Maintaining concentration with young learners

This article is designed to help you with keeping children interested in your class. There are so many reasons why their minds could wander and you find that you are talking to yourself!

Jo Bertrand


  • To make you more aware of reasons why children might not be listening to you or doing the task they should be.
  • To provide some solutions to the problems your may be experiencing with classroom management issues.

First we'll think about the source of the problems, then we'll consider some solutions.

Why do they lose their concentration?

  1. They don’t understand the instructions.
  2. They don’t know why they are doing the activity.
  3. The activity is boring.
  4. The activity is too easy or difficult.
  5. They are tired.
  6. There are lots of children in the class and they want to talk in their L1 (native language) about something else.
  7. You don’t know what you’re doing.
  8. You’ve forgotten materials you need to set up an activity.
  9. The equipment doesn’t work.
  10. You can't get their attention.


  1. They don’t understand the instructions.
    Always demonstrate and rather than asking them if they understand, ask them questions such as ‘Do you have to draw in this box or this box?’ as you point to the two boxes. You shouldn’t start giving instructions until you have complete silence. They will quickly tell each other to be quiet.
  2. They don’t know why they are doing an activity.
    Help them become active learners: tell them briefly why they are doing something. ‘Let’s play a game to remember the colours we learnt yesterday.’ Then get feedback from them about what they did so they don’t see it as an isolated, gap-filler activity. ‘Did you enjoy that game?’ 'How many colours can you remember now?' It should be evidence to the learners the reason for doing something. Their activities in the lesson should be linked to each other and where appropriate there should be relevance from one lesson to another.
  3. The activity is boring.
    Think first: if you are doing an activity for the first time, first think about what exactly you want to teach them and whether it is something you yourself would enjoy doing. Just taking a few minutes before the lesson to think through your plan helps you to foresee potential dull moments. You may be surprised and something you think might be a little dull is actually very successful – if this is the case, put a star beside it on your plan and do it again with another class. The fact you have considered how successful an activity may or may not be before doing it, will better help you to deal with any problems that may arise.
  4. The activity is too easy or difficult.
    Split them into groups: some learners may finish extremely quickly and start disrupting. Check straightaway that they have understood the activity. You may find that they have misunderstood and done only half of what they needed to do. For those who finish early because they found the activity too easy you need to challenge them further to ensure they stay interested. Have a box of extra activities that they can do while they wait. They shouldn’t just sit there. With your tasks you can ask the class to do say 4-8. This allows the stronger ones to do all 8 while the weaker ones do 4 and still have a sense of achievement. When you have lots of different levels in a class it’s impossible to write different tasks for each learner. However, instead of targeting the middle level each time and pitching too high for some and too low for others, think each time how you can have two alternatives. You can have the ‘butterfly’ group working on one task and the ‘spider’ group working on another.
  5. They are tired. 
    Be aware of circumstance: consider the time of day of your class. Is it very early or very late in the day? Maybe they aren’t awake yet or they just want to sleep. They could be hungry before lunch or full up after lunch. If you can be aware of this then you can plan activities with varying pace to accommodate these influencing factors. The younger ones may even need to use the bathroom but don’t know how to ask you. If they do leave the room then make sure they are not forgotten on their return. They may have missed something vital, lose concentration and disturb others in the process.
  6. There are lots of children in the class and they want to talk in their L1 about something else.
    The red card: The red card is designed to give the learners control of their own behaviour. Instead of you having to say fifteen times ‘Please stop speaking in (French)’, they themselves pass around the red card every time they hear someone speak in the L1. You can use the same system for every time someone doesn’t listen when they need to. You begin the ‘system’ by giving the card to the first person who doesn’t listen when they need to. The card sits with them until they can pass it on to someone else who isn’t listening. The aim is not to have the card at the end of the lesson otherwise you have to do a forfeit. This could be wiping the board or helping you carry your books, etc.
  7. You don’t know what you’re doing.
    Have routines: having routines can really help the children to feel secure in a classroom and they need to know what is expected of them. Routines can also help you to have some sort of structure to your class. If you know that as soon as you go into your class you set up your materials and settle the class for the welcome song or at the end of the class you gather everyone into a circle to sing the farewell song, you will look confident. If you have routines you can be effective with setting up activities because you know what you want them to do and so will they.
  8. You’ve forgotten materials you need to set up an activity.
    Be prepared: write a list of materials you need onto your lesson plan and tick them off as you put them into your bag. Check with the list as you unpack your bag in the classroom and place everything onto the desk in the order you’ll need them. If you have to spend five minutes searching for a piece of paper without which you can't do the next activity then the children will switch off.
  9. The equipment doesn’t work. 
    Prepare your equipment: check before class that the DVD is working. Put your cassette to exactly the right place to avoid minutes wasted trying to find the song you want. You will lose the children if you have to fiddle with machines!
  10. You can't get their attention.
    Have a quiet, easy to remember, signal. If you shout to get their attention they will shout louder. For very young learners it could be simply putting your hand on your head and waiting. You could start talking to them without making any sound. They will slowly start to watch you and try to hear what you are saying.


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