The best teachers are the ones who understand that each student has a unique mind and approaches learning differently. There are various learning personalities, including auditory, visual and tactile learners. When you understand what type of learner your student is, you can take an approach to teaching that appeals to their way of thinking and retains their interest.
In the United States, a total of 6.1 million children between 2–17 have received an ADHD diagnosis, and the CDC reports 5 in 10 children with ADHD also had a behavior problem.
It’s unnatural for kids to sit still all day, so teachers must design their curriculum to keep students engaged. You can do this in various ways, like encouraging physical movement or investing in printer supplies to provide students with tactile learning materials they can see and touch.
Explore these seven ways to increase your students’ attention span so you can create engaging lesson plans for every child in your class.
1. Include Physical Activity
One of the most effective ways to improve a student’s attention span is incorporating physical activity into your lesson plan. It’s challenging for some students, especially young kids, to sit still for long periods. A study from the University of Granada directly links physical activity to a longer attention span, along with better cognitive abilities.
Try creating a lesson plan that requires students to link a physical action to answers they need to remember. For example, if you’re teaching a science class about weather systems, assign each type of weather a hand movement and ask students to use the gesture when answering questions in class.
You can also use the knowledge that physical activity improves cognitive function to structure your daily schedule in a way that benefits kids and their attentiveness. Classes like physical education, drama and music all allow students to leave their desks and get their bodies moving.
Try staggering these subjects throughout the day, so they precede classes like mathematics, English or science that require students to sit and concentrate.
2. Remove Visual Distractions
Fostering learning is all about creating the right environment. Strike a careful balance between what contributes to the learning experience and what acts as a visual or auditory distraction for kids while you’re trying to teach. Use stimulating posters and artwork throughout the classroom without creating a visual environment that is too busy.
Create designated classroom areas for specific tasks, such as a quiet reading corner. Design this area with neutral decor and no digital devices to allow kids to focus during independent reading periods.
3. Adjust Lesson Time Frames
On average, kids can focus for about 2–3 minutes per year of their age. For example, a two-year-old child can be expected to focus for 4–6 minutes at a time. Based on the age of the students you’re teaching, you can set realistic expectations for how long you can keep them engaged in a lesson:
4 years old: 8 to 12 minutes
6 years old: 12 to 18 minutes
8 years old: 16 to 24 minutes
10 years old: 20 to 30 minutes
12 years old: 24 to 36 minutes
14 years old: 28 to 42 minutes
16 years old: 32 to 48 minutes
Use this information to keep your classes interesting, switching between subjects, topics and exercises at age-appropriate intervals.
4. Schedule Breaks
Knowing your students can only focus for a specific duration means scheduling breaks throughout the school day is essential. Whether you’re a teacher planning the schedule or a parent overseeing virtual school sessions at home, always build time into the day for kids to step away from the desk or screen and get outside.
Appetite also affects kids’ concentration. A dip in blood sugar levels can cause kids to become inattentive or disruptive. The CDC recommends that kids eat 5–6 times a day, typically three meals and two snacks. Use this guideline to schedule your day and ensure kids are getting breaks at the right time so they can refuel on some nutritious food, get their bodies moving and then return to their studies.
5. Incorporate Creativity
A fantastic option for improving students’ attention span is to allow them to get creative. Paying attention doesn’t always mean sitting still and listening. Focusing on a creative task that requires students to use their imagination is another form of attentiveness. Sketching an image, writing a creative story or working in a group of peers to put together a skit are all productive ways for kids to direct their attention to a particular task.
Encourage creative approaches to assignments and homework that allow kids to spend time being introspective, using their imagination and collaborating with classmates.
6. Turn Learning into a Game
Turn learning into a game to hold students’ attention for longer periods. When they’re having fun and interacting with one another, kids can focus on the lesson without realizing they’re learning something new.
You can create flashcards with questions relating to the topic you’re teaching and have kids answer in a lightning round. The student with the most right answers can earn a bonus point on the next quiz for motivation to participate. You can also reinvent the game of Tic Tac Toe; the twist is that students have to answer a question correctly to place their mark on the board.
7. Appeal to Their Learning Style
Within the general population, the number of people who fall into each of the three learning styles is 65% visual, 30% auditory and 5% kinesthetic. An overwhelming majority of people require visual aids to comprehend new information, while just 30% can learn effectively from hearing you speak.
Apply this information to your students to keep their attention longer by appealing to their preferred learning method. Try to set up each lesson so you are speaking throughout to assist auditory learners, but provide a printout of the material or put images up on the smartboard so visual learners can focus their attention somewhere specific while you’re speaking.
If you notice a large portion of your students benefit from handouts during a class or lecture, investing in a high-quality printer and Canon ink is a good idea. You can easily provide high-resolution printouts in color to help get students excited about the subject matter.
Focus on the Individual
To get the best results from students, get creative in your approach to teaching and accommodate different interests, learning styles and abilities. Use available information about the realistic attention span of each age group to set expectations kids can meet so you set them up for success.