comThe Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 90s by developer, entrepeneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes. With time it can even help improve your attention span and concentration.

Here’s the idea:

  • Choose a task you need to accomplish.
  • Using a timer, work intensively on it (and it alone) for 25 minutes (one “tomato”).
  • When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break, resetting your timer. Step away from your computer. Do something different. Relax.
  • At the end of five minutes, start again for another 25 (another “tomato”).
  • After every four tomatoes, take a longer break of 15 minutes.

Here’s a short (2:22) video further introducing the technique.

While you can use any timer, there are numerous apps available. Most often, I use the easy to remember, easy to use website http://tomato-timer.com.

Pomodoros can be remarkably productive when it comes to grading, research, writing, or any other activity that seems to invite distraction. If the timer alone isn’t enough, there are several distraction-free writing applications to help you to work without interruptions. Five popular (and free!) ones, including OmmWriter and Q10 are described here with visual samples.

Pomodoros in the Classroom

Dustin Le wrote an excellent piece for Edudemic on how to use Pomodoros to engage students in the classroom, drawing on a study conducted in the chemistry department of the Catholic University that revealed that attention span is more complicated – and more tenuous – than previously thought. Le explained:

It is true that the first lapse of attention (or first break in attention) occurred at approximately the 10-18 minute mark, but after this initial break, the later attention lapses occurred more and more frequently. By the end of class, attention breaks were cycling every 3-4 minutes. In other words, in the last parts of class, students are only paying attention for 3-4 minutes at a time!

Le incorporated Pomodoros into his lectures and other class activities, noting that “by figuring out ways to improve student focus, we are able to help them retain more information and be more attentive in the classroom.” This emphasis on focusing develops a valuable skill that students will retain alongside course content.

Image credits: Kitchen Timer & No Tomatoes


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