How to keep students’ attention in class

Have you ever noticed that sometimes students, no matter if they learn in a group or individually, aren’t focused and do other things instead of paying attention to what is going on in the lesson? Their attention wanders and what they do is daydreaming, surfing the Internet, making to-do lists, drawing etc.

Here are some tips for grabbing their attention.

Vary whatever you can

Learners get used to their teacher’s manner very quickly. On the one hand, it’s a positive thing that helps them reduce their anxiety and irrational fears. But on the other hand, routine things tend to be monotonous. To bring some novelty and make students listen with rapt attention, try to change the tempo and the volume of your voice from time to time when you clarify some things, change the order of the stages if possible, have warm-ups and cool-downs in a different way, try some activities that you’ve never used before.

Learners will liven up and listen to what you are saying more attentively.

Change tasks more often

We live in a very dynamic world. Just compare the films of 1970s and 2010s. The latter are more intense and keep us on the edge of our seats by a very fast pace and quick change of settings. Some young adults have lower attention span nowadays, not to speak of teens and kids.

There’s one more reason why people find it difficult to concentrate. Most of us live and work under constant pressure. Stress makes us anxious and worn out.

So try to vary activities more often. In a group you can change interaction patterns: work on your own, in pairs, in mini groups, change groups. If you work individually, try to squeeze little discussions or cool downs in bigger chunks of work.

Be friendly, smiling but…demanding

Your students need to have a set of classroom rules especially if they are kids or teens. They can’t use mobiles unless you give a special task which involves using gadgets. They can’t interrupt you or other students etc. There are readymade cards with classroom rules which you can purchase or download. Never turn a blind eye to somebody who breaks the rules and show disrespect to you or other people.

Involve, don’t lecture

Lectures are boring as long as they aren’t Ted talks on topics which interest us. Students can be distracted and don’t listen to you not because they want to drive you up the wall, but because they can be tired or overloaded with information. So if you have to clarify a grammar structure, make use of CCQs, elicit the difference between structures and some examples, provide funny illustrations, elicit/ draw timelines etc. This will help you to keep learners focused.

Show the practical value of the material you are teaching

I had hated PE lessons all my life before I became a fourth year student. Our new teacher showed me the value of moderate physical exercises, running and ball games. She didn’t just say ‘You must run 5 kilometers’. She explained how beneficial it was for me. It changed my attitude completely.

Before introducing the topic or any stage of the lesson, focus on practical value that learners can get. If you work one-on-one, it’s very easy to connect the material with learner’s goals: ‘We’re practicing these collocations because you might need them to describe your professional skills’ or ‘Modals will help to talk about your abilities in more varied ways’.

They will devote their full attention to something which is really useful for them.

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