Catch Their Attention From the Start

Holding students’ attention in the classroom now is more difficult than years ago.

I blame electronics. No, really, I do.

Kids are constantly holding electronic devices in their hand – and from an early age. Yes, it’s a technological generation, but has anyone else noticed that they constantly need to be entertained, or they lose interest VERY quickly? When I was a kid, my mom said, “Go play,” and we did. Now I say, “Go play” to my kids, and they look at me like I’m nuts (which I am a little), and they say, “With what? There’s nothing to do. We’re bored.”


But, I’ll get off my soapbox, because I could literally go on and on for an entire post just complaining about this…

The unfortunate truth is that teachers today are competing with electronics in order to get students' attention in the classroom. This is a tough obstacle to be up against! To try help my fellow teachers start their lessons out strong, I'm sharing 20 ways to catch their attention in this post.

Alright, so I lost track… What was this post about? Oh, right – holding students’ attention in the classroom! When I was in college, we learned about anticipatory sets. These were the attention getters or the lesson openers that we had to include in our lesson. These were the parts that hooked the students and got them excited to learn about the upcoming concepts.

I don’t know about you, but for me it seemed that once I got into that classroom and away from physically writing the “long form” of lesson plans, most of that formal stuff got away from me. My hooks really became a review of the day before.


Even I was bored giving the “opener.”

So, one night while watching Big Bang Theory (My absolute favorite show of all time! I’m such a geek, right?!), I decided to research through my old college binders (please tell me I’m not the only one that still has those laying around?) for ideas on how I could spruce up my attention grabbers. How could I open my lessons and hook my students right away?

(Wow, I took a long time getting to the point!)

A List of Ways to Catch Your Students’ Attention

[Courtesy of my student teaching binder (collection of many unknown sources) and a few from brainstorming]

1.)  Start with graphic organizers – KWL (we already know my opinion on this one), circle maps, concept maps, or even RAN.

2.) Catch their attention with a read aloud or a picture book related to the topic of interest or concept. I love using mentor texts to really grab students’ attention and then use it to model a big idea with a smaller text!

3.)  I know I just said too many electronics – but really, media clips do work. Short little YouTube pieces (watch them first), or media like Discovery Education or BrainPOP, make good intros.

4.)  Use Question of the Day or Picture of the Day. I don’t have to tell you about my Science Picture of the Day product, because you already know, but any of those would be a great intro and warm-up activity to really get the mind thinking!

5.)  Photo puzzles or just plain photos in general work well. In my post Activities to Get Students Thinking, students are given only part of a picture, and they are asked several questions about it. Then, more of the picture is shown. As they view more of the picture, their thoughts related to the concept generally change. It definitely piques their interest and gets them excited to learn if they were “right” or not about the picture in its entirety.

6.)  Bring in artifacts or materials such as art or props related to the lesson. I have brought in money from the Civil War era and Native American materials while teaching about them. Students love to see these things face-to-face – and to touch them is even more exciting!

7.)  Food. That’s all I have to say, right? If you are studying a country or a culture, then why not taste their food?! If you are studying fractions, then why not divide up a brownie square? Food and kids = attention and happiness. Too much sugar = headache. Tread the line carefully. ๐Ÿ™‚

8.)  I love a good role playreaders theater, or even a skit. This will definitely pique some interest, especially if students are involved. They love to visualize things and to be involved. Just write a few things out on index cards to start the lesson. I always confer with a few students before the lesson starts to make sure they are okay with it, and then boom – excellent start!

9.)  Place a question on a piece of chart paper (or several different questions on their own pieces) and hang around the room, creating a carousel. Have students move around the room answering the questions on the chart paper. This could be review questions or even questions to find out what they know.

10.)  Turn it into a fun game using the format of “Who or What Am I?” related to your topic/subject.

11.)  Start with a demonstration, models, or manipulatives – WHOO-HOO! If you have followed me for a while, then you know I am all about demonstrations, experiments, and hands-on!

12.)  Start with oral storytelling. Tell a story that relates to what you are teaching. Sometimes I have even made one up and then related back to it later in my lesson. It’s okay to make it up (no one will know).

13.)  Four Corners is a great game. Ask the class a question that has four choices for the answer. Place each one of the four answer choices on paper and tape them to each of the four corners of your classroom. Then, ask the class the question, and they move to the corner of their answer (not their BFF’s answer).

14.)  Bring in the news or a real-life event. Sometimes one of the best ways to catch your students’ attention related to a topic that you have been learning about is to bring in something related to it from the news. For instance, when we were studying earth changes one year, the students were super excited to hear that an earthquake had happened (somewhere) and that they actually understood everything in the news article!

15.)  Prompt with a critical thinking question or problem-solving task that could be done in written form, in cooperative learning form, or used for a debate or a discussion.

16.)  Start with a joke, riddle, comic strip, or political cartoon related to the topic. Make sure it’s related and appropriate. It would be pointless to just do a random joke and could get your students swinging from the chandeliers. That’s not what you want. You want it to be a bridge into the lesson.

17.)  Use task cards as a fun way to open up and review past concepts. You can play it as a game or just as a few questions.

18.)  Provide opportunities for relationship building between ideas. For example, consider the tic-tac-toe method or forced analogies.

19.)  Do something completely unexpected! Students are always shocked to see their teachers do something unexpected – you know, like actually shopping at a store outside of school. So, it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with something! ๐Ÿ™‚

20.)  Use a book excerpt or a quote. Quotes are a great way to get students thinking about a topic, and you can easily ask them what they think you will be learning about.

If all else fails,  I guess you could technically just check homework or review the previous lesson.


The point is, if we are going to “compete” with electronics, we need to be on top of our game. We need to go “old school” and make sure we are including our attention getters and piquing the interests of our students from the start of our lessons. We need to make sure that our hooks get them curious and motivate them to learn. Most importantly, it must relate to the lesson! (If possible, it should also activate and build knowledge, too.)

Get Weekly Freebies!

Sign up for our short & sweet newsletter to get a freebie each week! It’s quick and to the point, because you are busy!

Want to save time Planning?
Um, yes please! Teachers are busy, so yeah, you want anything that will help save you time lesson planning. 
Enter your information below & let me start saving you time with tips, resources, freebies, and more!
Thank you! You’ll be redirected to an awesome freebie now.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Julie

    Thanks for the great list Tammy.

Comments are closed.