In the dynamic world of education, keeping students engaged and attentive is a challenge every educator faces. Classrooms, the breeding grounds for future thinkers and innovators, can sometimes become arenas of boredom and disengagement. Boredom, as Vogel-Walcutt et al. (2012) stated, “occurs when an individual experiences both the (objective) neurological state of low arousal and the (subjective) psychological state of dissatisfaction, frustration, or disinterest in response to the low arousal” (p. 102). This state of boredom is not just an occasional inconvenience; it is a significant barrier to effective learning.

Research has consistently highlighted the detrimental effects of boredom on student learning. For instance, Wallace, Vodanovich, and Restino (2003) discussed how boredom correlates with attention deficit and memory lapses, signaling a deeper issue than mere disinterest. Furthermore, Pekrun et al. (2010) linked boredom to attentional problems in class, while Maroldo (1986) noted its association with lower GPAs and a decreased motivation to learn. This paints a clear picture: boredom is a multifaceted issue impacting various aspects of a student’s academic journey.

Recognizing the gravity of this challenge, educators have sought effective strategies to combat classroom boredom. Rosegard & Olson (2013) suggest that one effective approach is to increase arousal through external stimuli such as “a hook, trigger, attention getter/grabber, or anticipatory set” (p. 2). These methods are not mere distractions but are thoughtfully designed to ignite students’ curiosity and pull them into the heart of the learning experience. The goal is to transform passive listeners into active participants, engaged and intrigued by the material presented.

The purpose of this post is to share with you a wide range of practical strategies (attention getters or attention grabbers) to help keep your students focused and engaged. But before we explore these strategies, let us first a key concept which is at the core of students attention: Interest.

Situational Vs Personal/Individual Interest

At the core of any attention grabbing task in class lies the concept of interest. Interest is the catalyst that transforms mundane topics into captivating subjects. But what exactly is interest, and how does it function in an educational setting?

Interest, as Chen et al. () define it, is “a positive psychological state that is based on or emerges from person-activity interaction” (p. 384). Krapp, Hidi, and Renninger (1992) further categorize interest into two main categories: personal or individual interest and situational interest.

Situational interest, according to Chen et al. (), is ” the appealing effect of an activity or learning task on an individual, rather than the individual’s personal preference for the activity” (p. 384). Situational interest is interactional in nature. It is generated through the learner’s interaction with the learning task at hand and as, Chen et al state, results from “students recognition of the appeaking features associated with a specific learning task” (p. 384).

Personal/individual interest, according to the same authors, is “a person’s preference for one activity over others. It is developed over time through a person’s constant and consistent interaction with the activity” (p. 384).

But why does situational interest matter?

Situational interest plays a crucial role in the classroom as it acts as an immediate, emotional response that sparks curiosity or excitement in students about a specific topic or activity. This kind of interest is akin to a momentary flame that catches students’ attention, enhancing their focus and participation in the learning process (Rosegard & Olson, 2013).

Unlike individual interest, which develops slowly and is more enduring, situational interest is a powerful and immediate tool for educators to captivate students’ attention, thereby improving engagement and participation in educational activities (Hidi et al., 2004; Deci, 1992; Renninger et al., 1992).

Classroom Attention Getters

Here are some practical attention grabbers/ attention getters to use in your class to keep students engaged and focused:

1. Use Humour

Humour is a powerful tool in the classroom, engaging students and creating a positive learning environment (for a review of importance of humour in teaching see Martin, 2007; Rosegard & Olson, 2013; Wanzer et al., 2010; Ziv, 1988). By incorporating jokes, funny anecdotes, or light-hearted content, teachers can capture students’ attention and make lessons more memorable. For instance, starting a history lesson with a humorous story about a historical figure can pique students’ curiosity and make the topic more relatable.

2. Use of Multimedia

Multimedia integrates various forms of media, like videos, animations, and interactive content, to enrich the learning experience. This approach appeals to different learning styles and keeps students engaged (Mayer, 2003). For example, in a science class, an animated video explaining the solar system can make the concept more tangible and visually stimulating compared to traditional textbook descriptions.

