Attention getters play a vital role in the classroom because they set the tone for learning and help establish a positive classroom culture. They signal to students that it’s time to transition and shift their focus to the teacher or the next activity. When used effectively, attention getters can improve classroom management and increase student engagement.
When starting class, or transition between activities, you first need to get the attention of your learners. For them to understand your instructions or learn anything, their focus should be on you, the teacher. In this article, I will share 50 ways to get your students’ attention at the start of class, how to regain it if they are noisy and to transition effectively between activities. Making teaching easier and wasting less precious time.
But, whatever attention getter you use, it doesn’t only need to be for a class – The same technique could be used for a grade or the entire school. That way everyone is aligned – The teachers and students know exactly what is expected of them. Use it to gain order at any school events, classes or assemblies.
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From day 1, you should incorporate a signal that lets students know that they have to stop whatever they are doing, and turn their focus on you.
When I was teaching at a high school, parents visited an older teacher’s class. They wanted to talk with the students, who were deeply immersed in a group activity. The parents tried to get their attention, but no matter what they did, the students continued chatting. Defeated, they turned to the teacher and asked, “How do you do this? How do you get their attention?”
The teacher smiled, walked to the front of class. Stood in the center and raised his hand. One by one the students noticed his hand in the air, stopped talking, turned to face him and waited for instructions. He created this signal and practiced it routinely to ingrain the expected reaction from his students. Just like him, you should create a routine for attention getters and be consistent in its execution.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to use the same one forever. With younger students it’s more fun to switch attention getters up every now and again to keep things fresh.
- Doug Lemov, author of “Teach like a champion,” uses the following technique – He raises his hand to get the students quiet, and says the following: “I need 3 students, you know who you are… I need 2 students…” Until all his students are paying attention.
Some teachers let their classes count down together… “10, 9, 8 to 1″ or “5 to 1.”
But I think this could cause some class clowns to shout out the numbers, disrupting neighboring classes. If you admonish them, they’ll give the excuse: “But sir, I’m only counting down, like you asked.”
- My favorite attention getter:
I prefer something simple: I slowly count down from 3, while raising my fingers: “3,2,1!”
- Allow students to time-manage themselves:
Make sure to give them enough time to respond. I usually let my students know how much time I will give them for an activity.
“You have 10 minutes to do this activity, before I ask you what you’ve learned.”
During the activity, I remind them how much time is remaining time. “You have 5 minutes left, make sure you know what you want to say. You have a minute left, finish up!”
Students aren’t robots, they can’t transition immediately, and to be fair, neither can we. So manage their time wisely.
- Give me 5 – Harry Wong
Harry Wong, author of the book, “First Days of School,” suggests the ‘Give me 5’ Technique. Count up from 1 to 5:
“1 – Eyes look 2 – Ears Listen 3 – Mouth Closed 4 – Hands still 5 Feet – quiet!“
It gives the students a step by step process to slow down and focus on you.
Use the whiteboard
Write something on the board – “You will all get detention if you are not quiet by the time I finish writing this down…”
If there are students that are still too loud and not paying attention, write their names on the board with a strike at the end. If they continue, make another strike or remove when they behave. – They usually settle down, but if they don’t – Call those students to see you after class and have a talk with them about discipline.
Never Use a Student to Gain Control
You’ve seen this before. You’re unable to get the class quiet, so one “good” student yells at the noisy ones to calm down. Not only does this damage your social standing as the leader in class, it devalues your authority. Initially, you might feel happy that someone is standing up for you in class, but it’s not a good thing. Instead, thank them, but ask them not to do it again. Then admonish the students who didn’t quiet down when first asked.
Divert their attention by playing a game like Simon Says. Simon says touch your nose, Simon Says touch your ear.
Another variation of this is:
“If You Can Hear Me, Touch Your … If you can hear me, put down your pencil…” Continue until all the students are playing along. This is another form of movement mirroring, but add your voice. Call out a different body parts each time to make sure your students really have to listen and pay attention.
Here are some quickfire Call and Response techniques. Call and response techniques require your students to participate, so use them to gain the attention of your class.
Why not incorporate a skill into your attention getter with compound words? The teacher says the first word and the students say the second. Any compound word will work as long as you model for them how to stop, look, and listen once they complete the word. Here are some examples:
“Pop – Corn!”
“Hot – Dog!”
“Orange – Juice!”
“Butter – Fly!”
“Cheese – Cake!”
“Milk – Shake!”
“Hakuna – Matata!”
“Badabababa – I’m loving it!”
“Scooby Dooby Doo – Where are you?” (Or try another cartoon theme they are familiar with)
Other Phrases / Ideas:
- “Parlez-vous français?” – “Oui, oui, oui!” (If your students know a little French.)
- Teacher: “Magic Finger in the air…” Students: “Magic finger everywhere!” Teacher: “Magic finger on your hips…” Students: “Magic finger on your lipssssssss…”
- “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?…SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!”
