Beginnings are always the hardest. Ask any teacher who walks in at the beginning of the class session and finds Casy text-messaging someone, Katie and Sam chatting, and Tom snoozing.
This behavior isn’t limited to children, either; inattention is endemic in our fast-paced culture with so much competing media and information distracting us. However, it is necessary to get the class’s attention at the beginning of the session to establish order, the plan for the day, and begin instruction. But it’s not always so easy.
What can you do to get the class’s attention riveted on you?
Starting off Strong
Often students goof off because they just don’t know what else to do. You can start strong every day by establishing a clear routine and expectations for starting off: that they come to attention, be in their seats, and ready to work. Hold to this routine to establish order in the class. Having a clear plan for the day also gets student’s attention.
5 Tips to Get the Class’s Attention
Change the level and tone of your voice
Often just changing the level and tone of your voice, lowering it or raising it, will signal to the students it’s time to pay attention.
Holding up a striking picture related to the session, such as environmental debris if the class topic is related to the environment, is sure to get all eyes on you. Don’t comment on it; allow students to start the dialogue.
Make a startling statement or give a quote
Writing a surprising statement or quote related to the content on the board has a similar effect: for example “More than half of children in California speak some language other than English at home” if the topic is language acquisition.
Write a pop quiz question on the board
Write a basic comprehension question related to the reading on the board. Students have to answer it on slips of paper and turn them in. This gets students focused right away on course material. The question can then lead to discussion after the quiz.
10 Tips for Holding Attention
Now you have your students’ attention; holding it is another story.
Know your students and relate content to them, and relate the content to the course objectives. For example, if the content is the Vietnam War, finding out what they already know about the Vietnam War and how it relates to their lives is important.
Teach at appropriate level of difficulty
Material too hard or too difficult can result in student inattention. Check for understanding or boredom at the beginning. Then tailor the material to the class: for example, if you are teaching the past tense and find students already have control over the simple past and past progressive, find out what they know about the past perfect. Or if you’ve given all three tenses at them, assuming it’s just review, but they appear lost, focus on just one tense.
Use choral chants of material
Better for lower-level students, having students chant together key phrases or sentences from the material gets them focused on the material. This also provides practice in the rhythm and intonation of English.
Make presentations clear
Use of clear charts and visuals hold students’ attention and make the content clear.
Involve students in lecture
Don’t just lecture on the past tense with charts and board work; this will surely put everyone to sleep. During the lecture, stop to ask students about last weekend, summer, etc., to keep them involved in the content and practicing the material.
Use of humor related to the content is another attention-getter: students appreciate teachers who know how to use humor appropriately related to the material. For example, relating a brief humorous anecdote about what a bad day you had yesterday to demonstrate past tense verbs will get students’ attention and lighten the mood.
Establish the routine, task, and time limit
If students are to work in groups, for example, they should know which group they belong in, what they will be doing, and for how long.
Plan carefully and fully; make the plan apparent to students
Students will lose focus if the objectives and plan for the lesson are not clear to them. Writing what the class will be doing on the board helps keep focus.
Divide tasks into manageable subskills
If students are going to be participating in a class debate, telling them to “Debate the issue” may result in a lot of students wandering around confused. Outline what is involved in a debate on the board and break it down: today decide the issue and our sides; tomorrow establish the roles within our teams, the next day research, and so forth.
Establish clear roles
In doing the debate, to continue the example, everyone within the group should have a task: either preparing some research for the debate, outlining the debate, preparing a counterargument, etc. If everyone’s role is clear, and everyone has a job to do, this results in less web-surfing and updating Facebook profiles during class. (Yes, adults and ESL students do it, too.)
Following these guidelines of starting strong and planning for holding the class’s attention will result in a lesson that all students will participate in fully.
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