As an instructor, you put a lot of time and elbow grease into your lesson plans. It’s probably painful to think of your students greeting this hard work with anything less than full attention. But the reality is that teachers must battle the finite attention spans of students daily. It’s a major challenge to not only present information in an understandable way, but also to keep students engaged for most or all of a class period.

You know the signs: Glazed eyes, students distracted by something other than the current lesson, nodding heads and looks of confusion. Want to avoid these symptoms of a lack of concentration in your classroom? Consider these four tips for maximizing student attention span.


Structure Classes to Optimize Focus

You know your students will be freshest when they walk through the door. From that point forward, you’re facing a countdown of sorts until they’ve exhausted their attention span. Knowing this can help you structure your class to mirror learners’ natural focus patterns.

One college instructor notes that “it may be more effective to begin classes with lectures and shift to an activity about 20-25 minutes into the class period.” After that, you can recap the lecture and activity, so students retain major points from the day’s class. These shifts in pace can help students stay interested and alert for the entirety of a period.


Make Lessons More Interactive

Boosting interactivity is a tried-and-true strategy to increase student engagement, says Poll Everywhere. The reason? Instead of sitting idly by as passive receivers of information, students instead are able to become active participants. Integrating a classroom response system with your lessons allows students to participate in live polls using mobile devices.

Here are a few examples illustrating how to make lessons more interactive:

  • Embed a five- to 10-question multiple-choice quiz periodically throughout your lecture to check for retention.
  • Allow students to ask anonymous questions about course material and pain points.
  • Cap off lessons by asking students to contribute to a collaborative word cloud.
  • Use interactive feedback to kick off class discussions.

When students are able to interact with what they’re learning in real time, it incentivizes them to engage. Instead of sitting back and letting an entire lecture’s worth of information flow over them, they’re asked to think critically, contribute insights and boost retention along the way.


Harness the Power of Teamwork

Something as seemingly simple as teamwork can help students tune into the lesson at hand. Getting to work with classmates in different combinations helps expose students to new points of view.

Here’s what one expert recommends: Break your class up into small groups following a lecture. Assign a broad topic to kick off the discussion. After a few minutes, ask an “agree or disagree?” question. This requires students to brainstorm as a group, defend their line of thinking and reiterate their points. You can even ask groups to share their thinking, so students can experience more perspectives on the same question.


Allow for Customized Projects

As a teacher, you know better than anyone that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” in learning. Some students prefer visual aids; others retain what they hear. Some learners understand the world through hands-on activities. Keep the different learning styles in mind next time you assign a project. Provide flexible options for a variety of learners—each a comparable amount of work but emphasizing a different skillset. Students are more prone to pay attention to projects that excite and stimulate them rather than something they view as an utter chore.


These four tips are meant to help you maximize student attention span. Above all, look for opportunities to mix things up in your classroom and re-engage your pupils.