10 ways to enhance the attention in class
Last time I told you about attention “problems” of children and how this is something that many teachers struggle with. Yup, you are definitely not alone! If you haven’t read it, check out the blogpost here.
As promised, in today’s post I want to share with you some advice that I always give teachers and parents as well (yes, parents … because some reasons for not being able to pay attention are neither coming from the school environment nor the teacher).
Since I know that you want to know them as quickly as possible, without further ado … 10 ways to enhance the attention of your students in class.
1. Prepare your classroom
Before you even start teaching, prepare your classroom in a way that it increases attention and not distraction.
This means, for example, keep all gadgets switched off (TV, computers, ipads etc) or even better, in a completely different room and only get them when they are absolutely needed.
Also, you may want to keep the material you need for the lesson at hand, so that the kids don’t have to get up to get anything or look in their backpacks for 5 hours. Have them prepare everything they need at the beginning of the lesson and keep the things on the table or nearby.
Make sure that your classroom is neat and child friendly, but also not too much. Imagine you have 100,000 posters in all colours about all kinds of topics hanging everywhere… this is wayyyy to interesting! I’d rather have a look around, maybe drift off when I see a picture that reminds me of my last zoo visit, than listening to the teacher or concentrate on the task at hand.
Make sure that the posters all serve a purpose – as a reminder for things you are currently teaching or things the students struggle with retaining.
Routines are something that are often underestimated, especially among new teachers. Yet, they can make or break your entire school year. Especially when it comes to very small children.
Imagine you are a little child. Your parents bring you to this place with lots of other kids (never seen so many of my age in one place before!) and 1 or 2 adults that I also don’t quite know. And then they leave and I’m all alone. I don’t even know if they will be coming back!?! Pretty scary, isn’t it? Now imagine the teacher speaking in a language that I have never heard before. Omg, what’s going on? How can I make myself understood? What if I feel bad? To who can I talk? When is mum coming back?
And now imagine .. this big person is telling you about colours or pets or parts of the body. Yes, it might be fun to sing and dance and play, but in my head I still wonder all of those questions and then my attention goes down the hill. And I might even act up, because I’m scared, or I want attention.
So you want to help them to get acquainted with everything first. The first few weeks, I never really focus on teaching English. Yes, I do speak English, but I don’t care about colours or pets or family members. We go through routines.
I teach them what I expect from them and I show them what we will do during the lesson until mum or dad are coming again to pick them up.
You may think, you are losing time and you can’t do that, but actually you are losing more time if you don’t. The more secure children feel, the more they know what’s going on, the better they can focus. It’s better to “lose” the few lessons at the beginning than having to “fight” several children throughout the entire school year, putting them in a drawer called “can’t focus” or “misbehaving”, which they actually aren’t. They just haven’t been shown the way how to cope with situations in the right way.
A good support for establishing routines and make kids feel more secure is having a schedule for them to see and always tell them where you are at and what will come next. I use schedule cards for this, that I put on the wall for everyone to see.
Those, by the way, are not only helping very small children, but also older kids and you can even use it to teach them the time while you are at it. It’s easier for kids to focus (and adults, too), when we know what will be up next.
3. Break content into smaller pieces
Don’t we all know this? We have this huge task to do and procrastinate until it’s too late.
Well, children are not that much different. It always helps to break bigger tasks into smaller ones. May it be reading pages or cleaning out something. When we do the small thing, we get a feeling of accomplishment and will be motivated to continue.
Don’t think you have to do an activity for 20 minutes straight, just because it’s one task. You can take a break in between and come back to the activity later. You will see, with a fresh brain it’s much easier to learn.
Give them time for distraction and play a short game (an easy one we all know would be Simon says, your do some relaxation techniques, or TPR, etc) to get them refocus.
4. Play games that strengthen focus
There are some games out there, that help you to strengthen your focus. Examples we all know would be “memory” or “crosswords”. You can also have the children close their eyes and describe what they see. Or have them imagine a book they are currently reading and describe it. Even just sitting still can give the kids the opportunity to refocus.
5. Include physical activity
One of the biggest problems we have in our time is that children don’t move enough anymore. And yet movement is crucial for focus and attention. Movement is helping the brain to develop and grow. So getting kids to move is essential. Having them sit in classes for hours and hours is not really helping. This is why a lot of my time in the classroom is based on moving around (if the classroom allows). This includes games where they have to run (for example from one wall to the next to tap a picture, grab something, tell things to a teammate, etc), or TPR and stretching when your classroom is not all that big.
6. Deep breathing, relaxation techniques
If you haven’t tried relaxation techniques before, you should definitely give it a try. In our school this is becoming common practice, especially with the very small children.
Visual imagery, kids yoga or simple deep breathing can help the children refocus. You could have everyone close their eyes and have them imagine that they are working on a task, completely focused.
What do they see? What do they hear? What do they feel? When do they start to get distracted and how would they take care of those distractions?
The clearer they have those images in their mind, the better they will be able to focus in “real life” when the situation comes up.
Now let’s check on some points that parents should pay attention to at home, as they can play a big role.
Often parents look at me as if I’m crazy when I tell them that food may play a role in the attention problem of their child. And yet it has a direct link to how well your child can focus. It’s the food and fresh air that helps the brain get more oxygen. Eating junk food and sugar loaded things will actually decrease the performance.
During my psychology studies, I always found it funny how the psychology students always had snacks prepared for their exams, containing water, bananas and nuts. Whereas students of other fields often had the chocolate bars,cakes and coke on their tables. I don’t know who was outperforming who in the end but my classmates seemed to be less sluggish and focused.
Same goes for children, obviously. How often do we find kids with their “snacks” containing chips, chocolate bars and fruit juice that is actually not juice anymore but sugar with added water. Those things are not helping and actually decrease concentration levels!
Also caffeine and energy drinks are not a good choice. The kids tell you, they can learn better with that, which might be true for the first few moments, but what they don’t anticipate is the sugar crash = energy crash later on. The level of focus will be even worse than before and you would have to drink a heck of a lot of energy drinks to maintain the level.
The best things to eat are foods like almonds, nuts, lean meat, fat fish containing omega 3, eggs, green food (the darker the leaves, the better it is), fruits (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, watermelon, figs etc), avocado, and even dark (!) chocolate (not the sugary milky kind, neither the white one)
We talked about exercise before, but there is only so much we can do in school. So the homework is to get kids moving (cardio exercises are it! Get them running)… a great way is also to have the kids walk to school or take the bike, so that they have a fresh mind when they arrive at school.
9. Turn off electronics
Another one that we should do in school, but even more at home. Sometimes I’m shocked when I see that the TV is on, basically 8h per day, even when nobody is watching. The smartphone in one hand, ipad in the other, tv in front … constant information overload. How do you want a child to learn how to focus? Reduce tv time or ipad time and send your kids out to play with their friends and move.
And NO, they can’t work better when the TV is running!
There is nothing better than sleeping!
Make sure that your child gets the amount of sleep it should have. Preschoolers should not sleep under 8h, in best case they should get between 10 and 13h of sleep. School children (age 6+) shouldn’t sleep less than 7, but best would be 9-11h. Teenagers can go with 8-10h of sleep.
Most children can concentrate best after having had a good sleep. Even little naps after school for a few minutes can help.
Those were the 10 tips and tricks. Try them out and see how the focus will slowly come back ;). Drop me a line with your classroom attention stories! I’d love to hear from you!