5 ways to keep primary pupils engaged during lessons

Keeping your students focussed on lessons

It’s a well-known fact that attention spans of children are very short. Opinions vary as to the exact length, but it is generally agreed that a 5 year old can concentrate for only 10-15 minutes at best, whilst a child of 11 is likely to manage a maximum of 25 minutes.

Nowadays, children are used to a fast-changing and stimulating environment – try viewing some children’s TV programmes and you will get a sense of what they have become familiar with.

As teachers, it can often seem difficult to plan learning activities that will keep primary pupils engaged and interested, but these 5 tips can help!

1. Make the activity appropriate and well-matched

If your activities are not appropriate for your pupils, they are less likely to find them interesting. A task that is too hard may make a child give up easily, or they might even misbehave to avoid failing, whilst work that is too easy may result in boredom. Keep the task focused.

For example, 5 questions is probably enough to check maths learning. Explain the task clearly and tell pupils exactly what you expect them to learn, because this will motivate them to succeed and keep primary pupils engaged.

2. Give a choice of ways to learn

Children learn in different ways; some may learn better visually, some through listening (auditory) and some by doing practical activities (kinaesthetic). So why not consider offering different ways to learn, and allow the children to choose?

Keeping pupils engaged visually

Flickr Creative Commons / Robert Parviainen

For example, if they are learning a particular times table, visual learners could draw a poster, auditory learners could practise a song, and kinaesthetic learners could use equipment to ‘show’ the information and take a digital image.

3. Have some brain breaks

It may seem like a strange idea, but interrupting pupils after a short while is a good thing. A brief change of focus will give the brain a rest, and the children will be better concentrated when they return to the task.

So, after about 10 minutes, take a break; do 2 minutes of energetic exercise (e.g. running on the spot, jumping up and down), sing a short song, or something similar.

The increased oxygen will stimulate the brain, and the task can be continued with renewed attention. When you first try this it may take a while for the children to settle back to work, but if you make this a normal part of their routine they will soon get into the swing of re-starting promptly.

4. Build in some movement opportunities

In a similar way, getting children to move around generally will also break up the task, so build in ways to encourage them to move during their learning.

keep students focussed with music

Flickr Creative Commons / Newman University

You could spread a task across two worksheets, meaning the children must come to the front of the class to collect the second, or plan their learning so that resources need collecting part of the way through.

Once they have finished, ask them to put their book in a box on your desk. Again, they will quickly get used to doing this kind of thing without disturbing others.

5. Offer rewards for finishing early

Everyone needs motivation, but if the only reward for finishing early is to be given more work to do, children (especially able pupils), may prefer to work slowly.

Putting some rewards in place to encourage early finishers can make a significant difference to keep primary pupils engaged. Perhaps they could play an educational game, either a ‘real’ one or a computer game?

You could offer a choice of extension activities, such as maths puzzles linked to the learning aim. Or they could choose a book to read.

Rewards for engaged students

Flickr Creative Commons / Kevin Dooley

Keeping pupils of any age engaged and motivated is a constant challenge, but careful planning and an innovative approach can make the world of difference.

When you find the methods that work best for your young students and start to see improvements in class participation, a job in primary school teaching can be one of the most fun and rewarding careers in education.

Just remember, these tips can always be adapted to suit your and your students’ learning styles, as well as the lessons in which they are used.

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