Keeping Kids Focused

A Few Tips From the Pros on Maximizing Class Attention

Kids are kids: Their attention will wander and they'll sometimes act up. We can't thoroughly cover classroom management in this short article, but here are just a few pointers for keeping your classes on track. The important thing to remember is that if you make all of these techniques a steady and consistent part of your classroom behavior, you'll actually train kids over time to be more attentive.

    • Energy! Nothing captures a child's attention like movement and sound, so incorporate both and keep your activity level high.

    • Use interaction; don't lecture. Constantly ask questions, even rhetorical and leading ones. In your demonstrations, start questions and let the kids finish them. Show them something, then ask, "Why did I do that?" rather than simply explaining.

    • As often as you can, bring the kids up close when you're modeling and have them sit cross-legged on the floor.

    • When a child has a question, try passing it off to another student first if you think that student knows the answer. Get kids in the habit of learning from each other.

    • Point instead of calling names when you want a response from a student. It won't seem rude if you mix it up, once they get used to it. Why? If all you do is call names, the kids don't have to look at you until they hear their name called. If you point and are constantly moving around the room, however, they will have to stay focused on you.

    • In an activity in which you're calling on (or pointing to) many people for ideas or suggestions in turn, go back to someone you already called on. Once they know you'll do that, they can't tune out after you've called on them once.

    • Use community-building activities during the day to inject some action, energize the group or transition to another activity.

    • If someone's starting to act up, put her in charge of a game or community-building activity. She'll have to become the responsible one.

    • When you're modeling or demonstrating something with one group, ask a question or otherwise involve someone from another group all of a sudden to keep everyone attentive.

    • Is it time to call the kids back together after they've been working for a while in teams? Try this: Instead of saying anything, just start snapping your fingers in rhythm. Soon, someone will notice and start doing it, too; pretty soon, the whole class will pick it up. But don't clap; that's too loud and dramatic.

    • Don't always be the one to pick the next person in a series activity. Let the kids choose sometimes.

    • Exploit the kids' prior knowledge. One of the reasons they sometimes tune out is because their age or the community they come from has brought knowledge and experience different from the teacher's. If you use examples from their world, they'll stay engaged.

    • Similarly, don't confuse them with academic words that aren't important right now. You can teach synonyms and antonyms without ever using those words, and even though learning to draw is all about geometry, why bring it up?

    • When walking with kids from one place to another, have them line up in different ways each time, such as by height, birthdays or alternating boys and girls. While walking, have them count things, such as cars or doors.

    • Be clear when giving directions, but not overly clear. If you were not specific about a certain aspect of the assignment in order to leave room for creativity or because it doesn't matter, ignore the questions about it. Repeat the instructions, and let them figure it out.

    • Sometimes, it's best to just ignore kids who are zoned out or who are being "too cool for school," especially if dealing with them would disrupt the class even more or when working with groups of 20 or larger. Get them back and engaged as soon as possible, however. One good way is to call everyone up for a demo. Even if they hang back for awhile, it won't be for long if they see that the rest of the group is having fun without them.