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  • by Blaine Helwig

"Class Do I have Your Attention?"

A more often than not truism in an elementary classroom of children is, ‘if it starts poorly, it usually continues.’ This short phrase could pertain to many happenings in a normal school day, but I am specifically referring to the beginning of a daily lesson. If there is one factor outside of years of teaching experience that I have observed over the years that separates effective teaching from the ineffective, it is the technique teachers begin their lesson regardless of the core subject. Simply put, are the students listening and paying attention to the teacher’s instructions and the direct teach portion of the daily lesson? Successful entry-level teachers key into this aspect of instruction and veteran teachers know that regardless of lesson preparation and content, student learning is diminished without first securing the classes’ attention.

How do I get students’ undivided attention at the outset of the lesson?

Like all else in our life, this question is a learned skill in teaching, and teachers have developed unique ways of capturing students’ attention. However, an attention-grabbing routine is highly dependent upon a student’s age. Normally, a primary elementary teacher will use a different technique than either an intermediate elementary teacher or a secondary classroom teacher. Maturation is a determining factor on the selected method and its relative effectiveness. However, if you are new to a school or to the teaching profession, I recommend asking seasoned teachers at or near your grade level what techniques they are using that work well. They may have a standard and effective method in place, and in doing so, you are implementing an established system that students are familiar and recognize as a cue to ready themselves for the lesson. The use of this system generally benefits the novice or new teacher to a school from a campus culture rationale or if the grade level has an effective strategy in place, then – As the old adage states, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Effective methods to focus students’ attention that I have used and observed other colleagues using are the following:

  • ”Pencils in the air!” This is quick, visual and effective. The child’s dominant hand is in the air and the teacher can scan the room and ensure children’s eyes are fixed on her. Use with 1st grade through 5th grade students.

  • “If you can hear me, touch your head. If you can hear me, touch your ear. Etc.” Use with primary children – prekindergarten to kindergarten ages.

  • “Eyes on me, voices silent, let’s begin.” Firm teacher voice required. Use with 3rd through 5th grade students.

  • "Graham Scotties" - Students Reply: "Ready to Learn!" A call and response or chant of some kind are highly effective. Chant should be simple, short and easy to remember. All elementary grades.

The teacher should choose the method that fits their teaching style, classroom setting and they may consider standing in proximity to easily distracted students when initiating their lesson readiness cue. The technique must also be consistently used, and adding a positive message is often helpful. For example, “I see Jesus is ready to begin.” Or, “Green table is ready to go. Great job.” Of course, these routines are essential in establishing both classroom control and collective engagement, quickly.

Finally, teachers please heed the following advice: Do not begin the lesson if students are not paying attention to you. It is a pedagogical cardinal sin! Students will continue with that poor behavioral habit in the future and quite often, other students emulate the bad behavior. In the end, student learning suffers as teachers discover they must repeat their instructions for a handful of students negatively affecting the overall lesson flow.


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