5 ways to keep and hold your students’ attention


Gaining and holding your students’ attention is easier said than done! Learning how to keep students engaged is a skill that experienced teachers have nailed. Here are my tried and tested methods for keeping your students interested in your teaching.

Gaining and holding your students’ attention is easier said than done! Learning how to keep students engaged is a skill that experienced teachers have nailed. Here are my tried and tested methods for keeping your students interested in your teaching.

1. Adjust your pitch

Changing the pitch of your voice can work at getting the attention of children of all ages. Where I’ve seen this applied best though, was a Prep (Foundation) classroom. The teacher I observed did an amazing job of grabbing the attention of 5 year olds and then, even harder, keeping their attention! This is how she did it.

Change of activity. Children move to the floor and are unsettled wondering what they will be doing next. Teacher goes to sit on the wooden stool and pretends to fall off! *loud voice* “oh my goodness!” *children giggle* (attention obtained). Teacher *normal voice* “We are going to learn about shapes.” *children shift in their spots and start to become unfocused ... teacher tunes in instantly and lowers her voice to a whisper* “... and I’m going to tell you what my favourite shape is...” *children lean in to hear* (attention obtained again) *teacher raises her voice again excitedly* “...I wonder if you can guess which shape is my favourite?” *students raise their hand*.

The above example might sound over-the-top but only if you’ve never taught 5 year olds! They lose focus so easily. This is why Prep teachers look so tired all the time!

Middle and upper grades can also have this method applied but not as often.

Gaining and holding your students’ attention is easier said than done! Learning how to keep students engaged is a skill that experienced teachers have nailed. Here are my tried and tested methods for keeping your students interested in your teaching.

2. Vary your tone

Tone is so important. I think a lot of teachers forget their tone of voice impacts how children feel about the lesson or activity they are about to do. If you're excited - they will be too! If you hate teaching this subject, guess what...they’ll hate it as well. Watch your tone carefully and adjust it often to keep their attention. Monotone voices make you fall asleep and an overly excited tone can become tiring. You should be moving up and down with your tone to keep students engaged. Start a lesson with an excited tone “I’m so excited to show you...!” but move to a deeper flatter tone when stressing important information “the three things you really need to know are...”. Get the tone right and you set the stage for the mood of the lesson.

3. Be enthusiastic

There is nothing more off-putting than a teacher that starts an art lesson with “I don’t know that much about art but...”. This makes the lesson sound pointless and boring before it’s even begun! Get excited. Be enthusiastic about what you're about to teach and use real-world connections as often as possible so students can see the point of learning it. Act as you would want your students to act in this lesson. If you hate the subject, fake it till you make it. Find something to love about every subject and they will too!

Gaining and holding your students’ attention is easier said than done! Learning how to keep students engaged is a skill that experienced teachers have nailed. Here are my tried and tested methods for keeping your students interested in your teaching.

4. Be the most colourful thing in the room

This is an old teacher saying but it still holds true. Dress in bright colours to grab their attention but don’t over do it with accessories. It’s very distracting when a teacher wears lots of jewellery that clicks and jiggles as she teaches. Often it’s good to wear a darker bottom and a bright top so your students’ eyes are drawn towards your face. You don’t want them looking down for whatever reason.

5. Move around the room

The best way to stay on top of behaviour management is to use proximity as your secret weapon! Moving your body around the room also changes the level of your voice for students and lets them know ‘I’m watching you so tune in!’. If you're glued to the front of the room all day, you’ll lose their attention fast! If you’re using a laptop to smart board/whiteboard then you might consider mirroring to an iPad. This way you can still move the display, talk and be in all areas of the room.

The most important aspect of all of these points is to TUNE IN to your class. The minute you feel their attention wandering, you’ll need to mix things up. Good teachers tune in and adjust their teaching to suit their students. Not the other way around!

For more behaviour management ideas visit my Pinterest board here

Try these five easy steps and you will hold your students' attention for longer, creating more engaging classroom experiences.

Gaining and holding your students’ attention is easier said than done! Learning how to keep students engaged is a skill that experienced teachers have nailed. Here are my tried and tested methods for keeping your students interested in your teaching.

5 Steps to worrying less


As teachers we tend to worry about everything from 'is that child going to be okay when they get home?' to 'why can't this student master this skill?'. We are born worriers. This, however, is what makes us great teachers. Worrying means you care. Care too much though and you can make yourself ill with stress. 

Signs you're worried about work:
  • being unable to sleep at night and being overtired in the morning
  • falling ill while on school holidays
  • moodiness (anger or sadness) for no apparent reason
  • fear of failure (that inner voice that says 'I can't teach')
Everybody worries and it would be foolish to tell yourself to stop but here are some tried and trusted ways you can keep control of those worrisome thoughts.

