Did you know that the average attention span of humans is down to eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish. This means that the first few minutes of instruction are key if you want to grab and keep your students’ attention. The teaching strategies you choose can make a huge difference on whether your students will be engaged or not. Think about the first five minutes of a lesson like you would the beginning of a movie: You’re either into it or you’re not. The same goes for a song, a book, or even an article that you want to read. You either stay listening to the song or read the entire article, or you change the channel or turn the page. When planning a lesson, you must use teaching strategies that are grand and that will capture your students’ interest.

Here are a few effective teaching strategies that can help you shift your students’ attention from life’s distractions to your lesson.

Teaser Teaching Strategies

When students enter your classroom, they’re trailing life’s distractions, like what video games they played last night, what they’re doing with their friends after school, or thinking about what they’re going to eat for lunch. While their bodies may be in your classroom, their minds may not. This is why it’s so important to find a way to deliberately focus your students’ attention to what you’re about to teach. You can start by using teasers to excite them and grab their attention about what they’re about to learn. You’ve seen it on television before, “Next on the news, a world famous actor has passed away,” or “Coming up next, learn how you can make money fast.” These “teasers” are meant to keep you watching. That is how you have to think about the first few minutes of your lesson. Your goal is to intrigue students to want to learn more.

Using teasers in the classroom to entice students can be fun. Think about what you’re about to teach students, then come up with a “teaser” that will capture their attention. In order for the teaser to work, it must first be relevant to what you are teaching and second, must live up to what you are teasing. For example, if you’re teaching about the digestive system, you can say “Next, we’re going to see what happens when you swallow gum.” This statement is meant to excite students to want to learn more about what happens when they swallow their gum. After the statement, you must then follow through and actually show them what happens. Great teasers may take some time to develop, but if you really want to know how to capture your students’ attention with a teaser, then you can just ask them. Make it a game and give them two options to choose from. This will help you understand what motivates them to want to learn more and will make it easier for you to write for your next lesson.

Using Captivating Questions

Another favorite teaching strategy to begin your lessons with a bang is to start with a question. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham in his book “Why Don’t Students Like School?” says that teachers should focus on questions, because when a student knows the question, the answer will be that much more interesting. Essentially, he’s saying that when you begin your class with a question, it will compel students to want to know the answer. Think about it like this: When you are listening to a song and can’t think of who sang it, you are compelled to find out, right? The same can go for your students when it comes to asking them an intriguing question that they just have to find the answer to. Take your time and really put some thought into your lessons’ opening questions.  Here are a few examples.

  • (Science) What is the smallest thing that you have ever held in your hand?
  • (History) Why do we need rules?
  • (Math) How can we use math to create a better world?
  • (ELA) What moves us to communicate through a digital era?

Activating Background Knowledge

Beginning an effective lesson that will really grab your students’ attention must also have the ability to activate your students’ prior knowledge. To ensure that students will be interested in what you are about to teach them, you must first know what they already know about the topic or at least what they think about it. Sometimes students will have a total misconception of the topic, and this is when you can address these misconceptions and steer them in the right direction with the right teasers or questions. You can also simply ask students to write down three things they think they know about the topic, then as a class you can discuss these things. This is a great way to help build confidence in students, because when they think they already know a little bit about the topic, they will feel more successful at tackling it.

Living in this fast-paced world means we must find ways to capture our students’ attention span before their eight seconds runs out. Asking compelling questions, finding out what students already know about a topic, and using teasers to intrigue students to want to learn more are all really great teaching strategies to begin our lessons in a captivating way.