Read it Once

Here's a control-group jolt in which we compare the performance of three different groups.


Three groups read the same paragraph. One group pays attention to the details, another group mentally counts the number of times doubled letters occurs, and third group performs both tasks. Debriefing after the activity focuses on the limitation of multitasking.


To explore the limitations of trying to do two things at the same time.

Training Topics

  • Multitasking
  • Reading


Minimum: 3
Maximum: Any number
Best: 12 to 30


3 minutes for the activity
3 minutes for debriefing


Copies of the handout, The Wooden Horse (three different versions) (61k PDF)


Prepare the handouts. Estimate the number of participants. Divide this number by three and run off these many copies of each of the three handouts. Arrange the copies in a single stack, alternating among the three versions.


Brief the participants. Explain that you are going to conduct a reading test that involves a short paragraph.

Distribute the handouts. Give each person a copy of the handout from the common stack. Don't point out that there are three different versions of the handout.

Give instructions to the participants. Explain that their task is specified on top of the handout. Emphasize that they should read the paragraph only once. Ask them to begin reading.

Ask the three questions. After a suitable pause, ask the participants to place their handouts on the table, written side down. Tell them that you are going to ask three comprehension questions and they should write down the answers. Ask these questions:

  • When did the craft of carving Dala horses begin?
  • Why do the Swedes love horses?
  • What are the colors of the horse described in the paragraph?

Check the answers. Give these answers:

  • 18th century
  • The Swedes like horses because they pull logs in the Winter and help the farmers in the Summer.
  • Red, yellow, and green

Ask the participants to raise their hands if they answered all three questions correctly. Congratulate these participants.

Check the number of doubled letters. Ask the participants to tell you the total number of doubled letters in the paragraph. Announce the correct answer of 13. Congratulate the participants who gave the correct answer (or a close approximation.)


Explain the differences in the reading task. Tell the participants that there were two different tasks (of reading for details and mentally counting the number of doubled letters). One group of participants was asked to perform both tasks.

Discuss the limitations of multitasking. Ask the participants who had to perform both tasks to talk about their experience. They will probably report hesitation and frustration. Explain that this multitasking group performed least effectively on both tasks.

Relate the jolt to real-world experiences. Ask the participants for examples of multitasking activities that they perform. Discuss the conditions under which multitasking could produce effective results.

Learning Points

  • Multitasking slows you down.
  • Multitasking increases the number of errors.