One of the biggest hurdles for many elementary teachers is getting and keeping their charges' attention. When most people think of an elementary classroom, they envision a boiling mass of little bodies wiggling and little voices making a hum of commotion. A skilled teacher knows, however, that even the youngest elementary student can learn to pay attention when needed. They also know the tricks for focusing students with attention issues, and they can keep a group quiet and listening to lessons. There aren't really any deep, dark secrets. The ways to get children to focus and maintain attention are the exact same things that help other people pay attention when they need to.
The first step to getting kids to pay attention is to get them to notice that their attention is needed. They need to see that someone wants their attention. Little kids have a remarkable focus on what they are already doing sometimes, and so attention signals need to be strong enough to get through their concentration on whatever they are already involved with. Many times, you can cause a change in the environment to get them to take notice. Flip the lights off and on, play some musical notes, or clap your hands to help them understand that you need them to take a quick break from what they are doing currently and listen up.
Use an attention signal that requires a response. This will help the children break their focus on whatever they were doing and shift it to you and what you have to say. This is the theory at work behind such common signals as raising the hand for quiet and singing call-and-response songs. In addition, you might want to try a series of actions to mimic (like patting your head and then rubbing your tummy) or clapping out a rhythm for the kids to imitate.
Since children often have a difficult time with transitions, try using this first attention-getting step to give them a five-minute warning to finish the task at hand. Kids will change activities more readily if they can have an opportunity to finish up what they're already engaged in. If you neglect this, and try to move straight from one activity to the next, you will be setting some children up for failure. Their minds will still be on what they were doing when they were ‘interrupted,' and they won't be able to concentrate on the things you have to say or teach.
Once you've given that end warning, make sure you follow through. Use a timer if you must, but you want to be consistent and trustworthy in the children's eyes. When you say the activity will end in five minutes, make sure that it happens that way consistently.
Transition effectively. Effective transitions have four parts. Get the group's attention, clean up and put away materials from the old activity, shift focus, and begin the new activity. These four steps need to happen in order for the group to be ready to pay attention to you. The shifting focus step can be a tricky one, and it can be helpful to physically move the group from one area to another to help them make the shift to the new activity. Even if you don't ultimately go anywhere, it can help to simply get up and march or walk around the room and back to their seats or work stations.
It is helpful to begin with an attention-getter. Jokes or riddles serve this purpose nicely, as do magic tricks, changing your voice or tone, or using visual aids. Even asking a question to set the stage for this new activity can get things off on the right foot.
Make connections with familiar information or prior knowledge. We all know that it is very difficult to focus on college level lectures that are outside of our field or to read literature that we can barely understand. This is because we don't have the background to make the necessary connections for good comprehension. You can help children over this hurdle by pointing out those connections as you begin lessons. Start with pointing out familiar or known material that is related to what you are teaching, and then move into the new territory.
Teach necessary vocabulary for the directions or lesson that you are trying to convey. Unknown words interfere with understanding, and attention will wander when understanding falters.
Involve students. Lessons or tasks that require responses, movement, experiments, or other actions will be far more engaging than those that are simply listening tasks, like lectures. Hands-on experiences not only will keep learners attending, but will also cement the knowledge into their lives. Everyone learns better when education has an active component.
Getting and keeping children's attention is usually easy when you follow these simple guidelines. They work well for groups or for individuals, and they will help children focus on school lessons, information, learning activities, or directions. Together, they will help any group leader or teacher keep children on task to accomplish necessary learning and growing. You can learn other handy classroom management skills by taking online teaching classes.