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5 Teaching Strategies for Getting Students to Focus

Janelle Cox

As a teacher you’ve seen the many different ways that your students can be unfocused, from daydreaming in their seats to gossiping with their friends. It’s never easy to keep a child’s attention.  These days, it’s getting even harder to keep students focused, especially with the average attention span being only about eight seconds. There’s no denying that most children have trouble staying still -- that’s why so many classrooms have implemented flexible seating. But, as children get older they are required to stay a little more focused then before, and it’s our jobs as teachers to help them do just that. Here are five teaching strategies to help your students’ minds stay focused.

Teaching Strategies: Start the Class with Movement

If you’re an elementary school teacher, then you know that young children do not want to sit still for longer than a minute. As much as you’d like them to get their wiggles out so you can teach them, that’s not always possible. What you can do is start you day off on the right track by implementing movement first thing in the morning. Before you even begin to teach or during your morning meeting, have students move their bodies so their brains will be ready to work. Students can sing, dance, do yoga, play a quick review game, or you can even go on GoNoddle. As long as students are moving in the morning, there’s a better chance that they’ll focus later.

Remove All Distractions

You’re probably thinking that it’s impossible to remove all distractions when you have a classroom full of children, but what you can do is try and remove as many distractions as possible. Let’s say that the bright light in the room is distracting for many students. Just turn it off! Or, if students are too loud in the hallway, you can shut the door. If you notice that a student is being disruptive to another student, you can move them to another seat in the room. These are just a few of the ways that you can remove any distractions to help your students focus more on what they are doing.

Have Students Make a “To Do” List

Another tip to get students to focus is to have them write out a “To do” list. Sometimes, when children have a lot on their plate, it can get overwhelming. However, a “To do” list can help students visually see everything that needs to be completed, and as they complete each task on the list they can cross it off, which will give them a feeling of accomplishment. This is also a great way to help them focus on one task at a time without feeling so overwhelmed.

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Take Brain Breaks

One you’ve seen students focus on a task for a significant period of time (that will depend upon their age), then you can give them a quick brain break. According to research, brain breaks are simple physical and mental exercises that are designed to restore attention. The theory is that learning through movement increases oxygen into the bloodstream, which leads to improved concentration. Many studies have proven that brain breaks have a positive effect on students’ academic performance. Try implementing several brain breaks throughout your day. You’ll be able to find something that will help your students unwind and refocus in this brain breaks guide.

Help Students Build Endurance

Another way that you can help students learn to stay focused is to help them build their Attention” endurance. This means to help students learn how they can focus for longer periods of time. You can do that by relating it to something that they know. For example, you can use the analogy of a professional athlete. A professional athlete has to train every day for months at a time in order to be in the shape they need to be in to do their job well. Students need to understand that this takes time, patience and a lot of practice. Students too can build their attention endurance in anything that they do, just as long as they put the time and effort in each day. If they want to learn to focus their attention on reading during D.E.A.R time for 30 minutes straight, then they need to work towards that goal every single day, and eventually they will get there.

When children are engaged, there’s a better chance that they’ll stay focused. Try hard to incorporate activities that get your students up and moving. With the average attention span decreasing as it is, today’s teachers are going to have to become more and more creative to keep their students focused on what their learning.

How do you help your students to stay focused? Feel free to leave your teaching strategies and ideas on this topic in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.