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5 Ways to Keep Students’ Attention in Class

A common struggle every instructor has is how to consistently keep students’ attention during class. Particularly as the semester wares on students begin to show academic fatigue and look longingly towards spring/fall/winter break. As an instructor, I even find it difficult to have continuous focused energy during my lectures. Implementing an engagement trigger into your lecture is a great way to keep students’ attention on the class material and raise energy levels.

  1. Think-Pair-Share

Think-Pair-Share is an activity that poses a question to students that they first consider on their own, and then discuss with a fellow student before settling on a final answer. You can also extend the “share” component by asking pairs of students to share their conclusions with the rest of the class. This is a great way to motivate students, encourage discussion, and promote higher-level thinking. A think-pair-share can take as little as three minutes or can be longer, depending on the question or task.

  1. One-Minute Writing

One-Minute Writing asks students to stop what they are doing and produce a written response in only one minute. This can be used during the lecture as a way to help students digest the material covered by the lecture or at the end of class summary reflection. It’s a great way for students to help identify areas they didn’t understand and can also allow students an opportunity for immediate application of the information. If your class is small enough, consider collecting these at the end to get a better understanding of where your students are at in the content.

  1. The Pause Procedure

An activity based on the fact that the human mind has limited attention span and needs quick “reset” breaks. Instructors can often visibly see their students beginning to day dream, check their phones, and lose focus. Divide your lecture into 10 or 15-minute segments with a timed, 2-minute break in between each segment. During this break, students can check their phones, compare notes, run to the restroom, etc. Giving students’ mind a quick break can help them reset their focus and clear away persisting distractions.

  1. Demonstrations

Demonstrations may involve all students or a subset of students demonstrating to the entire class a concept or principle that has just been taught (or will be taught). Demonstrations can engage direct and indirect participants and can be applied to a wide variety of topics. This also solidifies the learning of the demonstrator and gives him or her the opportunity to practice their oral communication skills.

  1. Using Technology and Media

While using technology can be intimidating to instructors (and cause unpredictable problems), the overall benefits are enormous to get students engaged. Playing videos relevant to the topics are a way to get students interested in thinking about the material. Another appealing approach in my classroom is playing music while working on group activities in class. I often let students choose the playlist and this really elevates our classroom out of a traditional lecture format.

With any of the engagement triggers mentioned above, they can be more effective if students are given the opportunity to get up and move around, if your room allows. Adding a physical component to help break up the monotony of a lecture and let students refocus.

Since most of these activities are not directly controlled by the instructor, a common concern of this that students may not stay on topic during the activity. While this isn’t ideal, it’s doesn’t render the activity useless.  The most important thing is that they get that break and that they are doing something active to help bring them back to the lecture refreshed.

About the Author

Kyle B. Moninger instructs the Quantitative Business Curriculum at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He teaches and plans undergraduate courses in statistics and business calculus, serves on the Quantitative Business Curriculum committee, and supervises the college's math and stats tutoring center. Kyle has been a visiting instructor three times at Tianjin Polytechnic University in Tianjin, China, and was previously a data scientist at Owens Corning in Toledo, Ohio, where he designed and implemented a corporate training program on business intelligence and analytics.

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