Five Useful Tricks for Getting Your Class to Pay Attention – A Guest Post

Today’s post is a guest post by a teacher named Mark Johnson. Mr. Johnson works for ICAL TEFL, which is an online TEFL school in the UK.

5 useful tricks for getting your class to pay attention

Arguably, the most important part of teaching – apart from the actual teaching! – is saving your voice. If you are always having to raise your voice to get your class’s attention, and keeping their attention, you’ll end up with a sore throat and a class who doesn’t know how to listen. Save your ‘teacher’ voice for when it really matters. A smooth running class can operate much better with simple signals that, with regular practice, will help your class learn to respond to without you having to even use your voice at all.

1. Exercise

This can work for the start of a new lesson or when you want to move your class onto a different activity. Stand up and get the children to stand up too. It only takes a few light exercises to re-energise a class and, more importantly, get them focusing on you. You can even vary the exercises by using:

  • Star jumps (jumping jacks for you Americans)
  • Squats
  • Running on the spot
  • Stretches

This technique is also a great way to finish the school day. You can use it to help your students remember important learning points of the day. For example, do five star jumps with them, then ask them a question. If they get it right they do three more, and then they can go home, if they get it wrong they do five again and then you ask another question. It gets the blood moving, and the brain thinking! It also provides a helpful interim to get your class psyched up for their next subject.

2. Non-verbal Signals

This is a particularly effective technique for TEFL teaching, where the language barrier means you need to be clearer about what you want your student to do. No matter what languages you speak, the universal sign for silence is raising a finger to your lips. It’s unmistakable in any classroom and, more importantly, it doesn’t involve using your voice.

Other useful non-verbal signals include an open palm extended in front of you (signifying to wait or hold on) and raising a hand in the air (students use to gain attention from the teacher without calling out).


3. Give and Take

They say you sometimes have to be cruel to be kind, and there’s no place where that’s more true than in the classroom. Reward and punishment are classic teaching techniques that work in any classroom. The most common way of using them is to reward good behaviour with more time for favourite activities, and take away time from break or lunch for bad behaviour.

You can go a step further and give or take time for the whole class. The one-person-ruins-it-for-everyone technique is a tough stance, but never fails in getting the whole class involved in paying attention. If all the children will miss out on break time, they’re likely to help their classmates calm down and pay attention.

4. Countdown from 5

A countdown gives your class a deadline, as it were. Calling for immediate attention rarely works, as a lively class will take time to stop talking and put down what they’ve been doing – and it’s hardly fair to punish students for being lively! It’s more constructive to give your class a signal that it’s time to focus on you again and give them a limited time frame to get focused. Counting down from three, while traditional, is too short as you will most likely to have to say the first number over the conversations going in the classroom. Starting from five gives your class enough to time to register that you want their attention and to settle into their seats again.

5. Music Cue

An unusual but effective technique, if you want to move your class onto a different task, is to use an audio cue. Music is largely considered to be helpful in the classroom, so there’s no harm in using it as an alternative to calling for your class’s attention. A well-known musical signal, like the Countdown clock music or Mission Impossible theme can be much more effective than simply telling a class it’s time to move onto another activity. If you regularly use this technique, the class will get better and better at responding to it, and eventually you won’t need to remind them.



Save yourself having to drink camomile tea to soothe your sore throat! Not having to rely on your voice alone to get a class’s attention will not only make the class function well, it will make you a better teacher. If you can communicate with your class without having to – literally – spell it out with your voice, you’re well on the way to developing your skills as a teacher.

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Filed under Classroom Management, ESL, Kids, Korea, School, Teaching

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