Students will almost always outnumber teachers, which is why, at times, getting an excited, talkative group of students to focus can be one of the most challenging (and sometimes frustrating) aspects of your day. Regardless of the odds, there are proven techniques that can help you ensure you are maximizing the time available in your day to focus on your lesson plans, leaving room for some organized fun too! The next time your students aren’t paying attention, give one of these five techniques a try.

Set Clear Expectations

Whether you have a classroom full of gabby students, or one child who struggles to comprehend why interruptions are inappropriate, set expectations from day one as to when students can chat and when it’s time to focus on schoolwork. For example, help them understand that they can talk during recess, in between activities, and after finishing group work, while being clear that they need to be quiet and respectful when you are addressing the group, giving instructions, lecturing, or reading aloud. By the middle of the school year, you may need to re-establish expectations from time to time. Overall, be consistent with classroom rules and how you enforce them. Children respond best to consistency.

Give Students Dedicated Discussion Time

Students need to socialize with one another—as long as the time is structured. Give students the opportunity to earn time to talk freely by telling them that if you can complete a specific exercise or instruction period without anyone chatting on the side, then they will get five-minutes of free-time to talk with their friends. To receive their reward, students will be motivated and will encourage their peers to stay quiet too, helping to minimize side discussions.

Ask Students to Reiterate What You Said to a Neighbor

No student wants to seem unprepared in front of their friends. Get into the habit of occasionally asking students to repeat the expectations to their neighbor. Be specific in each instance about who should explain what you said and who should listen. Change up the pairs in each instance so students realize they could be asked to repeat your directions at any time. Students will be more likely to listen to avoid having to confess to their peer that they weren’t paying attention.

Make Listening a Game

Give your students a reason to focus that is more interesting and rewarding for them than talking with their neighbor. Tell them to listen as you read or work through your lesson for a secret word. The student to raise his or her hand first upon hearing the word wins a prize. Your students will be so focused on the game that they won’t be distracted by their neighbor.

Use Interruptions as a Learning Opportunity

Especially if you have one of two students who struggle to realize that they are disruptive, calmly explain why paying attention to you, or to their peers, is necessary. Explain that it shows respect and remind them that their peers will show the same level of consideration and respect in return when they are talking and sharing their thoughts.


Using these techniques will help make listening fun for your students while reinforcing appropriate behaviors and courtesy and will help to keep students focused and on task. Remember, even on days when nothing seems to work, hold firm. The more consistently you enforce the classroom rules and make paying attention fun, the less time you will have to spend competing for attention from classroom distractions.

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