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Center for Children with Special Needs Tufts-New England Medical Center Floating Hospital for Children

Strategies for Engaging Students Attention and Active Participation

Ways to get attention


Call students up front/close to you for direct instruction (e.g. Everyone come up and join me on the carpet!). Model excitement and enthusiasm about the upcoming lesson. Ask an interesting, speculative question, show a picture, tell a little story, or read a related poem to generate discussion and interest in the upcoming lesson. Try playfulness, silliness, theatrics (props and storytelling) to get attention and pique interest. Mystery. Bring in an object relevant to the upcoming lesson in a box, bag, pillowcase. This is a wonderful way to generate predictions and can lead to excellent discussions or writing activities. Establish a system of signaling cues: o Auditory cues: ring a bell or chimes, use a clap pattern, play a bar of music on the piano/guitar, use a verbal signal (FreezeThis is important) o Visual signals: flash the lights; raise your hand (which signals the students to raise their hands and close their mouths until everyone is silent and attentive). o Routine phrases: EverybodyReady o Eye contact. Students should be facing you when you are speaking, especially while instructions are being given. If students are seated in clusters, have those students not directly facing you; turn their chairs and bodies around when signaled to do so.

Ways to focus attention


Incorporate demonstrations and hands-on presentations into your teaching whenever possible. Explain the purpose and relevance to hook students in to your lesson. Move around in the classroom maintaining your visibility. Project your voice and make sure all students can clearly hear you. Be aware of competing sounds in your room environment (e.g. noisy heaters or air conditioning units). Teach thematically whenever possible this allows for integration of ideas/concepts and connections to be made. Incorporate visual techniques into your lesson plan: o COLOR is very effective in getting attention. Make use of colored dry erase pens on white boards, colored overhead pens for transparencies and overhear projects. o Position students so that they can see the board and/or overhead screen. Always allow students to readjust their seating and signal you if their visibility is blocked. o Write key words or pictures on the board or overhead projector while presenting. Use pictures, diagrams, gestures, manipulatives, demonstrations, and high-interest material. o Illustrate, illustrate, illustrate: Give yourself and students permission & encouragement to draw. It doesnt matter if you dont draw well to illustrate throughout your presentation. Drawings dont have to be sophisticated or accurate. In fact, often the sillier the better. o Point to written material you want students to focus on with a dowel, a stick/pointer, or laser pointer. o Use an overhead projector. On the overhead, you can model easily and frame important information. Transparencies can be made in advance, saving time. Transparencies can be partially covered up blocking out any distracting, visual stimuli. o Block material. Cover or remove from the visual field items you dont want students to focus on.

Ways to keep attention


Be well-prepared and avoid lag time in instruction. Format lessons using a brisk pacing and a variety of questioning techniques that involve the whole class, partner, and individual responses. Decrease the amount of time the teacher is doing the talking. Make all efforts to greatly increase student responses (saying and doing something with the information being taught): o Vary the way you call upon students. For example, Everyone wearing earrings, stand up this question is for you. (Students from that group may answer or have option to pass.) o Use higher-level questioning techniques. Ask questions that are open-ended, require reasoning, and stimulate critical thinking and discussion. o Prior to asking for a verbal response, ask a question and have all students write down their best guess answer first. Then call for volunteers to verbally answer the question. Utilize peer help to assist in student participation: o Use partner (pair-share) format for predicting, sharing ideas, clarifying directions, summarizing information, drilling/practicing (vocabulary, spelling words, math), shared reading of text, sharing writing assignments, discussing reading material. Ask for volunteers to share with the class. Who would be willing to share what you or your partner thought about o Use the proper structure for cooperative learning groups (e.g. assignment of roles, limited time, accountability). It is NOT just group work. Students with ADHD (and many others) do not function well in groups without clearly defined structure and expectations. o Make frequent use of group or unison responses when there is one correct and short answer. While presenting, stop frequently and have students repeat back a word or two. Provide materials that help maintain attention: o Allow students to use individual chalkboards or whiteboards throughout the lesson. This helps to check students understanding and determine who needs extra help and practice. o Utilize pre-made response cards for students to practice any content area information. Divide a card into 3-5 categories with answers written on those sections (e.g. period, question mark, exclamation point). Upon teacher questioning (e.g. reading a sentence), students place a clothespin on their answer (in this example which punctuation mark is needed in that sentence). o A response fan is made from a few cards with written responses, single-hole punched and held together with a ring or brad). Students hold up the answer with their response card. o Use study guides/sheets that are partial outlines. Students fill in the missing words based on what you are saying and/or writing on the board or overhead during the lesson. o Use motivating computer programs for specific skill building and practice (programs that provide for frequent feedback and self-correction).

Ways to keep attention during seat work


Only give a manageable amount of work that the student is capable of doing independently. Check that students understand directions before starting independent work. Make sure necessary supplies are available. Assign study buddies or partners for clarification of instructions. Use private cues or special I need help! signals (e.g. red stop sign on the desk). Scan the classroom frequently and positively reinforce on-task behavior. Provide examples on the desk for reference. Use behavior modification techniques to increase on-task behavior and decrease off-task behavior.

The information provided is adapted from tips by author Sandra Rief. Developed for the Learning, Education, and Attention in Pediatrics (LEAP) Clinic by the Center for Children with Special Needs (CCSN) and the Center on Child and Family Outcomes (CCFO) at Tufts-New England Medical Center in 2007.