There are some teachers who, with the merest twitch of an eyebrow, can reduce a class to awed silence.
They don’t need to count down from three. They don’t need to raise their hand in the air. They don’t even need to move, if they don’t want to. After years – and in some case, decades – of working with children, they have developed telepathic powers. Like some kind of Jedi knight wielding mind tricks, such teachers only have to think at a child to persuade it to stop sharpening its pencil / playing illicit non-academic games on its iPad / sawing its rubber in half with a ruler, immediately, and listen.
Sadly, as a newish teacher, I am not in possession of such l33t skillz. Armed with the frankly rubbish ‘3… 2… 1…’ countdown as an NQT, I was never quite sure what you were supposed to do when you got to ‘1’ and half the kids were still talking. I used to fold my arms and look pointedly at the clock, but to be honest, the chatty kids just didn’t give two hoots that I was waiting. They were more than happy for me to wait while they finished their conversations, thank you very much.
So then I began to count all the seconds that had ticked by since I’d reached ‘1’, tripling them, and taking the result off the whole class’s breaktime. This time-docking sanction was fairly effective, but I didn’t like doing it. It forced me to act stern or cross if it was to have any effect, which usually made me feel cross, and inevitably there were a huge number of children who had stopped and had been listening, and because I had been looking so pointedly at the clock, I didn’t know exactly who the culprits were, and I always ended up having to keep everyone in at break and then everyone was grumpy and… Yeah. It was all a bit tedious.
And then, via the vonderful Pinterest, I discovered Attention Getters.
Attention Getters are catchy little call-and-response lines. The teacher calls something out over the general noise of the class… for example, “Chitty-Chitty”… and the class stop whatever they are doing to yell out the appropriate response… in this case, “Bang-Bang!”
I introduced just one to the class to begin with – and chose “Ding-ding-ding… / Class announcement!” because I felt starting with something fairly obvious wouldn’t hurt. I explained to the kids how the call and response deal worked, and what I expected from them (to respond immediately, and then to be ready to show me good listening straight away), and we practised it a couple of times. I used it halfway through the next lesson, before they had chance to forget it, and… Well. It was like magic. The whole class, in cheerful unison, stopped what they were doing to call the response, and then turned to listen to me.
I used it again later that day, and again and again, and then I began to introduce other phrases into the mix so that the children didn’t get bored. Lots of the Attention Getter ideas on Pinterest are very Americanised, and I knew my class wouldn’t understand the references, so I made up some of my own. I used quotes from Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean… and the kids loved it. They even came up with some of their own ideas.
It doesn’t work all the time, of course. There are days when the children are too fidgety, or too interested in what they’re already doing, or are sulking, and then they don’t respond, and it’s a flop and I have to try something else. But usually, it works. And I think that it works for a few reasons.
Firstly, it’s interactive. I’m not asking the kids to be passive and quiet immediately – I’m asking them to actively shout out! That’s pretty appealing to most children. Secondly, when they join in, it forces them to break off from whatever they were busy with before I called out. This makes it easier for them to listen afterwards. Thirdly, it’s fun! Who doesn’t love shouting out quotes from Doctor Who in the middle of a Maths lesson?!
I’ve put together a colourful little PDF freebie of the Attention Getters I use in my class – you can download it here: The Treasure Tin’s Attention Getters. Can you work out where all the quotes are from?! If you use any of them, please let me know – I’d love to hear your experiences. And if you have any good ideas for new ones, my class and I are always interested!