Mechanical Methods for Securing Attention

Let's say we've gotten the attention of our students.  How do we keep it?  Here are a few simple methods that may keep children on their toes.

1.  Movement

We know that kids can't keep still for an extended period of time.  It's hard even for adults to do that.  Often, on long afternoons in my school classroom, the children would be tired and restless.  I would ask them to quietly stand, stretch, and maybe have them walk around the room.  This was usually enough movement to help their concentration.  Or I would give them a ten-minute break.  They could go to someone else's desk and chat with them, clean out their desk, or whatever they wanted, as long as it was not disruptive.  When the break was over, they were much more refreshed.

2.  Simultaneous reading

This may work better for younger students, but it can be a fun activity.  Choose a small passage and have everyone read it aloud with you.  Next, have the children read silently while you read orally.  Pause frequently, and have them say the word that is next.

3.  Continual engagement

Continual engagement is the great antidote to inattention.  Whatever you can do to keep the students involved by eyes, ears, and hands is going to help.  Ask questions that promote discussion.  Let the children know they could be called on at any moment.  Pause often and have them write down a word, phrase, or definition.  Have them draw a small graphic to illustrate a point.

4.  A quick eye and ear

Most teachers already have this skill.  Make sure you know what is going on all over the classroom.  Be sharp and watchful.  Be alert when someone is "zoning out."  Simple techniques, such as walking over by the student or asking him or her a question can bring the student back to the topic.  The goal is not to embarrass the child or put him on the spot.  You are just trying to bring him back into the discussion.

These are called mechanical methods because they don't have anything to do with actual teaching.  They are simply external techniques to keep interest from flagging.

Adapted from "The Art of Teaching," by Joshua Fitch, copyright 1800's