Tuesday, January 15, 2013


6 easy ways to keep their attention by keeping the focus on them

Losing control of a class can happen (even without a cross-eyed teacher), but the best way to prevent it from happening is keep students focused!

How do I keep a class' focus?

Well there are the usual steps.
  • Make classes dynamic and interactive not just a lecture. 
  • Appeal to all types of learners with pictures, songs, texts and activities. 

However, when I really think about what I do to keep my classes focused: I focus on them. Here are probably the 6 most noticeable steps I have taken to focus my lessons on my students.

1. Though I am not a gigantic twitter fan, my students are, so I have a twitter account I use with my students. It works fantastically. They stay up to date with assignments, are easier to reach if I have a question, and are more likely to ask me when they have questions. Using twitter is easy enough for any teacher to do it (Twitter 101) and it keeps my students engaged.

2. I also know my students love memes, puns, and other things found on sites such as 9gag or funnyjunk. So I make sure to peruse the sites and grab any class appropriate pictures which I can use in class. Many time this is a grammar comic, but sometimes it ends up being something relevant to something we've read in class (The Body by Stephen King, The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe) by showing them that the stuff we learn is still referenced in places they like they become more interested in class. These things can be tweeted, or used as attention getting devices in a lesson.

3. In addition to 9gag and funnyjunk most of my students are musicphiles. So at least once a week I work a song into the lesson somehow. There are tons of ways to do it! Even though I try to avoid clozes, those will work in a pinch. Here is a bunch of ways to use songs in class. Even when I am not using the songs themselves I use the artists. Instead of a textbook text students need to correct I'll use an article on PSY's rise to international fame where I have added errors. Or when making fill in the blank exercises instead of, "Susie, _____ is Johnny's friend, is tall." I'll say, "Lady Gaga, _____ is a singer, has a crush on Justin Bieber." Students pay much more attention to those worksheets!

4. Students also like movies (surprise, surprise) so I try to get visual clips in whenever. This semester we are reading the Body. Each week, after they take the quiz, they will watch the excerpt from the movie (Stand by Me) that matches what they read. We will discuss the differences and they will be able to cement their understanding of the story. I also use short films, silent films and use music videos like films!

5. And of course... GAMES! I don't use them all the time, but I have a staple of games that can be used at the end, beginning or middle of class to review grammar, vocabulary or general concepts. Sometimes they are games designed to cool things down (Like a folding game) other times they are to wake them up (Snowball Fight!) and everything in between.

6. Finally, I make sure to include students in my classes. If that means using pictures of them (school pictures that I have permission to use) when teaching about relative phrases, then that's what I do. I use them as examples (always appropriate) in worksheets as well! Most importantly I promote what they do! If they made an awesome video as homework, I save it and show it to other classes (Reference Words, Commas, Relative Clauses). Not only do the students whose work I share feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, but the other students are interested in seeing their friends' finished product and thus pay more attention.

Do you use any of these? How do they work for you?


  1. Good tips, eh!
    It encourages me to start working as an ELT.
    Congratulations on your great post, Carissa!
    Best regards from Brazil!

    1. So glad you found it helpful! If you end up working in ELT let me know how it goes, and I hope all is well in Brazil.

  2. This is all very interesting! What I find difficult is to organize all the work. You know, during my summer vacations I like preparing lesson plans, worksheets and so on. But when lessons start, I lose control of everything, time goes by and I don't manage to use all the material I have worked on :( I only use a couple of things and that's all.
    Any suggestion? Thanks :)

    1. I tend to overplan and not use everything.

      I am also a big fan of using in the class. I project times on the board so students know exactly what, "you have five minutes" means. If something is going really well though I extend the time and dismiss a different acitivity (or shorten it), and save the rest for the next class in case they finish too quickly (or offer it as extra credit / homework).

    2. Thanks! I'll try the site you suggest!

  3. Great post of interesting and effective ways to keep students interested and involved. It certainly makes the day more fun for me and there are fewer problems when students are engaged in role play, seminars, collaboration with Google Docs, etc. Coincidentally, I was in our school media closet yesterday considering excerpts from The Body to use with 7th graders, but I was put off by the language. How do you deal with it? Thanks.

    1. Are you referring to clips from "Stand By Me" or the Novella? You're right the language is pretty authentic. The abridged version (Body (Penguin Longman Reader Level 5)) is what we are using and they cut down on most of the swearing. There is still some ass and shit (which my school is OK with) and I changed all the pussies to wussies(personal preference).

      As for the movie there's a made for TV version that did some pretty nice editing, however my students are old enough to watch to video in Mexico so I am not watching the edited version and permission slips were deemed not needed.

      When other teachers have taught they have just used excerpts which don't have as much swearing, the deer chapter for example.

      Once I finish the unit I plan on doing another post about how it went, I'll be sure to link it here as well!

    2. We've got about 30 pristine copies of King's Different Seasons in the media center. I'd like to use both The Body and Rita Hayworth, but we're pretty straitlaced around here. Thanks for the information.
      I missed out on Culiacan during the Parral-Durango-Mazatlan-La Paz leg of my Mexico trip. How do you like it? I ended up back in Mexico a few months later and spent two years in Aguascalientes teaching English. It was my "student teaching" stint, and I've been in education ever since.


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