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Classroom strategies to increase attention in kids

March 17, 2014
Original Author: Christa Bigue

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My thought is, What is five minutes out of the day, compared to zoning out for an entire afternoon?

Kristen Benedetti


Taking frequent short breaks throughout the day, practicing listening and conversational skills with the students on a day-to-day basis and moving toward “project based” learning, which offers students options to enhance their learning through discovery and realization by “doing,” are some strategies being implemented in classrooms today.

Teachers like Mary Doherty, a second grade teacher at a K-8 school in San Mateo, Calif., and fourth grade teacher Kristen Benedetti are implementing these strategies into their classroom to help students stay engaged and keep on task throughout the school day.

Taking Breaks

Frequent bathroom and water breaks as well as stretching and relaxation breaks are necessity for a child to remain focused and eager to learn, says Doherty.

This includes interesting and exciting opportunities to discover their world outside the classroom such as field trips and nature walks.

Teachers can provide kinesthetic activities outside and inside the classroom to improve mobility and oxygen flow to the child’s brain.

“My thought is, What is five minutes out of the day, compared to zoning out for an entire afternoon?” says Benedetti.

Practicing Listening and Conversational Skills

Teachers can address inattention issues by practicing listening and conversational skills with the students on a day-to-day basis, says Doherty.

Here are a few common classroom practices that Doherty applies to individual and group conversations in her classroom:

1.   One person speaks at a time without any interruptions (this of course while the teacher is speaking, but also includes other students, parents and adults.)

2.   Everyone must turn and face the speaker, put everything down and give full eye contact.

3.   The listener should “feed back” what was said and take the responsibility to ask clarifying questions

4.   The speaker asks for the listener to repeat back what was said.

5.   Teachers give students ample opportunities for presenting projects, reading reports and sharing ideas.

Moving around the Classroom in Group Activities 

To help students with less recess time and issues of distraction in a multi-tasking world, today’s classroom can look very different from one just 10 years ago. More teachers are engaging students in learning centers, which allow the students to move around the classroom engaged in “mat” work activities that offer manipulatives and other hands-on activities.

Schools are also moving toward “project based” learning that offers students options to enhance their learning through discovery and realization by “doing,” says Doherty. In many schools, elementary students are changing classes to go to music, Spanish, P.E. and art.

“These learners are successful in activities that allow them to move around the classroom and engage in group activities,” says Doherty. “SmartBoard activities and science experiments are ideal for these learners. As children are exposed to more technology, the need be rewarded for their focused attention increases.”

This means that all the bells and whistles that provide immediate gratification in Smart phones, video games, DVD’s, social media and Internet activities contribute to a lack of focus and patience in a classroom environment, says Doherty.

Sometimes minimizing distraction in a classroom comes down to the type of pencil or pen students are using. In Benedetti’s fourth grade classroom, all the students have the same pencil case that she purchased for each student that includes yellow No. 2 pencils, erasable pens, red pen and highlighter.

“Those are the only supplies allowed in the case given to them,” she says, and it levels the playing field, allowing students to get the work done by not getting distracted with the tools needed to do the job.

She also uses cubbies where students can store their materials.

“They are dismissed by group in the morning to grab the materials they need until lunch, and are dismissed again in an orderly fashion after lunch to get any book they need for the rest of the afternoon.”

She uses trays for class work, labeled for each subject and located in a separate area in the classroom than the homework trays to limit confusion.

She also has students arranged in table groups of six with group monitors assigned each week to collect papers, organize activities and grab appropriate baskets for different subject matters like art and math.

“This all limits the amount of distraction with students getting up and down,” she says.

When focus behavior continues to be a distraction, the student must sign a log, which also tracks study skills.

“It’s just a tracking device for student behavior and skills and a means of communication between teacher and parents,” she says.