For Teachers

How to Get (and Keep!) a Student’s Attention

If you’re not appealing to children with ADHD, they aren’t learning! Grab your students’ attention with these strategies for the classroom.

ADHD Children and Attention in the Classroom
ADHD Children and Attention in the Classroom

Keeping a student who has attention-deficit problems (ADHD) focused and on-task in the classroom is a challenge to teachers, and it requires experimenting with a variety of approaches.

Overhead projectors are among the best tools for focusing a child’s attention, because they allow the teacher to frame important information by blocking irrelevant parts of the transparency to face students; to avoid instructional lag time while writing on the board and erasing; and to prepare transparencies in advance, saving instructional time.

Even better? Document cameras-instructional tools that let you project 3-D objects and pages directly (without a transparency).

Here are additional ideas for capturing students’ attention:

Use storytelling, real-life examples, and anecdotes. Children love to hear stories — particularly ones that happened to the teacher when he or she was a child.

Add a bit of mystery by bringing in one or more objects relevant to the upcoming lesson in a box, bag, or even a pillowcase. This is a wonderful way to generate lively discussions or writing activities.

Signal to students through the use of musical instruments — ringing a bell, chimes, or xylophone, or playing a bar or a chord on a keyboard or guitar is an effective way to get their attention.

Use clear verbal signals. When you want to highlight important information on a certain topic, say, “Freeze, this is important…” or “Everybody, ready…” or “One, two, three, eyes on me.”

Flash the overhead lights or raise your hand to signal that it is time to be silent and pay attention. To get students to focus on a specific object or word, turn off the lights and illuminate it with a flashlight or laser pointer.

Call students up front to the board, on occasion, and give individual instruction.

Encourage students to write on transparencies used with overhead projectors. For example, give a group of students a blank transparency and several colored pens, and ask them to solve a math problem. (With a document camera, this can be done from any piece of paper.) Their work can then be shared and discussed with the class.

Draw a colored frame around material you want students to pay close attention to.

Change your voice — talk louder, in a higher or lower pitch, or whisper — to draw attention to important information.

Illustrate vocabulary words and science concepts with small drawings or stick figures.

Clap in a particular pattern, and have students clap in the same pattern back to you.

Move around the classroom when presenting material, to maintain your visibility.