Short Attention Span

Children who have short attention spans are typically easily distracted by noises, smells, feelings, or sights around them. They also have problems sticking with activities and following directions. Their limited attention span may be caused by organic or genetic factors related to hyperactivity, an inability to screen out irrelevant stimuli, a need to have someone else involved in whatever they do, or a disposition to giving up easily.


  1. Train children how to focus on the important aspects of a situation or problem by giving them exercises like picking out the word that doesn’t belong in a sentence, discriminating the figure from the background in pictures, and remembering the order in sequences.
  2. Teach children relaxation skills, so their attending processes become more natural and efficient.
  3. Give children written instructions on the blackboard or on paper, so they can’t say to you, “I forgot what you said.”
  4. Insist children finish every project they start. Make a rule that no new project is started until the last one is completed.
  5. When giving your instructions use easy-to-understand words and don’t talk too much. Start out with a clear statement, followed by a procedure, and finally specific details. For example, “In science class today we are going to plant our watermelon seeds. I want you to watch me first, as I plant my seeds, and then I want you to do the same thing with yours. First…”
  6. Organize a Good Listeners Club. Ask children to make a name-tag which they can tack on the club’s bulletin board, signifying they are members. If a child shows poor listening skills by not following directions or talking while another person is talking, he must remove his name-tag from the board and keep it for the rest of the day. Just before dismissal he is allowed to put his name-tag back up (Rogers, 1987).
  7. Implement Grandma’s Rule. Once children finish their schoolwork they can do special activities or have special treats.


  1. For those children who avoid finishing tasks because they’re afraid whatever they do won’t be good enough, select tasks which you know they can do and be sure to reward them when they finish.
  2. Ask the child to monitor his on/off task behavior, and compare his daily totals to a pre-set goal. He can do this by ticking a card every time he doesn’t pay attention, or checking a “yes” or “no” every time a tone goes off. This helps the child become more aware of what he is doing, and encourages more on-task behavior.
  3. Make sure the child is listening to you when you give him instructions: (a) meet him at his eye level; (b) wait until he is looking into your eyes; (c) give your directions; (d) ask him to repeat what you’ve said.
  4. Motivate a child to spend longer on an activity by doubling up on activities he likes, or pairing an activity he likes with one he doesn’t like. A good motivator, so long it doesn’t become a distraction, is music.
  5. Arrange to have the child’s hearing checked. He may not be hearing you.
  6. Ask the child to start out his lesson by making a contract to himself, specifying what he wants to accomplish, how long it will take him, and what his reward will be if he achieves it.
  7. If a child is easily distracted by noises or alluring objects, build up his resistance by gradually adding interferences like a ticking clock, music, or a toy.
  8. Use a stopwatch, Workclock, to keep track of how much time a child spends on-task (Devine and Tomlinson, 1976). Every time his attention diverts, stop the clock until he gets back on task. After the clock runs out he is allowed to change his activity. This can also be done on a classroom basis.
  9. Simply stop talking until all the children in your class are paying attention. If you smile while you do it, they may even pay attention sooner.
  10. Role-play scenarios with children talking while nobody is listening to them. Discuss how a child feels being ignored, and how other children feel ignoring him.
  11. If you see a child looking off into space while you’re giving a lesson, say his name out of the blue. This will snap his attention back to you.


  1. During your lesson interject directions like Touch your nose,” or “Raise your hand.” All those children tuned-in will follow through, and earn a reward (Woolfolk & Woolfolk, 1974).
  2. With younger children try giving instructions in a creative way, like using a hand puppet. This will attract their attention, and perhaps even inspire them to work longer on their assignments.
  3. As you’re talking to the child suddenly walk off and look at something else. Explain to him that when he gets distracted in the middle of your lesson, you feel the same way as he just did when you ignored him. Be careful to reserve this strategy only for children who can pay attention, but choose not to.