Getting the attention of your students is one of the hardest challenges in being a teacher. If you can’t captivate them in the first few minutes of your class, it’ll be tough to deliver your lesson to them.
Your goal therefore is to go in the class and get their brain to pay attention to you. Once you do that, learning will be much more fun and you’ll have an easier time delivering your content rather than trying to break through the attention wall of the students.
Brain Based Science
According to Judy Willis, a neuroscientist turned educator, it is the Reticular Activating System (RAS) that is the attention gate of the brain. Once that gate is unlocked and ready to receive information, the learning process will be much easier.
The RAS is drawn to two things: Novelty and Curiosity.By integrating routines and activities in your teaching strategies that are novel and trigger curiosity, you are sure to get your students’ attention.
Willis also says that “attention is prompted when material holds personal meaning, connects to interests, has elements of surprise, and/or when it provokes wonder.
With these in mind, here are 7 powerful strategies to help you command your students’ attention.
Show, Don’t Tell
Bring interesting, unusual, or mysterious items to class that can be the springboard for your topic. Instead of getting right into the action, trigger their curiosity by have them wonder what the item/s are all about. A good sign will be is that they will be asking questions.At this point in time, you have just gotten their RAS gate unlocked!
Pose an Intriguing and Thought Provoking Question
Questions trigger thinking and this activates prior knowledge on a topic. Have your students brainstorm the answer to the question. Have them share and discuss their ideas and answer. This technique is perfect springboard to your topic for the day.
Make your students anticipate your next topic a few days or a week before it. Give them tidbits of what to expect. Make it mysterious. Give hints and little secrets that will trigger their interest and make them wonder what will it be about. You can tell them broadly what the topic will be about but don’t spill the details yet. Just tell them something exciting and fun will happen in the next topic.
According to Rose Senior, an educator writing for English Teaching Professional, excellent teachers have an attention getting routine at the start of the class. Some would clap their hands to get attention, or others would simply be quiet waiting for silence to fill the class.Others would simply raise their hands as a signal to have everyone facing the teacher immediately.
My personal favorite has been training my students to immediately stop what they are doing and immediately give me attention by saying, “Hands and Eyes”; meaning all eyes on me and all hands on their desks. This quick routine must be well established and practiced at the very start to make it work.
Provide Clues to the Topic and have them Predict
This could be a picture, a headline, a story title, key phrases in the topic or any individual words presented on the board or flashcards related to your topic. Get your students predicting what the topic will be about. This generates interest in the students and gets them thinking. Have them write their predictions on paper or on the board.
After greeting the class, divide them immediately into pairs or small groups wherein they will pool knowledge relevant to the topic for the day. According to Senior, students give their attention when they are given an opportunity to demonstrate their existing knowledge. Brainstorming allows your students to build upon existing knowledge and realize that this knowledge is a building block in understanding the new content.
The students we teach are of the digital generation. They are naturally drawn to technology and new ways of doing things. The more you can integrate different applications and technology to your class, the more easily you can get their attention.
What are your strategies in getting the attention of your students in the first 10 seconds of your class?
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Further resources on brain based teaching: