Tips and Tricks for Getting Your Students' Attention

Call and Response Attention Signals for Your Elementary Classroom

Students raising hands in classroom
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One of the biggest challenges teachers face is getting and maintaining the attention of their students. Effective teaching requires this skill but it takes time and practice to learn. Whether you are just starting out or have been teaching for decades, attention-getting techniques can be helpful additions to your classroom. Here are 20 attention signals that will get your students listening.

20 Call-and-Responses

Try these 20 fun call-and-responses with your students.

The part of the teacher is bolded and the part of the students is italicized.

  1. One, two. Eyes on you.
  2. Eyes. Open. Ears. Listening.
  3. Flat tire! Shhhh (the sound of a tire losing air).
  4. Hear ye, hear ye! All eyes on the crier!
  5. Give me five. (Students raise their hands).
  6. Tomato (tuh-may-toe), tomato (tuh-mah-toe). Potato (puh-tay-toe), potato (puh-tah-toe).
  7. Peanut butter. (Students say their favorite kind of jelly or jam).
  8. Ready to rock? Ready to roll!
  9. Are you listening? Yes we are.
  10. Marco. Polo. Let's go. Slow mo (students move in slow motion, perhaps toward the carpet)!
  11. One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish.
  12. Break it down. (Students dance around).
  13. Hocus pocus. Time to focus.
  14. Macaroni and cheese! Everybody freeze (students freeze)!
  15. Salami (Stop And Look At Me Immediately)! (Students freeze and look).
  16. All set? You bet!
  17. Hands on top. That means stop (students place hands on head)!
  18. Chicka chicka. Boom boom.
  19. If you can hear my voice, clap once/twice/etc. (Students clap).
  20. Guitar solo. (Students mime playing guitar).

Tips for Getting and Keeping Attention

Always practice attention signals. Clearly explain how students are supposed to respond to each one and allow plenty of opportunities to try them out, then find out which ones they most enjoy and stick with those. You should also practice nonverbal strategies with your students so they learn to pay attention to visual cues as well.

Let your students have fun with it. Say these cues in silly ways and let your students do the same. Know that they will get crazy when they get to play air guitar or shout, "Everybody freeze!" The objective of these signals is to get their attention but they also tend to have the added effect of boosting energy. Allow students to let loose momentarily when you call them to attention as long as they still do what they are asked.

To keep your students' focus once you have it, try some of the following strategies:

  • Design hands-on lessons.
  • Get your students up and moving.
  • Vary participation structures and scenery.
  • Use visuals often.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend talking.
  • Provide opportunities for cooperative learning.
  • Allow your students to regularly share what they think.
  • Play music, relevant videos, and other auditory supplements whenever possible.

Expecting students to sit quietly and listen to you for several hours out of every day is not fair. If you find that they desperately need to refocus before you try to engage them in a lesson or activity, try a brain break to let them wiggle it out. Often, it is more productive to allow students some time to be wild than try to prevent them from feeling fidgety or restless.