20 Sure Fire Ways to Get Your Students’ Attention

Inside: Lots of tried and true ideas for classroom management. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

After almost 3 decades of elementary teaching I’m now one of the many practicum supervisors for our local university.

I only started recently and while it has some challenges it’s also a lot of fun.  I really enjoy the teacher candidates: Their enthusiasm for their chosen career is a joy to watch.

So now that I’m a bit of an outsider looking in (a very enlightening vantage point BTW) it has me thinking about ways I might be able to help new teachers with some challenging areas. If you’re a seasoned teacher though, please read on. It’s always good to throw a few fresh ideas into the mix.

One of the first things that came to mind was thinking about ways to quickly and respectfully get your students’ attention. I have a few favourite strategies of my own, but I also searched all over the web to round up a few more.

Here\'s a descriptive list of 20 ways to get your students\' attention. The list also includes 25 Call and Response phrases.


1. Echo Clap: This is my all-time favourite. I used it my whole career with excellent results. The trick to making it work though, is to spend some time at the beginning of the year practicing. The kids need to learn to echo your clap right away, at the same time and, most importantly, to stop what they’re doing and quietly look at you immediately after the clap. It works best if you do it in a 4-beat rhythm like ta ta ti ti ta. And be sure to mix it up with some finger snapping and thigh clapping, too!

2. Lights: I used this occasionally and it also worked like a charm. If the class is super noisy just calmly turn off the lights until they quiet down. It generally doesn’t take very long at all. Then you can turn them back on and continue with your lesson or directions.

3. Clap Once, Clap Twice: Here’s another easy and effective strategy. Teacher: “Clap once if you can hear me.”  Those kids who heard you will clap once. Teacher: “Clap twice if you can hear me.” More kids will join in with two claps this time. If necessary, carry on with 3 or 4 claps. Be sure to teach this one before using it so everyone knows what to do!

4. Count Backwards: Start at any number you feel is appropriate for the situation. I usually start at 10. Calmly count backwards. Soon everyone will join in and by the time you reach 0 you’ll have their attention. BTW, you can skip count forwards by 2, 5 or 10 and throw in some extra math practice at the same time.

5. Silent Countdown: This is similar to counting backwards except that you hold up one hand and count silently back from 5, using your fingers to keep track. This one needs to be pre-taught and practiced before it will work. As soon as one or two kids see you doing this, they’re to whisper to their friends “silent countdown”. By the time you run out of fingers the expectation is for everyone to be quiet.

6. Use a Timer: I used a variety of different timers over the years and they always worked because they were so visual. During the last few years I’d use the timer on my iphone and place it under my document camera. The kids could instantly see how many seconds they had to stop what they were doing and look at me.

7. Thank the Quiet Students: I found that this worked very well at carpet time. I’d just start thanking individual students for sitting quietly. Very quickly the others would catch on and in no time at all we were ready to begin. And of course I’d always thank the class as a whole once that happened.

8. One Hand Up: This one also has to be pre-taught but is very effective, especially for large groups. Our administrators used it all the time and lots of my teacher friends used it, too. Just stand in front of the group and silently raise your hand. When they notice you the kids follow suit and it doesn’t take long for everyone to be quietly listening.

9. Stand and Move: If you have a very energetic class sometimes it’s best just to ask them to stand. Then you can lead them through a stretching, exercising or quick dancing routine. Once the wiggles are out they’re usually ready to listen.

10. Use Proximity: This can work very well, especially for older kids. While you’re speaking to the class move around and stand close to the less attentive students. Works like a charm.

11. Give Me 5: This is an oldie but goodie, coined by Harry K. Wong, author of The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher . Raise your hand and the class follows suit. While lifting up each finger everyone says: Eyes look, Ears listen, Mouth closed, Hands still, Feet quiet.

12. Simon Says: This old game is also very effective. It gets the kids moving, they need to be quiet to hear the instructions, and they need to put down all tools and materials in order to follow the various poses. Make it quick and you’ll have everyone’s attention before you know it.

