Quick Activities to Keep Students Focused

Well, it’s almost spring. Time to try to get those students to stay in their seats and listen to you. How can you do that? With several different 10- to 15-minute activities. Try these in your English/Language Arts classes:

Read to your classes. A great way to quiet students down and grab their interest is to read to them for about 10- to 15-minutes a day. Historical fiction books create an interest in history or at least a particular historical era.

Peter Dickenson’s The Kin is a nice introduction to prehistoric times. If your students are studying Native Americans, Michael Dorris’ Guests is a good choice. Eighth graders are often beginning the Civil War. Consider reading Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith.

Choose books that are good literature but that most students would not read on their own because of the subject matter or the difficulty of the text. After all, part of the joy of being an English teacher is creating a love of reading and literature.

Get your students writing. Mitzi Merrill, in her book, Helping Your Struggling Students Be More Successful Readers and Writers (Grades 6–12), offers a clever idea that she calls Following the Directions. Start by having students write three sentences of four words each, reminding them to capitalize and use end punctuation. Introduce the “No 2 sentences start with the same word” rule.

Students must follow these directions: Students are to use the words car or cars in each sentence. For example: “Fast cars are fun. The car is blue. Which car is yours?” Continue this activity for 10 days with each set of directions gradually becoming a little more challenging, such as “avoid using the word the” or “include the color purple.” Because it is a gradual increase in difficulty, students can and do rise to the occasion.

Play with Poetry. Another idea of Merrill’s gets the students memorizing, reading, speaking, and listening. Take a poem with enough lines for each person in the class to have one line. Number the lines and assign each student to one line. Ask the students if there are any unfamiliar words; if so, say the word out loud for the student and discuss its meaning.

Students memorize their lines. When they are all ready, usually within two days, have them line up around the room according to their numbers and recite their lines. (Great for team building!) The finished product is a real encouragement to them.

Keep It Moving. These activities are rather short and fun but they all meet several needs. Students can move around the room. They have opportunities to talk. They are staying focused. And they haven’t been doing a lot of moaning and groaning.

Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, February 2009