Evidence-based strategies for attention

Evidence-based strategies are those that have been evaluated by researchers within school settings, and found to be effective.

Consider how you communicate

Get their attention before speaking

Eye contact, gestures, and visual or verbal prompts may be used to get student’s attention before giving instructions or speaking to them.

Providing clear and direct instructions

Clear instructions about the learning and associated tasks, the behaviour expected, and how much time students have to work in may be helpful. These instructions may need to be repeated at the start of each new task and complemented with written learning intentions or activities on the board, written prompts for the student on their desk, etc.

Simplify instructions and learning

Consider breaking down big tasks into smaller ones. For example, give step-by-step written and verbal instructions with visual supports (pictures). Other strategies include providing opportunities for the student to respond, using activity sequencing, and allowing choice. It is helpful to check their understanding before moving on to the next step or activity. For example, some students may like to demonstrate their understanding by repeating instructions or answering questions. 

Vary teaching strategies

Consider using pictures, videos, PowerPoint presentations, objects, or demonstrations to explain concepts and tasks. Hands-on lessons can be very engaging.

Use computer software

Multimedia educational software on the computer or tablet may help some students focus on complex lessons, such as mathematics or reading. Interactive software where students can answer questions and receive immediate feedback are good for practising these skills. Some software can help improve memory and attention. Keep in mind, establishing routines for using technology can be important for enhancing engagement.

Make classes structured

Create a consistent daily routine

Clear expectations and routines help a student know what is planned for the day. Consider using a timer or clock to help students learn to manage their time and routines. This can be useful if students are learning to self-monitor their behaviours too. Access our self-monitoring form.

Support students to self-manage

Teach self-reflection skills

Consider guiding students to problem solve so they can persist with school work instead of getting frustrated. For example, they can follow these steps mentally or think out loud: “What is the problem?”, “What are my options?”, “I think this is the best option”, “Am I following my plan?” and “How did I do it?”. Access our problem-solving guide.

Teach students how to self-monitor

Consider giving students a checklist of behaviours that they would like to work on (for example, raise their hand to ask a question). Prompt them to check off the list throughout the day. Focus on one behaviour at a time and set goals around achieving this so that the student experiences success. Access our self-monitoring form.

Guide students to self-evaluate

Students can be taught to rate their choices and outcomes, and write down what has helped or stopped them from achieving their goals. Teachers, School Learning Support Officers (SLSO), Aboriginal SLSO or Aboriginal Education Officers (AEO) can help students be more accurate in their evaluations by recording their own observations.

Modify the environment

Minimise potential distractions

It may be helpful to sit students with their backs facing windows, doors, corridors or other busy areas of the classroom. istractions could be removed when not in use. Let students who are easily disrupted by sounds wear ear plugs or headphones while they work on individual tasks.

Select seating

Consider sitting students near peers who can model appropriate behaviours, or close to you so you can interact with them. Short seat breaks (for example, to run an errand, touch their toes etc.), stability balls, cushions or study carrels may improve focus and restlessness. Similarly, holding blu-tack or a stress ball may help.

Design and tailor inclusive activities

Match teaching to interests and abilities

Consider what students like and can do to keep things interesting or relevant and manageable for them. As the student demonstrates skills or knowledge, provide additional learning by slowly increasing the workload or difficulty. 

Help them

Some students may need help (for example, prompts, demonstrations, encouragement) from teachers, School Learning Support Officers (SLSO), Aboriginal SLSO, or Aboriginal Education Officers (AEO) when learning new skills. This help can be gradually reduced as they demonstrate the skill or knowledge. They may need to be taught how to ask for help (for example, raising hands, waiting for their turn to speak). 

 Work collaboratively in groups or with buddies

This may help to reduce distractions when clear expectations, routines and procedures around group work are set, making it easier for them to focus. Students can practise new skills, make friends, and learn by watching others. Students may also redirect a distracted student. Read more about guiding students to balance their own workload when supporting a peer.

Provide feedback

Provide effective, immediate and task focused feedback

Students may respond well when their own and others’ efforts and achievements are given regular, effective feedback. Providing timely feedback regarding appropriate behaviour and behaviour of concern is important. If an instruction is not being understood consider another means of communication such as pictures or demonstrations.

Redirect students

Consider providing verbal feedback to remind students of expectations or redirecting a student who is distracted without causing embarrassment.

Teach academic skills

Teach organisation strategies

Tools such as colour-coded folders, planners or checklists can be used to help students keep track of notes, books, homework, assignments and key dates. 

Teach note-taking skills

Students can be taught note-taking and summarising skills during a lesson through simple and direct instructions. Prompts and redirection may help students to take accurate notes. This support can be reduced when they can record information and write notes clearly and concisely without help.