5 ways to keep students attention in class

Pearson Languages
A teacher sat in a classroom pointing and smiling,  surrounded by children sat on the floor

Do you ever find it hard to keep students focused and on task? Young learners get easily distracted and it can be hard to find ways to keep them engaged.

So what can we do to get, and more importantly, keep our students’ attention? Here are our five top tips.

1. Plan a range of activities

Young learners have relatively short attention spans. In the classroom, it is rare to have the whole class fully engaged in something for a long time, since the children will have different interests and levels, so it is essential to plan a number of activities for each lesson.

The more variety you can include in the activities and tasks you plan, the easier it is to provide something enjoyable and relevant for each child. Choose short tasks and try to have a couple of extra activities up your sleeve if something you planned doesn’t work well. However, don’t worry if you don’t have time to do them all – you can always save them for a future lesson.

2. Vary the dynamics and pay attention to the mood

Another way of keeping students engaged is to mix up the classroom dynamics, having a combination of individual heads-down work, pair work, group work, and whole class discussions or games. When planning your lesson, consider how your students might feel at each stage. After doing some reading or quiet work, students may start to become restless, and this is the ideal time to get them up and moving about.

While you are in class, pay close attention to the mood of the class. When you sense that students are becoming distracted or bored, change the dynamics of the activity.

3. Use brain breaks

Ever notice that students become lethargic and show a lack of interest? Why not try introducing brain breaks at strategic points in your lessons? Brain breaks are short physical activities or games designed to get the blood flowing and to re-energize students to help them get ready for learning. They range from short activities that last a couple of minutes, to longer breaks that may be suitable if your lessons last more than an hour.

4. Peer teaching

We can vary different aspects of the lesson using the previous strategies, but one thing that rarely changes is the role of the teacher! One way of keeping students involved is by giving them more responsibility and allowing them to take a more active role in their learning.

Peer teaching completely changes the classroom dynamic and has students teach their peers while you take a step back. For primary classes, ask one or two students to take charge of a ready-made activity, e.g. one from your course book. They should give instructions, demonstrate, monitor as necessary, and check answers.

When students are used to doing this, you can start to have them work in pairs or small groups to plan their own activities to use in class.

5. Useful classroom management strategies

Of course, nobody is perfect and there will be times when you lose students’ attention and they are not on task. For these occasions, you can use a wealth of classroom management strategies to regain the class's attention. Here are a few techniques:

  • Walk around the classroom as students are working. They are less likely to go off-task if you are available and watching.
  • Stand next to or behind individuals who are not paying attention, or move your position to a strategic point in the classroom where everyone, particularly those who are not listening, can see and hear you clearly.
  • Have a code word. Choose a word before the lesson and display it on the board. Tell students that you will sometimes call out this word during the lesson and they need to pay special attention. You could ask students to do an action e.g. stand up and turn around, and give points to the first student who does so.
  • Silence. An old but effective trick is to stand in silence at the front of the class and wait for everyone to stop talking.

Your enthusiasm is key

Finally, if we want our students to be motivated and engaged in our lessons, we must show enthusiasm for what we are teaching. The more lively and animated you are about the lesson, the more the students will want to join you and learn.

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