If you are an experienced teacher or you have just begun the amazing and rewarding experience of teaching English as a foreign language, you may have seen how hard it can be to keep your students interested and attentive during your class. This is especially true when you are teaching children or teenagers because their attention spans are shorter than adults.
One of the effects of the information age is a general reduction of our attention span. Why is that? Because we are constantly exposed to fleeting stimuli. Kids nowadays do not know what it is like to slowly read the magazine your parents bought you or to experience what it is like to wait several minutes for a webpage to load. These days, everything is just a click away.
Meanwhile, things in your EFL classroom go much slower than the fast-paced digital world. When you ask students a question, they will need time to answer. If a student takes a while to answer, the other students may get restless. They will quickly pull out their smart phones to see if someone posted anything new on Instagram or check on other things they follow.
Even though keeping your students attentive and focussed may seem like a real challenge, here are six great tips to help you out.
Change your classroom’s setup
Students are used to the traditional classroom organisation for example a teacher sitting at his or her desk in the front of the classroom or even the really old-style desk for the teacher that was on a platform a few inches off the ground. Your basic classroom layout could follow the traditional rows of desks layout where the front rows are reserved for the brightest and the back rows for the slower ones and the habitual latecomers. You do not have to live with what you are given. Change the structure, try a U-shaped layout or have them all sit in a circle. They will pay more attention if they do not know what comes next and you may find out that different classroom seating arrangements allow your students to interact more.
Part of your role is engaging with your students. It is quite hard to engage and bond with your students if you limit yourself to observing your students from a distance. Stand up, move around the classroom, sit next to your students when needed. Make them feel that you are not an authority figure who does not want to get close to them.
Create active lessons
Children are more energetic than adults. Children need to be moving in the EFL classroom more than older students. However, sometimes more energy-filled activities can also work with older students. To avoid your students getting bored, try exercises that require them to move around. Dancing and singing, contests on the blackboard or team games. Get them to them stand up, switch places and move around.
Modulate your voice
Have you ever been in a lecture in which the speaker had such a flat, monotone voice that you could not help yawning and your eyelids started getting heavy? A common observation is that great teachers are excellent all-rounders, we could not agree more. If you want to reach your audience with the right message, you will need to be an excellent communicator. Part of communicating lies in modulating your voice, experimenting with different tones and accents. Put life and emotion into your speech.
Make your students work in different sized groups
This will not only help your students be more focused but also work across many types of interaction. Do not forget that some of your students may be more extroverted and some may be more reserved about speaking in front of the class. To help them all and accommodate their needs change the working group sizes. You could do an exercise with all your students together, and then split them into groups of 3 or 4 people. You could include them in an activity they need to do individually followed by pair-work. Change is good so do not forget to vary your teaching rhythm and the activities.
Teaching children is about creating a classroom that is as interactive and dynamic as possible. If you introduce props in your EFL lessons, such as balls, toys, hats, dice, etc., students will have new and different stimuli to pay attention to. You could, for example, ask a question followed by tossing a ball to the student you asked the question. When they answer they will throw the ball back to you. Then you will decide who will be next.
With a little imagination and working with our six great teaching tips, you can make learning English rewarding and enjoyable.