Teacher PD Ideas: Master the Art of Attention

by | Jun 8, 2023 | 1 Minute Mastery, Getting and Keeping Attention, Professional Development For Teachers | 0 comments

Looking for teacher PD ideas? Think about focusing on how to get students attention! All day, every day, teachers are engaged in the arduous, exhausting, tricky, rewarding and exciting task of getting (and keeping) the attention of their students. In this article we will focus on the science behind why it is imperative to get your students’ attention, and more importantly, how!

Why is attention so important!

If we are paying attention when someone is teaching a lesson, the information has a chance of getting into our brains. Once it’s in our brains, we could rehearse it, manipulate it, try to implement it, study and memorize the information.  If the information gets into our brain. If we aren’t paying attention, the information doesn’t even get in there in the first place. If it’s not in, it’s out. And out is out! If it’s out, you can’t rehearse, manipulate, implement, study or memorize it.  How could you? It never got in there in the first place! As Samuel Adams said hundreds of years ago, “The true art of memory is the art of attention”. Have you ever not been paying attention when someone tells you their name the first time you meet them?  If you weren’t paying attention when they first told you, just try to recall that name later on. Can’t do it! Because it never made it in there in the first place.

Not only is this common sense, but is also backed up by years of research. One recent study by Willingham (2009) found having students’ attention enables them to focus on relevant stimuli, make connections, and integrate new knowledge with prior knowledge. Capturing attention is a necessary prerequisite for learning.  Eysenck and Eysenck (2012) also proved Samual Adams correct when their research indicated that focused attention in students improved their recall, which allowed them to do better on tests, as they could remember the information more readily.

How do you get attention?

Getting students’ attention before beginning to teach a lesson is an obvious critical first step in learning. But how does one accomplish this?  In a time of social media and the internet, where novelty and new content is king and constantly luring our students’ attention away from school and the lessons,  how can teachers get students’ attention?  

At first,  getting a student’s attention isn’t too difficult.  A teacher could shout, make a loud noise,do something unusual like stand on a desk, and he will get the student’s attention. We have a biological imperative to pay attention to any novel stimuli in our environment.  We automatically pay attention to this new stimulus so we can determine if the stimulus is harmful, helpful or neutral to our survival.  So, problem solved! To get students’ attention, we just have to continually introduce novel stimuli into the environment!  Well, not exactly. It would work, at first. Eventually, we get used to novel stimuli in the classroom and we tune it out.  You can only stand on the desk, shut the lights on and off and use a noise maker so much, then students will just ignore the stimulus. Besides, I’m getting to old to stand on a desk, and don’t really feel like I should put on a show every day just to get my students’ attention. There is another biological imperative:  The novel can become routine. As humans we actually have an amazing capacity for getting used to novel situations.  It is amazing what humans can get used to!

Novelty will work, but as experienced, clever teachers, we have to have a deeper understanding of the art of attention, and be able to use more tools to command attention at will.  We will talk about curiosity, engagement strategies, and being a part of the tribe.


Having curiosity in the classroom is a wonderful and rare gift.  To have students sitting on the edge of their seats, wondering what will be coming next is something for which all teachers must wish.  Here are two ways to increase curiosity.  

  1. Bumpers and Teasers:
    • There is a 1 Minute Mastery skill called Bumpers and Teasers which shows how to create curiosity by leaning on research from the field of broadcast television.  Bumpers and Teasers on a news program happen before a commercial break and when coming back after a break.  Notice what they say to keep a viewer tuned in to keep watching.  
  1. Ask curiosity provoking questions.
    • Did you know that several studies have shown that four-year-old children ask as many as 200-400 questions each day?  We are naturally curious as children. Take advantage of that fact and begin a lesson with a thought-provoking question, a fascinating fact, like did you know bats always turn left when they leave a cave? Why is that?  What a great question to start talking about the scientific method, evolution, and any number of topics.

Teacher PD ideas: Engagement Strategies

Variety and being actively engaged in the learning lead to greater attention and to higher levels of learning and academic achievement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, and Paris, 2004).  Here are a few ways to increase variety and student activity.

  1. Variety:  The 1 Minute Mastery skill of Variety makes the case that a variety of instructional methods can help get and keep students’ attention.  Don’t just lecture, break it up with a video, a guest speaker, or a classroom learning game.  Have you ever heard of a Peka Kucha?  Check it out, give it a try and have fun! 
  2. Active Learning.  Get students engaged in learning.  Have group discussions, debates, problem solving exercises or conduct an experiment.  A quick way to get students involved and to grab their attention is in the 1 Minute Mastery Skill Rank Order. You simply put three items on the board and ask students in small groups or pairs to put them in order from the most important to the least important, and have them be prepared to give their reasoning.  You could say “Out of these three things:  Too much homework, standardized testing and  overcrowded classrooms, what is the most, and least most important problem facing education today”. Students will instantly be engaged.

Join the tribe

We have another biological imperative that can help get students’ attention. We are all hard-wired for social interaction. We are meant to be in a group, a class, a tribe.  We want to belong.  Here are two ways to get attention that take advantage of this need to be a part of a group. These two 1 Minute Mastery skills are great for teacher PD ideas to get students’ attention back to you after the class has been engaged in a group activity.

  1. Join me when you can. The teacher starts doing a simple pattern, like lap-clap-snap, where they take both hands and pat their lap, clap their hands then snap their fingers. While the teacher keeps this pattern going, she looks around the classroom and starts to catch the gaze of some students. When she catches their gaze, she says to the student “Join me when you can”.  After several students have joined, the rest will start doing the pattern as well. The teacher gives the next directions in-between patterns.
  2. Cross Clap. The teacher stands in front of the class, one hand above her head, the other below her waist. She instructs the students to “Clap when my hands cross”. The teacher then quickly changes the position of her hands, so that the one above her head is now below her belt, and the one that was below her belt is now above her head. When the hands cross in the middle of this switch, the students clap. The teacher gives directions in-between claps.

Getting attention is a critical first step to getting students to learn. We presented some research and some skills for you to try to get student’s attention.  These skills, and many more for getting and keeping attention, can be found on 1 Minute Mastery.  This is a new way to do teacher development.  When you subscribe, each week of the year you will get a video that teaches you a solution to a common classroom problem, like getting and keeping students’ attention. Check out 1 Minute Mastery and subscribe today!