3. Offer Choices

Offering choices in learning activities empowers students and fosters engagement. When students have a say in their learning process, they feel more invested. An example could be allowing students to choose between creating a poster, writing an essay, or making a presentation for a project. This autonomy caters to different strengths and interests.

4. Change Voice Pitch

Altering voice pitch and tone can be an effective way to maintain student attention. A varied vocal delivery prevents monotony and keeps students alert. For instance, a teacher might use a lower pitch to emphasize important points and a higher, enthusiastic tone for storytelling or explanations, helping to highlight key information and maintain engagement.

5. Use Technology

Incorporating technology, such as educational apps, interactive whiteboards, or online quizzes, can enhance learning and engagement. It caters to the digital natives in the classroom. For example, using a quiz app (e.g., Quizlet, Kahoot, Quizalize, etc) for a quick classroom competition allows for immediate feedback and adds a fun, interactive element to the lesson.

6. Use Music

Music can set the mood, energize the classroom, and aid in learning. It can be used to introduce a new topic, signal transitions, or support memory. For example, playing a relevant song at the beginning of a literature class discussing that era’s culture can immediately engage students and set the context for the lesson.

7. Personalized Intervention

Personalized intervention involves tailoring teaching methods and content to meet individual student needs. This approach recognizes that each student learns differently. A teacher might use this strategy by offering different reading materials at varying difficulty levels, ensuring each student is challenged appropriately.

8. Call and Response

Call and response is an interactive technique where the teacher says a phrase and students respond in unison. This method keeps students attentive and active in the learning process. For example, in a language class, the teacher might say a word in a foreign language, and students respond with the translation, reinforcing learning through repetition and engagement.

9. Sing It

Turning lessons into songs or incorporating music into teaching, as we have seen, can make learning more enjoyable and memorable. This method is particularly effective for memorization. In a math class, for instance, a teacher could create a catchy song to help students remember the order of operations.

10. Integrate Games

Games in education, whether digital or physical, can transform learning into an engaging, competitive experience. They encourage participation and can be used to reinforce concepts. An example is using a jeopardy-style game to review for a test, where students compete in teams to answer questions related to the subject matter, fostering both teamwork and knowledge retention.

11. Use Tongue Twisters

Tongue twisters are a fun and challenging way to grab students’ attention and improve their pronunciation and focus. For instance, starting a language class with a tongue twister related to the day’s lesson can energize students and sharpen their listening and speaking skills. It’s a playful approach that breaks the ice and increases alertness.

12. Try Unexpected Things

Introducing unexpected elements or activities in class can spark curiosity and hold students’ attention. This could be as simple as incorporating a surprising fact into a lesson or conducting a class outdoors. For example, teaching a biology lesson in the school garden can provide a refreshing change and make the learning experience more tangible and engaging.

13. Modify the Setting

Changing the physical layout or environment of the classroom can stimulate interest and engagement. Rearranging desks, decorating the room according to a theme, or even holding a class in a different location can make the learning experience fresh and exciting. For example, setting up a mock courtroom for a social studies lesson on government can bring the subject to life.

14. Bring Guests

Inviting guest speakers or experts can provide a new perspective and enliven the classroom experience. Guests can share real-world experiences, offer expertise, and make the learning more relevant. For example, inviting a local author to a literature class can offer insights into the writing process and inspire students.

15. Reward for Attention

Implementing a reward system for attentive and engaged behavior can motivate students. This could be in the form of points, privileges, or small prizes. For example, offering extra playtime or a homework pass to the most engaged group in a class project can incentivize students to participate actively.

16. Engage students Kinaesthetically

Kinaesthetic activities involve movement and physical activity, catering to learners who thrive on action. This can mean incorporating hands-on experiments, role-playing, or movement-based learning. For instance, in a geometry lesson, students could physically create shapes using ropes, helping them understand concepts through movement.

17. Use Timers

Timers can add a sense of urgency and excitement to tasks. They can be used to manage time for activities, games, or transitions between different parts of the lesson. For example, setting a timer for a quick brainstorming session can make the activity more dynamic and focus students’ efforts.

18. Ask Comprehension Check Questions

Periodically asking questions to check understanding keeps students on their toes and ensures active listening. These can be quick, informal questions related to the lesson’s content. In a history class, asking students to explain the significance of an event just discussed not only checks comprehension but also encourages them to articulate their understanding.

