5 strategies to help kids pay attention in class

Tali Health

March 25, 2019 . 3 minute read

Child in classroom with pencil

Daisy dozing off? Tom can’t stop fidgeting? We’ve got some tips on how to help them pay attention.

1. Set classroom expectations

Kids need structure, it helps them feel in control.

Put the day’s timeline at the front of the class and think about breaking down the day into 20-minute blocks – including morning tea/lunch and recess.

Writing up any ‘learning goals’ further helps keep kids on track. Keep them short — it sounds simple, but kids love it. When they can refer back to the board they know what to expect and what’s expected of them. It also means they can tick off smaller goals, which helps to build their self esteem.

2. Have the right classroom setting

Good news for all crafty teachers out there, your weekends just got a whole lot freer. Research by the University of Salford, Manchester, UK found that classrooms with lots of colours, posters and bits and bobs lying around can be detrimental when it comes to kids’ learning.

No kid is inspired, however, by bare, white walls but luckily the research found the best displays in the classroom are student created. Display their work on the walls, pop up some educational posters and ask them to create class rules, which you can proudly display. They also discovered that good natural (but not direct) light and air quality were “the most significant factors correlated with high student learning outcomes.”

3. Use positive reinforcement

We all know that rules are there to be broken, what we forget is that they are also a wonderful way to encourage positive reinforcement.

If you already have class rules, spend a session getting the kids to decorate them and pin them up where everyone can see them. If you’re creating them for the first time, include the behaviour you would love to see: raising their hand before talking, helping a fellow classmate, lining up quietly outside the classroom, asking for help if they don’t understand. When you see them doing these, praise them in front of the class, the others will start following suit.

Here are some tips on how to create class rules. You are essentially teaching them to be more responsible for themselves, which is really important in developing autonomy and motivation to learn.

4. Switch it up

It’s difficult for kids to maintain focus for long periods of time. No matter how much you want them to listen, they often can’t.

Kids who are easily distracted can often lack the skills to decide what to give their attention to. Ways to help them focus would be to maintain eye contact while giving instructions, use videos instead of reading from a book, tell related stories, show pictures, tell jokes, adjust your volume and regularly switch individual tasks with group tasks.

Switching it up not only helps make classroom activities more engaging for the rest of the class, it also helps the kids who struggle with attention stay focused.

5.  Let them be distracted

Often kids who have hyperactive tendencies have limited control over their body’s impulses to move.

Instead of singling individual kids out, get the whole class to dance to a song, go for a walk, or use any of these Brain Break activities from Teach Starter.

If you see a student becoming distracted during a task, instead of asking them to simply sit still, give them something to do. Have them go and deliver a note to another teacher, write up the next exercise on the board or distribute handouts to the rest of the class.

It will allow them to feel valued, have responsibility and give them a chance to move around.

We know lessons are never ‘one size fits all’. It often takes a few goes to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and even that can change day to day! But by creating an inclusive, constructive and fair classroom we are better able to discover the talents and strengths our kids can offer the world.


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