- “Alright, stop…Collaborate and listen!”
- Sing a Song: “Happy Birthday!” (Just start singing it and point to a student, even if it’s not their birthday. They will become confused and the class will quiet down or sing along)
Slogans from the Movies:
Use phrases from movies the students are familiar with and not what you grew up with. Many of the following may be obsolete for your students:
- “Autobots…Roll out!”
- “May the Force…Be with you!”
- “Who you gonna call? – Ghost busters!”
- “To infinity…And beyond!”
- “Do you wanna – build a snowman!”
Famous Team Slogans
Use regional or sports team call-and responses. For example, a teacher in St. Louis uses “Who dat?…We dat!”
In NYC, I’ve heard : “Hello, Brooklyn…How you do?” (It’s from a Jay Z song.)
In South Korea, the national chant is: “Dae – hanmingook!”
In Nigeria it is: “Ahgooo – Ameeee!” (I apologize if I got that wrong!)
The USA Marines shout: “Semper Fi” (Latin for ‘Always Faithful.’)
- Remember, this is an opportunity to reinforce character education and life lessons. Anything you have kids repeat multiple times per day is going to get ingrained in their minds, so use the opportunity to teach something meaningful!
Try: “Never…Give Up! Work hard…Do right!”
LIghts on/ off! When in a situation of desperation, turn the lights in the classroom on and off to gain their attention.
Use bells, chimes or whistles. Some teachers buy sound devices online like a chime that they use to get the attention of the students.
When teaching young students, clapping patterns are a very effective way of gaining their attention.
- LOUD LOUD LOUD – soft soft soft
- “Class class class class – yes yes yes.” Then whisper: “Class class class – yes yes yes.”
- “Hands on top!” (put your hands on your head) – “Then we stop!” (hands on their heads).
You can mimic other animals too:
- “All my cute little monkeys go like this…”
- “Alligator Alligator – chomp chomp chomp!”
- “Elephant, elephant… Raise your trumpet!”
Keep expressions local
Remember – Use attention getters that students understand. Many of the attention grabbers that are shared online are either generational or culturally dependent. For example:
My Korean students may not care for guacamole, so try something in their culture like: “Kim – chi!”
But it can also be generational – the McDonald’s theme is one, just because it was popular when you were young, doesn’t mean that it has any relevance to your students.
When I first started teaching in Korea, there was this popular K-pop song called ‘Monster’ by Big Bang. It goes “I love you! Baby, I’m not a monster!”
So I used it as an attention getter: “I love you!” And the students would respond: “Baby, I’m not a monster”
I tried it a few years later – and none of the kids got the reference. So, make it relatable to your students.
Using Quick Math
Another great attention grabber is calling out math questions. Easy math questions like tables are easier so they can react fast enough. Regardless of the class, keep it fairly simple so you know that everyone can answer.
You may say: “Three plus three…” and they reply, “Six!”.
Quick Spelling Quiz
In the case of language teachers, it is more relevant to ask trivia questions or call out words for students to spell.
Spell BECAUSE: “B E …”
But it takes time for students to concentrate and by then they might already be too late to participate. So, repeat it with a second word.
Chants and Other methods
The following chants are all proven methods. Find one that fits your situation.
- One, two, three, eyes on me…One, two, eyes on you!
- Mona – Lisa, be like Mona – Lisa. They pose like the Mona Lisa, hands on laps, mouth quiet, eyes on the teacher.
- Eeny Meeny…Miny Mo!
- Hear ye, hear ye…All hail the king (or Queen)!
- WWW dot…Zip it dot com!
- Hocus Pocus…Everybody Focus!
- Show me waterfall fingers… shhhhh
- Ready to Rock?…Ready to Roll. Ready to listen?…Ready to learn!
- And a hush fell across the room… Shhhh!
- Eyes up…Back straight!
- Eyes up…Voices off!
- Zip it, lock it…Put it in your pocket!
- Flat tire…Shhhhh!
- Pen – cil, pen – cil
- 1, 2, 3…Freeze!
- Yackety Yack…Don’t talk back!
- Hip hip – hurray
- Who’s ready to learn? – we are
- When I say hip, you say hop – hip – hop
- If you can’t make a mistake…You can’t make anything!
- No bees, no honey…No work, no money!
- If you are ready to participate, give me a thumbs up – Students give a thumbs up.
Ask Students to Invent
Ask your students to come up with their own. This takes 5 minutes and can be a great back-to-school activity or something to do after a holiday break to build a sense of community and get kids ready to learn again.
Have students work in pairs or small groups to brainstorm a list of call-and-responses they’d like to use, and narrow the list down to their top 5. Give them some examples first.
Have them submit the list to you for final selection. You can have the class vote on the one they like best, or use a bunch of the kids’ suggestions, trying a new one every month or so.