With everything we could possibly need at our fingertips, our attention spans have become shorter and shorter. Remember when you had to pick up the phone to see who was calling you? Listen to the shrill sound of a modem as you slowly connected to the internet? Waited for your VHS tape to rewind? Or even looked up a word in the dictionary to see how to spell it? Today’s classrooms are filled with students who have never had to wait for any of those things, or much of anything. From the moment today’s children were born, everything has come to them at warp speed.
If you have spent any significant amount of time in a classroom, I’m sure you’ve seen students zone you out, stare into space, or pull out their own cell phones largely due to this shortened attention span. So what is a teacher to do? If you are looking for ways to grab and KEEP your students’ attention during your lessons, it’s time to get creative, and try some of these fun ideas that can be used right away.
Ignore the urge to stand in one place. Walk around the classroom, stand near different students, use hand gestures, and animate your face. Make your body and movements engaging, and students will watch to see where you are headed and what you are going to do next.
Tell a Joke
When everyone is staring off into space, pause your lesson and tell a joke (or 5). Students will begin to remember that you are there!
Let Students Work in Groups
Don’t be the only one talking in your classroom. Make sure students are active participants in their learning. Have them work with partners, in small groups, and in any other arrangements you can think of. The variety gets kids moving, thinking, and anticipating what type of activity will be next.
Box of Randomness
Create a box of randomness. Fill the box with silly and random activities that you can pull out at a moment’s notice. Some ideas may be to do a popular dance together, have a student become the teacher, do a pop quiz for bonus points, do some jumping jacks, or switch seats for five minutes. In the past, i've keep the random ideas written on pieces of paper inside of plastic Easter eggs, and when I needed one I would have a student come up and choose the egg that we would do together.
Ditch the Desks
If the activity allows for it, push aside the desks, and have everyone sit in a circle on the ground. If your school allows it, try teaching your lesson outside. Even just changing the arrangement of desks can make the classroom feel like a whole new space, and get students reenergized and excited to be there.
Give students ample chances to take breaks and stretch, dance, exercise, and move. Most adults don’t like to sit still for long periods of time, so why would we expect children to?
Make Deliberate Mistakes
Every so often make a deliberate or silly mistake, and see if anyone catches it. If not, just keep teaching and throw another one in. Students will start to pick up on the mistakes and tune in to try and catch you.
Change Your Tone
Use the power of your voice to regain student’s attention. Try talking in a whisper, loudly, or in a silly voice, and see what kind of responses you get.
Check out Slip
Using whatever point or reward system you have in your classroom, assign points to a daily check out slip. To complete a check out slip, each student must write down one interesting thing from class that day on a Post-it, and stick it on the classroom door before they leave. You can choose one of the slips at random for a bonus prize.
Clap a pattern, and have students clap the same pattern back to you in response. Try a few different patterns until everyone is focused again.
Running a classroom will at times require you to run a tight ship. Listening to instructions, respecting others, and being safe are some of those times. But when those non-negotiables are combined with fun, a positive classroom built on mutual respect appears. I hope these tips provide you with some fun ways to grab and keep your students attention, and continue to build an environment where everyone is excited to learn!