How many times have you said “I’ll be back in 2 minutes”, or “Hang on, I’ll be with you in 2 minutes”? Have you really been back to that person in 120 seconds? Or has it been in many cases, a theoretical 2 minutes, that in fact is probably more like 5 or 10 minutes?
So if our brain knows this and as humans we generally accept that 2 minutes is not really 2 minutes, then we need to think very carefully about the messages that we are giving our students in the classroom. Since I started thinking about this a few years ago I ensure that I never give students any timed tasks that last either 2 or 5 minutes. Instead I set tasks that last 3 or 6 minutes. By actually setting the task for a minute longer, but using a time that they are not used to hearing all of the time, the students subconsciously think that it is shorter.
In practice you can set a group off and say that they have 2 minutes to complete it. What you’ll see is the class getting on and subconsciously thinking that it will be a theoretical 2 minutes that will actually come to an end when they are finished, not when the clock stops. Try telling the kids that they have exactly 3 minutes to do the task in and see how they respond differently. This time they know that they are being timed and they will get working quicker and with more urgency because they perceive the timeframe to be shorter.
It’s all in the language we use. As a rule of thumb, stay away from 2, 5 or 10 minute activities and instead go for 3,6,9 or 11 minutes.