Techniques for Grabbing Students’ Attention in the Classroom

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It takes a lot to gain and hold the attention of students in the classroom today. Students are, most of all, quite “jaded” by their technology. Their smartphones can “take” them anywhere in the world; they are used to being “entertained” by their worlds of technology – video games, YouTube, etc. Teachers can lament this all they want, but it is the reality, and if they do not get “on board,” they will find their classrooms dull and boring and places in which learning doesn’t, occur except by force.

Science, Art, Sales, and Drama

Teaching involves all of these things, so let’s define them.

Science: this aspect of teaching relates to structure. How will you structure your lesson? What are the learning objectives? What activities will occur to meet those objectives, and how will you assess student mastery of the concept and/or skill you are teaching? Your lesson plan reflects these things but has nothing to do with “grabbing” student attention.

Art: Ah, now we are talking. This is the creative side of teaching. How creative can you be with a presentation of a concept or skill? That creativity of delivery will be proportionate to student engagement.

Sales: You have to “sell” your subject every day, with energy and enthusiasm. If your “product” is parts of speech in an English class, the Vietnam War in history, balancing equations in chemistry, or finding a proof in geometry, you have to believe in your product and “sell” it to your students.

Drama: All good teachers are actors. They are “on stage” for the duration of the class period, and students must be enthralled by the great performance that is before them.

Getting Attention From the Beginning

The success of a class (and success must be defined by student engagement) depends upon what is done at the very beginning that will grab students’ attention. At the beginning of a class goes, so goes the rest of the class. So, here are a number of things that teachers can do to create that desire to know more on the part of their students:

  1. Take in a “prop” that will relate to the lesson for the day. If this is done on a regular basis, students will come in with anticipation of what is in store for them. This prop can be simple or elaborate. A history teacher might come in with a camouflage helmet when introducing the Vietnam War; an English teacher might come in wearing a cardboard placard that states, “I am a noun.”
  2. Have a warm-up exercise on the board that pulls a skill or content into the real world. A math class that will deal with percentages, for example, might have a problem on the board related to a current sale of Nike’s at a local store. If the store is offering a 30% discount on a $129.00 shoe, what will the student be paying for that shoe?
  3. Run a video with a “countdown” at the bottom. A series of astronomy lessons might have an “anticipatory set” of videos of our galaxy with a countdown in the lower corner, to show how much time is left until class begins.
  4. Use music. Find contemporary songs by recognized groups that relate to a lesson to be taught, if only remotely. Much of contemporary music uses bad grammar, so playing that music as students enter, along with the words printed out for their perusal, can introduce a lesson on subject-verb agreement, verb tenses, or sentence structure.
  5. Have a news story related to your subject “blown up” and projected on your screen. If a meth lab in a home has exploded, for example, the story and pictures can be used as a “hook” for students to determine what chemical reactions caused that explosion. In an environmental science class, show the devastating effects of a current oil spill on wildlife with real-time video.
  6. Tell a relevant joke that is age-appropriate and genuinely funny. Do this every day, and your students will flock in, get quiet, and anticipate the joke that is about to be delivered.
  7. Have really controversial quotes and statements on the board and ask students to respond to them in writing before the class begins with a discussion of them.
  8. Have a “sound” that signals the start of class – a gong or a whistle works well.
  9. Start class with an anecdote or amusing/poignant story that relates to the lesson for the day
  10. Use a rubber ball. Have a lesson-related question on the board and throw the ball to a student to pose an answer. The student then may throw the ball to another who must then pose an answer or solution.
  11. Draw a picture on the board that relates to the topic of today’s lesson. Have student guess the topic based upon the drawing.

The point is this: If you can grab attention at the very beginning of your class, you have your students “hooked.” And, if they know that you will always have something cool with which to start, they are far more apt to get into the classroom on time and ready for whatever you have to engage them!

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