1. Is this real or imaginary worry

Get your thoughts into perspective. I once saw a chart on a classroom wall for students that was called the catastrophe scale. At the top it had death or illness, in the middle it had falling or hurting yourself and near the bottom it had somebody saying mean words. It was a great chart and if I could grab a copy someday I'd love to place it in my classroom. For now I've made a freebie of a similar activity you can do with your students to get worries into perspective. For teachers, however, it's easy to be self-critical. Stop. Ask yourself 'is this real or am I imagining this problem?'. You can't predict the future, so stop trying. 

2. Be aware of your thoughts

Don't let your thoughts slide into negativity. Try to be aware of when your heart rate is going up, your breathing is harder or your chest feels tight. If you feel like this, take action and try to address those worries. 

3. Do something about it

After assessing your worry to see if it's real or imaginary, then check your thought process, next try to share this worry with a friend. Sometimes it takes an outside party to get your thinking into perspective. Try to remind yourself of the things you do well and try to build your inner confidence.

4.Take care of yourself

Meditate, take a hot bath or a shower, read a book or play a game. Do whatever it takes to get that worry into perspective and to do this you need distance from the problem.

5. Think clearly

Try to remove emotion from the problem, when you do this you give the situation clarity. Once you have clarity, then write an action plan for yourself. How will you fix the problem or how will you deal with it if this problem arises. Having an action plan will help you get your thinking straight about how you're going to cope with the issue and takes the pressure off your immediate worry.



What’s the best seating arrangement for your class?

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You get your new classroom key. You walk excitedly to your new room and unlock the door. Inside you see a stack of chairs and tables in the corner. So where to begin?

First things first.

You need to get your tables in an arrangement that will facilitate learning by allowing your students to see you and the board.

TEACHER DESK

The placement of your teacher desk is important and is the first place to start. You need to be able to see the whole classroom and have access storage.

Some things to consider are:

Line of sight. Are you going to have a good view of the room while sitting at the desk?

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Are you going to teach from the desk? If you have a laptop that can only be plugged in at the desk, then you may have to use this a your base but may want to invest in an iPad you can mirror your devise to so you’re free to roam the room.

Where will you store your papers that need marking and teaching materials?

Once your teacher desk is set up you can then get a clear idea of how to set up the student’s desks .

STUDENT DESKS

Things to consider:

How do you prefer students to work?

- In groups.
- in pairs.
- independently
- combination of all three

Your decision making will depend on how well behaved your students are, which you won’t know until you get to know them. You may wish to start off in groups and then move to independent learning later. Don’t be afraid to mix it up each month but try not o change the arrangement too often as this can cause students stress.

Here are my favourite arrangements for the best teaching activities.

HORSESHOE

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As the name suggests, you arrange desks in a u shape pattern facing the board.
Good for: independent work or pair work and everybody can see the board
Bad for: group work and those kids who love to talk to their neighbour

GROUP TABLES (6 to a group)

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Small groups with no more than 6 students. Remember the number of students is important because you may want to switch it up to do pair work. Anything bigger and you’ll find they get too noisy. Anything smaller and they tend to split into pairs and don’t have a team feel.
Good for: group works, team building, pair work within groups and behaviour management and post scoring.
Bad for: chatting and overly competitiveness between groups (be strategic with who you place in each group and move those talkers around to stop the group being penalised too much). Also some students may not see the board as easily as others.

ROWS
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Old fashioned yes but sometimes necessary for a class with behaviour problems. All students face the front and everybody can see the board.
Good for: teachers - you can see everybody all the time and can nip those behaviour problems in the bud right away. Also good for keeping those struggling students near the front so you can help them out easily. Pair work is easy in this set up if you keep the numbers in each row even.
Bad for: group work (you can turn rows into groups for activities away from desks but collaboration is near impossible in this arrangement). Students at the back may end up your high achievers who need less one-to-one support but they may also stress about being so far back they can’t see the board enough.

COMBINATION SET UP

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This is a mix of the all of the previously mentioned set-ups and sometimes is the best arrangement when you need to cater for different abilities. Placing higher students near the back, students that need that one-to-one near the front. Groups and pair work possibilities or just the configuration of you classroom furniture will force you to select a combination plan. 

You can find these plans plus many more ideas in the Classroom Seating Chart pack where you can also find some printables to create your own seating plan.



How to make sure your students really understand your classroom rules

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How do you make sure your students really understand your classroom rules? 

