Do you need some strategies to help refocus your students throughout the school day? Check out this post with 15 easy strategies to refocus your students in the elementary classroom!
Focus can be a difficult thing for any of us, I know it is for me. When we are able to focus on a task it becomes easier to complete. In the classroom, one student being off focus can pull other students away from the task as well. This is why it is so important to have quick, easy, and responsive strategies ready to go.
Each of these strategies works to help a student refocus in a different way. None of the strategies are one-size-fits-all, and they will require some trial and error.
It is also important to remember that corrections should be as private as possible and should be followed immediately by praising students being back on task. Keep in mind that our students have a lot more going on than we can see on the surface, so dive in deep with students to really know the underlying reason they are off task.
Proximity is an old standard, but for good reason. Sometimes simply walking by a student is enough to refocus them.
I mean, it honestly works for me. I think about myself in a coffee working on my laptop when someone walks by. I make sure I am doing something productive and not surfing social media.
This works the same way for our students. When we are monitoring the room and walking around when we get closer to students they take notice. We can use this to our advantage to help students stay focused. I am NOT saying to hover over one student the entire time. Likely, if it takes hovering, proximity is not the strategy for that student.
Have you ever felt someone’s eyes on you and knew you were being watched. Our students feel that too and we can use sustained eye contact to help our students to focus on the task at hand.
This is my favorite strategy to use when working with a small group when another student is distracted. I will break out the “Teacher Look,” and sustain eye contact with a student until they get the hint.
This strategy is a good one when a student is zoning out or maybe getting a little chatty and forgetting what their job is.
Ask a Question
Asking a question is hands down my favorite way to refocus a student. It can go a few different ways, but is generally going to be either a question about the task or a simple, “What are you doing and what are you supposed to be doing?”
I personally like to start by asking a question about the task at hand. For example, if students are working on a math station about 2D figures I may ask, “Which figure have you found has the most angles?” This question brings them back to the task without making any assumptions about they are off task.
Use a Brain Break to Refocus Students
Sometimes we all need a break. If you notice several students are off task they likely need a breather.
This would be a perfect time to take a whole class brain break. My class’s favorite brain breaks always involved getting up and moving and being a little silly. The easiest and most fun was always our 30-second dance parties. This was as simple as picking a song and dancing it out for a bit.
Getting up and moving around gets the wiggles out, moves more oxygen to our brains, and allows everyone to refocus on the task at hand afterward.
Even if it is a single student who has lost focus a whole-class statement can do the trick. When I say whole-class statement I am talking about a really general reminder you say to the whole class.
Some examples of this might include:
Great work everyone, I am proud of the effort you are putting into this work.
Just a reminder that we are moving onto the next task at 10:15, so please use your time wisely.
I see lots of people working really diligently, great job!
All of these examples serve the purpose of a whole class reminder with a little extra meaning for those who need it.
I would recommend using this one sparingly and only with students you have an established relationship with.
When I say physical contact what I mean is a hand on the shoulder, nothing big. When traveling around the room this might look like stopping by a student and letting them know you are there with a hand on the shoulder.
Again, this isn’t for every student and you must be conscious of your relationship with the student and what a touch on the shoulder means to them.
Refocus Students with a Call and Response
This strategy is better for the whole group, but can still be used when only a student or two is not focused.
I have found that call and response works best when it is unique to each class. Work together with your students to brainstorm a couple of call and response options that you can use throughout the day.
When students are working and you notice some are drifting off-task this is the time to pull it out. Make your call and students will respond. You can then follow it up with a whole class statement, a reminder, or a time check.
Take a Stretch Break
Just like how we all need brain breaks we also need to stretch. When students are starting to get a little squirrely it is time for a stretch break.
You may choose to lead students in a stretch yourself, have a student lead the stretch, or follow a YouTube video or GoNoodle. All of these are good options. The important part is standing up and moving your body to loosen up the muscles and get more oxygen to the brain.
Refocus Students by Playing Music
There is something magical about turning on some music to work to. It seems to serve as the glue that holds it all together at times.
I would highly recommend some instrumental pieces and try to aim for as close to sixty beats per minute, our natural resting heartbeat, as possible.
Write a Note
Sometimes writing a little reminder on a sticky note and sneaking it onto a student’s desk or workspace can make all the difference in the world. This strategy lets students know we are there to help, but also have our eye on their productivity.
This is another one of my favorites!
Simply asking a student if there is anything they would like help with can make a world of difference. It doesn’t assume that students are off task on purpose and instead give them the power to tell you what they need to be successful.
Refocus Students by Creating a Time Challenge
When you have a student or two that struggle with time management it can work really well to break tasks down into small chunks and create a “Time Challenge” to get each one done.
This might mean breaking a task down into three chunks and giving students five minutes to complete each task. A large visual timer to go along with this can be a real game-changer.
Sometimes you just need a change of location.
If a student is struggling to work at their table, why not give them the option to work on the carpet or in a chair? Sitting in one spot all day is hard for anyone, and especially hard for a kid. We shouldn’t ask this of them.
Model What Staying Focused Looks Like
Our worlds are FULL of distractions and sometimes no one has taken a moment to show students what it looks like to stay focused.
It can be incredibly powerful to take a moment to show students what staying focused on a task looks like and model it for them. You might even want to create an anchor chart of ways to help yourself stay focused.
This final strategy is a bit more involved than the others but can be a great step to take if a single student is repeatedly off task.
Instead of being accusatory this strategy allows the student time to reflect on why they are off task and ask you for what they need in order to be successful.
In all likelihood, students will need help reflecting and need suggestions for ways they can help themselves.