Attention! Attention! 6 Ways to Get Students to Focus in a World...

Attention! Attention! 6 Ways to Get Students to Focus in a World of Distractions


From texting to video games to Facebook, today’s students are growing up in a hyper-stimulating world of mobile technology, TV, computers, and Google-fast access to information. It’s clear they have plenty of things to think about—too often, learning is not one of them.

How do teachers compete with all the distractions? It’s not easy. How can they wake up students, re-capture their attention when it lags (because it will), and keep them engaged through the end of each lesson? That’s what we’ll explore in this article—six simple, attention-grabbing strategies teachers can use to engage learners in spite of the many distractions they face in today’s world.

  1. Start off strong. Beginnings are the hardest. Students walk into their classrooms each morning thinking about everything but school. Teachers must make what feels like a heroic effort to reel them back in, arouse their curiosity, and engage them in the lesson to come. Do something new, something unexpected, something compelling to cause them to lean in and look up. Ask a startling question, show an interesting picture, tell a story, and use theatrics. In the battle for children’s brains, teachers have to always be on.
  2. Keep it brief. Student’s attention spans vary widely depending on motivation, time of day, enjoyment, and interest. According to primacy/recency research, we lose the attention of our students after eight seconds. And here’s something else. They will remember what they hear first, then last, but less of what they hear in the middle of a lesson. The solution: No more long lectures. Break content into segments, stop frequently, and give the class time to chew on what they just learned.
  3. Make it relevant. Teachers who know their students will be best prepared to link the content to them. Make the lesson, story, or activity personally meaningful. Connect it to students’ prior knowledge or experiences and show how it is applied in real life. Make it relatable to their world, not pie in the sky.
  4. Involve students. Learning is not a spectator sport. Students learn by getting involved, talking about it, writing about it, and relating it to their lives. How to encourage buy-in? Teachers can encourage questions and discussion, provide opportunities to work in pairs or groups to explore a topic more deeply, integrate short question and answer periods into the lesson, and build in hands-on activities. The more involved students are in learning, the greater the engagement and retention.
  5. Play games. Studies suggest children play an average of four hours a day on their devices playing games. Teacher can take advantage of that passion by introducing games into the curriculum. They’re not only fun, but can add excitement to more tedious learning, like math facts and test preparation. And, when competition is added in, children will be energized and begging for more.
  6. Take brain breaks. Quick exercises and movements can get a child’s blood flowing, unleash pent-up energy, and put a smile on their faces. After a few jumping jacks or a couple of minutes of yoga, children re-enter the classroom calm, focused, and ready to re-focus and learn.

These are just a few of the many ways to engage today’s learner. The bottom line: Don’t be predictable—that’s boring. Mix it up. Use different engagement strategies throughout the days and weeks to keep kids on their toes. Variety is the spice of life—especially for today’s easily distracted students.

For a deeper look at how to engage students and improve retention, listen in on SDE’s webinar Engaging the Learner (Gr. K–5), by veteran educator Lynne Ecenbarger.