You may have a classroom full of learners… but are their minds as present as their bodies?

Your students do maintain their personal responsibility to pay attention. However, with a few simple steps, you can help facilitate their ability to stay mentally — as well as physically — involved in the class. In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Fourteenth Edition, Wilbert J. McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki share several suggestions for maintaining your listeners’ attention throughout the entire class period:

  • Change up your presentation. Subtle shifts in your body movement, vocal tone, pacing, and use of audio and visual aids can capture your listeners’ attention and keep them engaged.
  • Recognize the link between being seen and being heard. If your audience can maintain eye contact with you and watch your lips move, they’re more likely to stay focused.
  • Break up the class period. Rather than lecturing for the entire time, incorporate discussions, in-class group work, or other active-learning opportunities into the mix. Additionally, pay attention to students’ body language; if, while you’re lecturing, you observe that students are distracted, take a break and ask the students to stand or stretch for a moment.
  • Mention the fact that something will be covered on a test. Ears do tend to perk up when people hear that they’ll be called to account on their knowledge of a particular topic or procedure, or if they’re given an signal that a piece of information is particularly useful or meaningful.
  • Consider use of a personal response system. By using “clickers” to answer questions, all students can get involved in the lecture without feeling that their response will be singled out. Don’t have a clicker system? The simple act of asking questions and asking for verbal responses or a show of hands also allows students the opportunity to get engaged. (pp. 67-68)

Want additional tips for bringing your lectures to life? Read our recent post on honing your presentation style. For suggestions on keeping online learners motivated, review Curtis J. Bonk’s suggestions for including some “TEC-VARIETY” in your course

What are your tactics for keeping students’ attention? Share them in the comments section.

Reference: Content adapted from McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Svinicki, Marilla. 2014.  McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Fourteenth Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.