You can place posters all over your room. They can be bright and engaging but at the end of the day, like any piece of advertising, they need engagement. Students need to read these posters and truly understand them. They will notice them the first time they are put up but how often do you go over the rules again and again throughout the year? Like busy teachers everywhere, you let little things slide until the only rule left is the 'hands up' rule.

To see if your classroom rules posters are effective ask yourself:

  • Can my students name ALL the classroom rules?
  • Do my students know what 'sitting quietly' looks like, sounds like, feels like?
  • Do students know what to do if somebody is breaking the rules?
To have rules, means you have to have consequences. Make sure your consequences are clear, within school policy (some schools don't allow students to stay in after school for detention) and make sure you are consistent with the rule breakers.

Students also need to understand what the rule means. 

Let's take the rule, that almost every school has; sit still and do not call out.

Do students KNOW what 'sitting still' means? You assume they do but very young children may not have that clear understanding and older children may have come from different backgrounds where 'sitting still' may have meant something different. You will need to model 'sitting still' for children of all ages.

MODELLING

I usually draw a picture on the whiteboard or show them a poster of a child sitting and point out all the ways they are sitting quietly. This technique is called whole body listening.
  • EYES on the teacher (not looking around the room)
  • EARS are open and listening to the teacher
  • HANDS are to yourself (either crossed in lap or by sides but not touching anybody else)
  • LEGS are crossed (not to the side or stretched to the front)
  • MOUTH is closed (not talking or humming)
You won't need to model this more than a few times at the start of each lesson and as the weeks roll by your students will understand what you mean by sitting quietly. You can keep a poster up to point to occasionally without speaking as a non-verbal reminder to do the right thing.

Tip: I taught with hearing impaired students and learnt the sign for sit and quiet. I highly recommend you use these signs every time you mention sitting quietly with your class. When you go to parades or special assemblies they become invaluable to use with your class when you can't make a sound. Just catch their eye and do the sign. They will know what you mean!

REINFORCEMENT

Always, always, always use positive behaviour management in your class. I sometimes forget and when behaviour is getting out of hand I remember to use my old training of positive behaviour management and ZAP it's like magic... they all behave instantly! This is when I kick myself for not using it sooner! Positive behaviour management means focusing on the good behaviour you want students to demonstrate, rather than picking up and focusing on the bad behaviour.

Example:

(noisy class)
"Oh goodness I can see Jason down the front here and he's showing me some lovely whole body listening. His eyes are on the teacher. His mouth is closed. His arms are folded. His feet are to himself" and go on to describe the perfect way this student is sitting quietly. 

If you want to check and see if it's really working (other than the noise stopping right away) you can add "...and he's sitting so straight!" and watch all the students suddenly straighten their backs to sit neater! Make sure you start to praise other students around the room who are doing the right thing. 


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At the start of the school year, I introduce students to my rule posters and then follow up with some hands-on activities to make sure students understand. I model myself, reinforce when other students do the right thing and even get students to take ownership by letting them design or make a poster of rules for the classroom wall. It is, after all, THEIR classroom. 

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How to make amazing ANZAC buscuits


ANZAC Day is held in both Australia and New Zealand each year on the 25th of April to commemorate the end of the World War 1. Traditionally, Australians make ANZAC biscuits on the 25th April to share with families on this special day. 

First made in 1915, these little beauties were made by families at home and posted to soldiers overseas at the battle front. ANZAC biscuits are very hard and were designed to last a long time during their travel to soldiers who would crush them up and eat them as porridge. 

There are many traditional recipes for making ANZAC biscuits but this one will make your biscuits a little less hard than normally and taste amazing!

Ingredients:
1 cup Self Raising Flour
1/2 cup Sugar
1 cup Rolled Oats
3/4 cup of Coconut
100 grams Reduced Fat Margarine
1 1/2 tbls Golden Syrup
1 tsp Bi Carb Soda
1 tsp Hot water

Method:
Mix the first 4 ingredients together in a large bowl.
Place the remaining ingredients in a glass jug and pop into the microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes until the butter has melted.
Mix all the ingredients together and roll into balls. Add 1 tbsp of water if dry. 
Place onto a baking tray and bake for 180 degrees for about 15 minutes until golden.

Makes 18 biscuits. 

You may also enjoy reading the fantastic picture book ANZAC Biscuits by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan. A moving story that compares the life of a little girl preparing biscuits for her father and his life on the front line. 



When discussing commemorations and celebrations with your students (click here to see what the difference is between the two) it's great fun to make some ANZAC biscuits with your students so they can get some hands-on learning with their HASS subject. 

You will find the complete recipe for ANZAC biscuits plus a method recount activity in the ANZAC Day Activity Pack.