Dear Friends and Readers,

Those crazy hooligans precious elementary students that I work with have short attention spans. By the time you get the attention off the last few who never seem to hear you the first twenty-seven or so times, the kids who were paying attention at the beginning are long lost. How do we get and keep their attention? Or perhaps a question that is just as relevant, how do we know that they are paying attention rather than just not causing trouble?

Here are some “attention getters” and some tips for holding that attention…

Attention Getters

  • “One, Two, Three, Eyes on Me!” Kids echo back “One, Two, Eyes on You” and look to the staff.
    • Upside: This works well in large groups when you need attention quickly and for a more “serious” tone.
    • Downside: Kids get bored of it quickly and it can feel like a burden/rule. Our older kids will oftentimes not respond, which makes it difficult to ensure that everyone is listening. When kids don’t respond, I tend to repeat the chant (a bit slower and with a little  more force) and walk towards the kids who are not paying attention.
  • Call and Response. We have done (staff) “I like butter!” (kids) “on a role” before.  Come up with something random or fun and teach it to your kids!
    • Upside: This worked well for us because it had the same effectiveness in a large group as “One, two, three, eyes on me” but was more fun.
    • Downside: You have to make sure that all of the kids know the correct response. If your group changes frequently, you may have to teach it each day or week. Also, if you use it too frequently or for too long, it becomes boring. Try switching it up.
  • Clap-Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap. This is similar to call and response,  as kids repeat whatever clapping rhythm you chose. They clap-clap, clap-clap-clap rhythm is common enough that most kids elementary age know it already.
    • Upside: It is excellent for during active games  or clean up time when it tends to get loud and shouting would just add to the noise. Clapping works well outside, in a gym, and in a cafeteria as it tends to break through the general hum of the room and the sound travels well (not to mention saving your vocal chords!).  Also,
    • Downside: This does not work well during snack time or art projects, because they care more about eating and painting than they do about listening to whatever boring announcement you have to make. It often takes 2 or 3 times of clap/respond to get the attention of a large group (40+) or of a group that has a lot of younger elementary students.
    • Tip: Cup one hand (your non-dominant hand) slightly, and use your dominant hand to strike the other (with force)- that pocket of air left because your hand is cupped is what makes the clap louder. Try practicing in your car to see how loud you can get it. A loud, crisp clap is key to getting this to work! 
  • Code words. One day at camp, we let the kids know that the code word of the day was “pumpkin pie.” Any time a staff yelled pumpkin pie, it meant that an alien spacecraft was spotted and we all had to duck and cover and be completely silent. We made parameters so that kids were not diving under tables, but overall, kids loved it. We had gone on a field trip later that week and when a helicopter flew over us, a member shouted “pumpkin pie! pumpkin pie!” and ever kid responded.
    • Upside: Kids loved it! It was fun and different.
    • Downside: Same as any attention getter, it gets boring after a while and you have to take time to teach and practice it.
  • “I say _________, you say __________.” A staff shouts “I say chocolate, you say cake! Chocolate!” (kids respond) “Cake!” (repeat). You can insert anything. I say Green, you say Bay! I say Packers, you say rock!
    • Upside: Kids love it. Kids respond. Kids sit with rapt attention waiting to hear what they get to yell next. Kids don’t think it is an attention getter, they think it is a game. We have adjusted this according to our camp theme, have inserted the names of staff at their goodbye parties, and have often, and I mean very often, inserted our favorite foods. It works well for large groups, and Miss Brenda’s favorite part… you don’t have to teach it in advance!
    • Downside: It takes some time, and thus is not ideal for emergencies or just quick announcements.
  • “If you can see me, do what I’m doing.” For younger kids, or to get kids attention more quickly, use clap hands, touch nose, pat head, etc. To switch it up, have them make the funny face you are making, or strike a pose. Tip: If you have them stick out their tongue or puff out their cheeks, they can’t talk at the same time!
    • Upside: This works well for smaller groups (less than 40 kids) and very well for younger children (preschool-early elementary).
    • Downside: It can seem childish for older elementary kids. It also takes quiet a bit of time (3 or so different directions), and there are usually a few kids who you have to call out by name because they are of the less observant variety.
  • “Freeze” or “Statues.” When you yell freeze, statues or silent statues, kids tend to freeze and quiet. To make it more fun, play a freeze dance game and have kids freeze a few times before moving on, or when kids are statues, let them switch positions a few times.
    • Upside: Kids think it is a game rather than a way of getting them to listen. Also, you don’t have to teach it. Kids tend to respond whenever you yell freeze regardless of whether they have done it before.
    • Downside: It tends to appeal more towards the younger crowd and can take time.
  • Non-verbal signals. Ring a bell, hit a gong, turn off the lights, a song, etc.
    • Upside: Kids are visual; and environment change like flickering the lights can break through and get their attention easily. Bells, gongs, etc can help with creating a noise that is less common than just another loud voice, and breaks through the noise.
    • Downside: These work best when used consistently. Unless you carry a gong around the room with you, or have clap on clap off lights, you are restricted to one location when making the announcements. You are therefore less able to move towards those little darlings who have a difficult time giving you their attention.
  • Transition Games. Have the last activity blend into the next (or into directions for the next times). Examples: Turn music time into freeze dance. When kids are frozen, give simple instructions for the next activity. Or have
    • Upside: It makes the day go much more smoothly since the “transition times” when kids get into trouble don’t happen.
    • Downside: This can take a lot of planning/coordinating, and can be difficult to work into your day. It would be nearly impossible to do this between every activity, but  is well worth the effort every now and then!

Other Tips

  • Kids tend to respond better to attention getters when a positive, upbeat tone is used.
  • The more you use them, the less kids want to respond. In a quiet room, you can make general announcements without their help. If you need just one person or a group, approach them and talk with them only.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat! If they didn’t work the first time, don’t be afraid to try again. If one in particular is ineffective, try something different. If it is important and urgent, try two at once (flicker lights and a verbal attention getter).
  • If kids know that long, boring announcements are coming, they are less likely to respond: See my post on “announcements” for tips to help freshen up your instructions and make things fun!

What attention getters do you use?

~Miss Brenda

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