19. Incorporate Storytelling

Storytelling is a timeless technique that can captivate students’ attention. By weaving educational content into stories, or using narratives to introduce new topics, teachers can make lessons more engaging and relatable. For instance, explaining a scientific concept through a story about its discovery or application can help students visualize and better understand complex ideas.

20. Use Real-World Examples

Connecting classroom learning to real-world scenarios makes education more relevant and interesting. Discussing how theoretical knowledge is applied in everyday life or in various professions can stimulate curiosity. For example, in a math class, showing how algebra is used in architecture can provide a practical context and enhance engagement.

21. Create Mystery and Suspense

Building a sense of mystery or suspense in the classroom can be incredibly engaging. This could involve starting a lesson with a puzzling question, setting up a mystery for students to solve, or using a suspenseful narrative to unfold new topics. For instance, introducing a science lesson with a mysterious phenomenon that students have to explain using the day’s lesson can pique interest.

22. Utilize Student-Led Learning

Allowing students to take the lead in certain classroom activities empowers them and fosters a deeper level of engagement. This can involve students teaching a portion of the lesson, leading a discussion, or presenting their projects. For example, in a history class, students could be assigned to research and present different aspects of a historical event, encouraging active participation and peer learning.

23. Incorporate Role-Playing

Role-playing allows students to immerse themselves in a topic by acting out scenarios or historical events. This active participation can make learning more memorable and enjoyable. For example, in a social studies class, students could role-play as delegates from different countries in a model United Nations, helping them understand international relations and diplomacy through experience.

24. Conduct Debates

Organizing debates on relevant topics encourages critical thinking and active engagement. Students learn to research, formulate arguments, and consider different viewpoints. For example, a debate in a social studies class on a current political issue can deepen understanding and encourage students to engage with the material actively.

25. Implement Collaborative Projects

Collaborative projects involve students working together towards a common goal, fostering teamwork and engagement. This approach allows students to learn from each other and develop social skills. An example could be a group science project where each student contributes to building a model ecosystem, encouraging cooperation and hands-on learning.

26. Use Visual Aids

Visual aids like charts, graphs, and images can make abstract concepts more concrete and engaging. They appeal to visual learners and can help clarify complex information. In a geography class, using a large, detailed map to discuss geographical features and locations can make the lesson more interactive and understandable.

27. Encourage Peer Teaching

Peer teaching involves students teaching each other, reinforcing their own understanding while helping others. This method promotes active learning and builds communication skills. For instance, in a math class, students who grasp a concept quickly can be paired with those who need more help, facilitating mutual learning.

28. Integrate Field Trips

Field trips extend learning beyond the classroom, providing real-world experiences and a change of scenery that can reinvigorate student interest. Whether it’s a visit to a museum, a historical site, or a local business, these outings make learning more tangible and memorable. For example, a trip to a local science center can enhance a unit on physics by providing hands-on experiences with scientific principles.

29. Facilitate Reflection Sessions

Reflection sessions give students the opportunity to think about what they’ve learned, how they’ve learned it, and what it means to them. This introspective approach can deepen understanding and encourage personal connection to the material. For example, at the end of a unit, having a class discussion where students share their thoughts on the key learnings and how these might apply to their lives can be very impactful.

30. Use Puzzles and Brain Teasers

Incorporating puzzles and brain teasers into the classroom can sharpen critical thinking and problem-solving skills while capturing students’ attention. These activities can be used as warm-ups or to introduce new concepts in a fun and challenging way. For instance, starting a math class with a logic puzzle that indirectly introduces the day’s topic can engage students’ minds and set the tone for the lesson.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, combating boredom and disengagement in the classroom requires a multifaceted approach, one that is both creative and responsive to the diverse needs of students. The attention grabbing strategies outlined in this post, ranging from using humor and multimedia to facilitating reflection sessions and brain teasers, are not just tools to keep students attentive; they are catalysts for a deeper, more meaningful engagement with learning.

Each attention getter, underpinned by the principles of situational interest, offers a unique way to ignite students’ curiosity and participation. By integrating these approaches, educators can create a dynamic and inclusive learning environment where every student has the opportunity to thrive.


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