Posted on April 10, 2019 | By Alexa Randell
27th Nov 2018
To be an effective TEFL teacher, you not only need to get students’ attention but keep it! A great way to capture and recapture attention is by using ‘attention signals’. These are physical or verbal signals that let young learners know that they need to quieten down and pay attention. They’re a particularly useful way of making sure your students are listening before you start speaking. Use them as part of your classroom management routine as well as a way to save your voice!
Non-Verbal Attention Signals
Hands up, finger on lips
Putting your finger on your lips and your other hand up is a good attention signal for young learners. Once you do this in the class, all the students should mimic you and do the same. Once all students have their hands up and their fingers on their lips, the class will be quiet, and you’ll have their attention to continue. This activity can be good for getting attention at the end of an activity or for stopping an activity where the class are becoming a little bit too loud. It’s also beneficial for teachers as you don’t need to shout, effectively saving your voice.
Some teachers use clapping patterns to get students attention. When the teacher claps the students must clap the same pattern back. Again, another activity that saves your voice! And young learners love copying, so don’t be afraid to challenge them with a somewhat complicated clapping pattern.
The squeaky toy
A squeaky toy can be a good attention grabber for young learners. It is a clear signal that the teacher would like the learners to stop talking or doing what they’re doing. And this is another attention signal where you don’t need to use your voice. You don’t necessarily have to use a squeaky toy, you can use a bell, timer or any other noisy prop!
Verbal Attention Signals
Counting down from five to one lets students know that an activity is coming to an end and makes the learners aware that they will soon be stopping. It is also more effective than trying to just stop an activity by saying, “right, let’s finish now”.
Aye Aye Sailor
This is a more unique attention signal that you can personalise with your own twist. The teacher says something along the lines of “aye aye sailor” and the students respond with “ahoy captain” to show that they are listening. Alternatively, if the class has a habit of getting carried away, you can ask them to do a silent salute instead. You can use whatever theme or catchphrase you like – what would you do?
Go to sleep
Asking you students to go to sleep is a good way of calming them down after an active activity or for regaining control of the class if they’re getting a little rowdy. It also helps with classroom management between activities, giving you a moment to set up the next activity without students talking or walking around. Once you’re ready to start the next activity, you can wake your students up and you should have their full attention.
Top Tips for Attention Signals
#1 Practice makes perfect
At the beginning of the year, you can introduce your learners to a couple of attention signals. Through repeated use and being part of your class routine, learners will pick them up quickly and easily. But give them time, don’t expect them to work like a charm immediately!
#2 Make them fun
Silly sayings, responses and fun musical instruments can all be entertaining for young learners. Often the more challenging the attention signals are or the faster you make the students respond, the more effective they can be!
#3 Spice them up
Use a variety of different attention signals throughout the year. As with everything, young learners can become bored with repetition.
#4 Use them at the right time
We recommend using attention signals for:
If you enjoyed this blog, you may like: 5 popular activities for young learners and Classroom essentials: what’s in your teaching toolkit?