13. Yoga Break: Instruct everyone to stop what they’re doing and do the Chair Pose together. Or perhaps the Big Toe pose, or Tree Pose (my kids liked this one a lot!).

14. Water and Ice: Teacher says,”Make a wave,” and the students wave their hands and flow like water. Teacher says, “Turn to ice,” and everyone sits at their desks, as still as an ice cube and ready to begin the lesson.

15. Use Novel Noises: A teacher friend of mine liked to use a train whistle (it wasn’t as loud as it sounds). Some teachers like chimes, rain sticks, tambourines, zen chimes and xylophones. A few chords on your keyboard, ukulele or guitar would work, too!

16. Jazz Hands: You can get their attention quickly with jazz hands (hands up, palms forward, fingers splayed, hands and fingers shaking). Once everyone has joined in ask them to listen quietly and begin.

17. Hands on Head: This works very well if a lot of your kids are fiddling with tools and chatting. Put your hands on your head and wait quietly until everyone has followed suit (they may need a gentle reminder). Once eyes are on you and everyone is quiet you can begin.

18. Quiet Sprinkles: I never tried this one but it sounds like a lot of fun! Fill a glass jar with glitter and put a “Quiet Sprinkles” label on it. Tell the kids you have a magic bottle of sprinkles that helps everyone be quiet. Then glide around the room pretending to sprinkle everyone with the glitter. This is best used only very occasionally.

19. May I Have Your Attention, Please: Sometimes we overlook the very simple and obvious. Smart Classroom Management explains how to effectively teach your kids to quickly respond to a simple request for their attention. BTW, if you’ve never visited this site, be sure to do so. They have some GREAT tips for anyone looking to improve their management skills.

20. Call and Response: Confession time! I’ve actually never ever done a call and response. Now that I think about it, it seems very weird. I guess it just isn’t my style. But I’ve seen other teachers use this technique and it can be very effective. So here’s a list of my favourites.

  1. Meanwhile … Back at the ranch!
  2. Scooby Dooby Doo …Where are you?
  3. Oh me … Oh my!
  4. Ready set … You bet!
  5. Hocus pocus … Time to focus!
  6. Holy moly … Guacamole!
  7. Macaroni and cheese … Everybody freeze!
  8. One, two, three, eyes on me … One, two, eyes on you!
  9. To infinity … And beyond!
  10. Hakuna … Matata!
  11. Hands on top … Everybody stop! (while putting both hands on head)
  12. Can I get a … Whoop whoop!
  13. Freeze! Everybody clap your hands … (7 claps)
  14. Sponge Bob … Square Pants!
  15. L-I-S … T-E-N!
  16. Peanut butter … Jelly!
  17. Mona … Lisa! (sitting like Mona Lisa with hands in lap, mouth quiet, eyes on teacher)
  18. All set … You bet!
  19. Bum, bada bum bum … Bum bum! (singing)
  20. Here I come to save the day … Mighty Mouse is on his way!
  21. Eeny meeny … Miny moe!
  22. Ready to Rock … Ready to Roll!
  23. Rama Lama … Lama Lama Ding Dong (This is an old song by the Edsels)
  24. Zip it, lock it (do the motion of zipping and locking lips) … Put it in your pocket (class does the hand motions as well and then puts the pretend key in their pocket)
  25. Are you ready? …  I was born ready! (Kids do a karate pose while responding). This is from the movie Kung Fu Panda.

I hope that was helpful and thanks for stopping by.

If you have another tried-and-true technique I’d love to hear about it in the comments!



2 thoughts on “20 Sure Fire Ways to Get Your Students’ Attention”

  1. Congrats on your new job Barb! Very excited for you – you are a natural! One way I have of getting Primary students attention is ask them to sit on their hands. This works especially well in the Computer Lab where they are so tempted to touch the keys. I don't do it for long – just to give an important instruction.

  2. Thanks, Brenda:)Great reminder re the hands! I forgot about that one. Sitting on your hands is a good one. I'd use that before science experiments sometimes…when all the goodies were laid out before them.Thanks for stopping by!


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