Have you ever called on students and they look at you like a deer in headlights? It is getting more and more difficult to keep students on task. Then throw distance learning or teaching with devices into the mix. It’s so tempting to explore technology and open another tab while they’re supposed to be focusing on you. Students need a variety of ways to keep them interested and engaged, and able to resist the lure of a new window!

I believe that technology plays a large role in this lack of attention. When my school implemented iPads into the curriculum, I immediately thought it would be a great way to keep students’ attention. I quickly realized that although it was an effective tool, it shouldn’t be used throughout the day. Students need a variety of learning strategies. Here are some ideas that will help keep your students’ attention especially during the holiday season!

1. Plan Effectively

No matter how long I’ve been in the classroom and feel like I can teach with my eyes closed, effective planning is the key. Whenever I left a blank spot in my plans, it often became disastrous! I would think that I would know what to do when the time comes, but in that very minute, I would get distracted by the million things that happen in a classroom daily (paper cut, hurt feelings, parent call, etc). It became more challenging when teaching with technology and remote instruction became the norm and technology glitches could create an unexpected hiccup. It’s easy to do quick worksheet or pop on a content-related game of Hangman, but although that may keep their attention for the skinny minute, it won’t last or have much substance. So plan, plan, plan! Even if you are showing a holiday movie, have a plan in case technology isn’t your friend that day! And have discussion questions prepared to make it an educational activity. Compare and contrast the movie to the book!

2. Design Creative Lesson Plans

Throughout the years, I’ve gone through training to make lessons more creative. Creative lessons are well-known for engaging students. If you are a creative teacher, yeah for you! This part will come easy to you. If you aren’t as fortunate to have that trait, no worries! There are so many resources available like Webquests and Project-based learning.

3. Offer a Variety of Lessons for Different Learning Styles

Do you seem to do the same activities over and over? Is it because you think your students know the routine and it is just easier for you? If you want your students to be more engaged, offer a variety of lessons. Use technology for one assignment, but pencil and paper for the next! Make a craft with one assignment and a simple discussion group for the next! Even if you’re all remote, don’t think that you can’t offer variety. Let students design a project on Canva, let them post a monologue as a character they’re studying, or tape themselves as “literary critic” reviewing a book. Create lessons geared towards auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners!

4. Mix Up Ways of Working

Mix up expectations for how your students will work (independent, partners, whole group, small groups). If you are in an in-person setting, include some reading around the room time! They love reading around the room and it will give you time to get ready for the next lesson. You can even have a pjs day and bring a pillow for this activity.

5. Ask Questions

Get the kids talking! Have students thinking deeper and share perspectives! Use the 5 W’s- Who, What, When, Where, and WHY WHY WHY! I also love to use the the Notice, Think and Wonder activity any time there is a meaningful illustration. Students can take over the inquiry process and you can sit back and listen!

6. Use Sound or Silence

Do you need to get your students’ attention real quick? Are they talking or even working in groups and you need their attention? I like using sound or silence. Some teachers might have a special clap or chimes. I know a teacher who has a piano in the room! Her students knew specific songs meant different things. (Line up, sit down, come to carpet). My favorite is to hold my hand up and as soon as one student sees it, they put their hand up and tell others. It is a quick and easy way to grab their attention!

7. Give Positive Reinforcement

When students know you are watching them, and they know they will get a positive comment or shout out by you, they will want to get their work done. “Hey class, you guys should see what Johnny is doing over here. Do you mind if I read your poem to the class?” “Whoever works hard and finishes the activity in time will get a high five!” You don’t have to hand out candy or do anything crazy. Something simple works if you make a big deal out of it! Of course a little flash dance time at the end of the period if everyone has their work done is always a motivator too!

8. Show Excitement

Whenever you are excited about a lesson, your students will be too! I’ll never forget when I was teaching a story plot lesson. I had the picture of a roller coaster and I was pretending I was going up the roller coaster and showed excitement and anticipation. My students wanted me to do it again and then wanted to video me. I didn’t realize how exciting the lesson was going to be, but it was a hit!

9. Recite and Chant

When students are involved in a group chant, you can easily monitor who is participating especially if there is movement involved. Reciting poems or the beginning of the Declaration of Independence gets the kids motivated to learn.

10. Have a Friendly Competition

Last but not least, have a friendly competition! Jeopardy games are some of my students’ favorites and I like putting them in groups. I found the best way is to allow the groups to decide together on the answer. It helps keep the competition fun and friendly!

I hope this helps you keep your students on task and learning!

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