How to get and hold attention: stop telling your students to “pay attention!”

Eric Jensen wrote an edifying post about this, which is well worth reading on his site.

In essence, he makes the point that there are much better ways of ensuring attention than asking for it.  Here I have re-produced his tips for making children want to pay attention.  As I mentioned, the original post is on Eric’s site and is an engaging read.

  • Use prediction. Ask students to make a prediction on something related to your content (the process, outcome, circumstance(s), etc.)  BTW…They care more about the outcome. Then help them get vested in their prediction by making the prediction public (“Raise your hand if you believe that …”) Next, increase the stakes of the prediction (“Those that predict correctly will get one free homework pass this month. Now, let’s find out who was right.”) Prediction forces the brain to care about the outcome because we get vested in being right.
  • Use the brief “pause” and chunk technique. Give students a stand up break of 30-90 seconds (the “pause”) to give them mental processing time for the content. It also adds a sense of anticipation or even importance to the content. Brief breaks just to stretch may help focus (Ariga,A. & Lleras,A., 2011). Be sure to also break your content into 5-12 min. chunks (depending on grade level).
  • Prime the learning with small hints, appetizers and teasers ahead of the content to create a pre-attentional bias to the content.
  • Start getting “buy-in” to the content. This is the “hook” that fosters attentional vigilance.  Then, add a strong goal-acquisition to the activity, keeping them vested in reaching the target goal.
  • Do a fast physical activity (like Simon Sez) first to activate executive function areas with the induced strength from the brain’s internal focus-inducing chemical, norepinephrine and working memory ally, dopamine.

The Secrets of a Happy Classroom

An old Independent Article, found at:

Tips are here – but read the rest of the article for more:

Something we can all learn from: how to improve teaching techniques

* Stop students putting their hands up to ask questions – it’s the same ones doing it all the time. Instead introduce a random method of choosing which pupil answers the question, such as lollipop sticks, and thus engage the whole class.

* Use traffic-light cups in order to assess quickly and easily how much your students understand your lesson. If several desks are displaying a red cup, gather all those students around to help them at the same time.

* Mini-whiteboards, on which the whole class simultaneously writes down the answer to a question, are a quick way of gauging whether the class as a whole is getting your lesson. This method also satisfies the high-achievers who would normally stick their hands up.

* A short burst of physical exercise at the start of the school day will do wonders for students’ alertness and motivation. As any gym addict or jogger will tell you, it’s all about the chemicals released into the brain.

* Ditch the obsession with grades, so that pupils can concentrate instead on the comments that the teacher has written on written classwork.

* Allow students to assess the teachers’ teaching – they are the ones at the sharp end, after all. Letting pupils have a say is empowering and, if handled constructively, is highly enlightening.