Holding students’ attention during online classes may be a real challenge for teachers. I heard a lot of stories from my colleagues whose students switch off their cameras, sometimes misbehave, do not answer the questions or easily get distracted by their toys or the environment. Personally, I also face all these issues in my teaching as well as many other teachers do, I’m sure. In this article, you’ll find some useful tips which help you engage pupils’ attention.
Firstly, you need to exclude one of the possible reasons why students lose their attention. It can be complicated or just not an appropriate curriculum for the level or the age of students. If everything is fine, then you need to accept the fact that sometimes all the children may lose focus during the class because of their psychological state. They may be not in the mood to learn something or just tired. And that is absolutely okay. Even adults cannot always stay focused. Though it has already been said a thousand times, I’ll repeat the golden rule of teaching kids: you need to change activities every 4-5 minutes.
I have found three components of a good online class, which seem to be very important.
- Organize the learning process: set goals and follow the lesson routine.
- Use different teaching methods and forms of presenting educational material.
- Give feedback.
Let’s look at them closer.
Organization of the learning process
For kids, it is essential to know what to expect from the lesson. They get used to the classroom routine, and it imposes some discipline on them and influences their attention as well. They get less distracted when they know what the following step of the class is and may even expect a definite song, game or an activity.
Ask the parents to ensure that the place where your student is having a class is quiet and comfortable. It’s impossible to get rid of all the factors of distraction, but at least it’s better if the child sits at a desk than lies on a sofa.
Setting goals is very important. There should be one big goal, that the student or, in case of young learners, the parents want to achieve. They can be preparing for school, for the holidays abroad or the exam. And you have to set an understandable goal for students in the beginning of every lesson like “to learn the names of the wild animals”, “to learn how to speak about daily routine”, etc.
We have to admit, online classes are not as active as offline classes are in a physical sense. That’s why the activities you prepare should be interactive and captivating enough.
Let the children play in the lesson. For example, use quizzes, spinning wheels and mazes that you can play online. The amazing resource you can use for it is Wordwall. There you need to create your own account and start making activities for students or find the tasks already made by other teachers.
Here you can find some games I prepared for my students.
- Quiz “Our pets” aimed at training the construction “they are” and plural forms;
- Task “True or false” aimed at drilling the body parts;
- The wheel “Food” aimed at training “I like ____ / I don’t like ____”;
- The pronouns maze aimed at reviewing object pronouns.
Use the online whiteboard for drawing games (for instance “Pictionary” when the teacher draws and the students guess the word or the phrase and the opposite), explaining some rules and visualization. The function is available in Zoom and Miro.
Sing songs and watch videos with your students. They usually catch the attention even of the choosiest learners. Don’t forget to discuss what you’ve heard and seen or do it just for fun.
Generally, the great songs and video materials you may find at the following YouTube channels:
- Super Simple Songs has lots of funny songs;
- Pinkfong Baby Shark – Kids’ Songs & Stories presents not only songs but also wonderful fairy tales you may use at the reading lessons;
- English Singsing has dialogues, phonics series, fairy tales and vocabulary videos.
I would also recommend stories from curriculum “Kid’s box”. You can find them at the channel Learning Together.
Attract students’ involuntary or passive attention by being emotional, using gestures and TPR, actively mimicking, changing the pace and volume of your voice and speech. I’m sure that at online classes the teacher should be even more emotional, because in this case students will be able to read a teacher’s emotions even through the screen.
Use storytelling. There is a nice proverb: “Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.” And that is true, if children may feel themselves as part of the story at the lesson, their level of engaging increases greatly. That’s why you may use the legend, the characters going with children from lesson to lesson or at least take the puppet that will appear and speak with a child when it’s needed.
And finally, use the special attention grabbers, a lot of options to choose from in this Skyteach article “How to hold the attention of young learners”.
Motivate your students to stay engaged by giving them a reward, it shouldn’t be something material. Usually my students get the stars, falling from the top of the presentation slide. For the class they can get the maximum of five stars, and sometimes they may have some extra stars for extra efforts😊 And my little students know if they try really hard, they’ll definitely achieve the best results.
Remember that even a child’s distraction may be turned into a nice English-speaking practice. If the kid takes a toy, you may also pay attention to it: “Oh, what have got? What is it? Tell me about your toy”. And then ask about the color, size, what the toy can do and can not do, then ask your student to place it somewhere near to help him/her during the class and continue the lesson.
Speaking activities are, obviously, essential for English language speaking classes. A lot of students join classes particularly to develop their communicative competence, become more fluent, versatile, adaptable, and confident communicators in English. However, designing speaking activities might be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for any teacher. We have prepared a memo with superb ready-made speaking tasks that will make your student talking. Download it here.