Helping Students with Short Attention Spans


July 9, 2020

Reading Time: 5 minutes


“Pay attention!” – I am pretty sure this directive is given out by teachers in every part of the world, every day. As a good student, I always found it very easy to follow this command and never understood why teachers had to specifically name out some students with this command and that too multiple times.

This mystery started to unravel when I became a teacher myself, which gave me an opportunity to closely monitor students and understand that every student even though provided with the same set of study material and instructions does not give the same result in terms of being receptive to whatever is being taught.


One of the very important parameters that are important for a teacher to be able to make an impact on a student’s life is to be able to retain the child’s attention for a reasonable amount of time.

According to Wikipedia, ‘attention span’ is the amount of concentrated time a person can spend on a task without becoming distracted.

Estimates for the length of the human attention span are highly variable and depend on the precise definition of attention being used.

The average attention span in children could vary according to their age: 7 minutes for 2-year-olds; 9 minutes for 3-year-olds; 12 minutes for 4-year-olds; and, 14 minutes for 5-year-olds. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus and sustain attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals.

comparison of attention span

Students with short attention spans are unable to be attentive for a substantial amount of time ideally required to comprehend what is being taught.

10 Effective Teaching Strategies to Help Children with Short Attention Spans

1. Look out for the root cause

Similar to the way a doctor examines a patient for symptoms to diagnose and thus prescribe the treatment, a teacher needs to understand the cause of a student’s lack of concentration. This is important to decide on the teaching strategy to be used to help a student focus on the topic being taught.

For instance, if students are not able to pay attention because they are upset due to an incident at home, then the first step should be to comfort the child by a warm-up talk, reassuring them that things will be fine, and then start the class. On the other hand, if students are not paying attention because they are bored with the topic and just does not want to know anything more about it, the best thing would be to take up a different topic.

When the majority of my students got really bored of studying the topic ‘time’ over a week, moving on to the topic ‘money ‘ and then back to ‘time’ a week later really helped.

2. Use physical manipulatives and activities to make learning more fun and effective

For every topic, bring in a fresh insight by indulging in concept based manipulatives and activities. For instance, when teaching about ‘Money ‘, a role-play of a shopkeeper and a customer is entertaining as well as fulfills the purpose of educating the students about the topic.

Similarly, for fractions, the physical manipulatives instantly bind the attention of students.

important notes to remember
‘’Every student can learn, just on the same day or in the same way.’’ 

3. Be patient

There are moments in the classroom when a teacher has put in a lot of effort to sustain the students’ attention but go in vain. These are those frustrating times, which as a parent, could have vent your anger on children or punish them.

But as a teacher, it’s critical that you maintain composure because if you yell at students, you create a gap between you and your students.

They would not be comfortable asking you for help which is a tendency of a student with a short attention span because they take longer to comprehend as they are not able to pay attention for a considerable amount of time.

important notes to remember
Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we are waiting.”

4. Involve them in target setting

This is a fine way of grooming them to shoulder the responsibility. To set their target in consultation with them is to enter into a mutual agreement e.g to set a target to complete three worksheets in one class.

In this manner, the student tries to achieve the target because their consent was taken rather than imposing the target on them.

They will try to concentrate and pay attention to be able to complete the work on time.

brain inside bulb

5. Playful approach to studies

Children enjoy playing because we don’t force them to play. Likewise, they will enjoy studies when we don’t force them to study. Strive to make your classroom a place where children are not forced to complete a topic or forced to memorize what they haven’t understood.

Whatever you teach, try to bring in practical examples, create stories out of topics; bring in fairies, superheroes, Aliens, Motu, Patlu, whatever it takes to make a topic interesting.

The more humorous you are, the more impactful your lesson will be.

6. Speak softly

Voice plays an important role in seizing and retaining attention. When you speak gently, students become more receptive to the information that is passed on because everyone likes to listen to a pleasant voice.

7. Clear away any distractions

Students like to play with erasers, sharpen pencil after writing few words, drink water frequently when the water bottle is nearby, or resort to other fidgeting habits.

They might get mesmerized by fellow student’s pencil boxes and have conversations among themselves. Students naturally tend to behave in this manner.

So it’s better to keep the study table and surrounding area as distraction-free as possible to counter any scope for distraction.

8. Break down complex topics into smaller ones

Try to make things as easy as pie. Start with simple concepts and then build on it. Relate the concepts to things in daily life. An abstract concept can be made simpler by introducing it pictorially and by using concrete models.

Do not rush to complete a topic. It is better for a student to take more time to understand rather than to get confused and eventually avoiding the topic.

can you say that again?

9. Reward and recognize efforts

Recognize and reward the child for even the smallest of the efforts put in. Stick a smiley in their diary and write a compliment as well. Gone are the days when students contended with an ‘Excellent’.

Today the kids are in awe when being called a ‘’Rockstar’’, ‘’Ninja’’, ‘’Awesome’’, ‘’Brilliant’’ and many such motivating keywords. Be generous with such powerful words to appreciate their work and thereby boost their morale.

10. Talk to parents

Try to talk to parents about students’ likes or dislikes about your way of teaching. It will give you inputs to refine your teaching skills. A teacher can get inputs from parents regarding the student’s behavior and characteristics.

This helps in understanding a student better and to chart out an approach to be taken in the class.

A cooperative relationship between a teacher and parents can be fruitful in yielding out the efforts put in to help the short attention spanner.


All the above-listed teaching strategies are quite helpful for short span attention students. Having said that, every child is different, so what works for some may not work for others.

You will have to spend some time to understand the student and then incorporate the teaching strategies one at a time or maybe a combination of strategies to make your teaching effective.

teaching strategies

Happy teaching! 

Cuemath, a student-friendly mathematics platform, conducts regular Online Live Classes for academics and skill-development and their Mental Math App, on both iOS and Android, is a one-stop solution for kids to develop multiple skills.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does it mean to have a short attention span?

It means to have trouble focusing on tasks for any length of time without being easily distracted.

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