Issue 83:Attracting Attention

I’ve tried a number of ways of gaining the attention of a class of children who are all otherwise engaged. These techniques have all worked, in the various teaching environments that I find myself.

The main tactic is to try and remove energy (or noise) from the teaching space, rather than adding to it. I save my really, really, loud, shouty voice for exceptional occasions – probably only once every other year. It is also very important to have clear and consistent signals for silence.

The signals I tend to use are:

I raise my hand, everyone raises their hand AND stops talking/playing as soon as they notice what is going on. Anyone caught still playing their instrument with the other hand has their beater/instrument temporarily removed. This signal works well when the children are scattered around the space working individually or in groups.

I hold my hand out, balled into a closed shape (sounds so much gentler than saying “make a fist”!). I use this when we are all sitting in a circle, for example in djembe lessons, or class music lessons.

Many class teachers clap a rhythm, and all the children join in and look at the teacher. They usually use the “Don’t clap this-one-back” pattern, which can cause confusion when you then teach them the game, so I tend not to use this method in music. Besides it is noisy and I’m after silence!

Here are a few other situations

Situation 1: Children seated, facing a whiteboard which I am using to teach from. They could be sitting on the carpet, or at tables arranged in groups or a horse-shoe shape. There is a constant tendency to chat, and fidget. This situation is most likely when it is the last lesson of the afternoon, especially last lesson of Friday afternoon!

Response: I stop in mid-sentence and slump against the whiteboard, close my eyes and pretend to have gone to sleep. The chatter stops, and the children start shushing each other and telling each other “Shh, she’s gone to sleep again” (you can tell that they are getting used to me). Once it is quiet, I “come to” and continue where I left off as though nothing had happened.

Situation 2: Children seated as above, but where I don’t have a whiteboard or easel or wall to slump against

Response: I ostentatiously bare my wrist watch in front of me and stare at it, ignoring the children. Once I have their attention, I tell them how long I have been looking at the time. Usually they get the hint; the next time I start staring at my watch, they try and “beat” the time it took previously. If possible, I make a point of writing down how long they took somewhere obvious.

Situation 3: Children need on-going reinforcement to develop the habit of paying attention.

Response: I plan some kind of reward, for example a favourite game or song. I promise that we will do this reward activity at the end of the lesson, and the length of time we do it for depends on number of “marbles in the jar” at the end of the lesson. The “marbles” can be any appealing visual signal; eg blu-tac large stars to the wall, draw a jar and marbles on the whiteboard. It is up to you whether “marbles” can be removed as well as added. You MUST keep your promise! If there aren’t many marbles in the jar by the end of the lesson, they may just get to sing just the first verse – this week! See if you can do better next week!

Situation 4: – Working “with” the class

I explain that there are a number of things that I “need” to get done n the lesson, and once we have done what’s on my list, we can finish with – a favourite game, song, activity. Then, if they start getting distracted, I remind them that they are at risk of not getting through the things on my list before the end of the lesson, and missing out on the reward activity. It is similar to the last idea, but without the visual reminder.


Well – good luck for this coming term!

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