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Principles of Organizing Activities for Students With Shorter Attention Spans

Principles of Organizing Activities for Students With Shorter Attention Spans | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Paying attention can be a difficult task. This can be particularly difficult for children, as well as those with short attention spans. At my current job as a mental health clinical caseworker, I teach coping and communication skills to clients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as clients with other mental health or learning disabilities. In this position, I have learned some tricks and tips for helping clients improve their attentional abilities, reduce off-task and distracted behavior, and improve working memory. Being able to pay attention and absorb the information being presented is a very important skill and is critical for a student’s success in most if not all classes. In this essay, I will describe different techniques that I believe will aid teachers who are educating students with shorter attention spans and for most students in general.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Andrew S. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Changing activities

One technique to keep things interesting in the classroom and keep students attentive and involved is to change things up regularly. For instance, rather than having two or three lengthy activities per class, one might have six or shorter activities. Try to keep these activities or lessons short and to the point, staying on topic and trying to avoid adding more than what is needed. It is also important to keep teacher talk time to a minimum, especially when teaching students with shorter attention spans. Interactive activities are more engaging than individual activities such as reading, writing, or busy work so try to pair the students up often and keep the lessons engaging and interesting. While it is quite useful to try to teach interesting stuff as often as possible, there will be some lessons that may be perceived as slow, boring, or dull. That does not mean they can’t be taught interestingly. One example of how to do this could be to turn a vocabulary lesson into a game and have the class split into teams to compete for points, which would be awarded to the group who correctly answered vocabulary questions.

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Breaking down the tasks

Another strategy to aid students with short attention spans is to break tasks down into smaller more manageable parts. Some students can become overwhelmed if classwork appears too complex or intimidating but when one breaks the larger task down into smaller steps it can help students be more confident in approaching the problem. In a normal class, one is likely to have a mix of students with different learning speeds, some may only pay to be able to attend for 5 minutes, others much longer, it is important to prepare material for students at both ends of this spectrum. If the student has a short attention span it is helpful to use incremental advancement. An example of this might be to have the student focus on the lesson for 5 minutes and then allow 5 minutes for free time. Starting at a minimum of required attention, with a period of free time following it, then gradually building up the amount of required focus time incrementally. This practice can build students' ability to maintain attention for longer and longer periods. For students who are fast learners, it is beneficial to have enrichment material or busy work to keep them occupied and not bored while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, again it is helpful if this material is interesting and even better if it is aimed at the individual's learning level. Lastly, the environment can have a tremendous impact on a student’s ability to maintain attention during class.

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Eliminating distractions

It is important because you want the students focused on the lesson being presented, not the random stuff on the walls, or stuff strewn about the classroom. This can include seat placement, wall decorations, and unnecessary objects left in the classroom. Keeping the temperature comfortable is very helpful in creating an optimum teaching environment. Finally, it is extremely helpful to bring a positive and encouraging attitude to the classroom. Simply by being open, helpful, attentive, and providing positive reinforcement to individuals and groups alike, you can help your students feel more confident in themselves and more comfortable to genuinely try in class.

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There are many ways to aid one’s students in staying focused. The lessons, pace, complexity, and student involvement are all important factors to consider. The layout of the learning environment is also a significant element in trying to help students remain attentive to the lesson being presented. I believe the most helpful tip to keep in mind is to be attentive to your students and their individual needs and to be encouraging and helpful.

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