Attention Grabbers: Getting Students' Attention without Shouting
Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
October 2016

Getting and Securing Students' Attention

Research has strongly suggested that students learn best when they can have discussions with each other related to the concepts that the teacher is covering. However, when these student-centered discussions are in play, the classroom fills with noise and it becomes difficult for the teacher to regain the students' attention.

Rather than resort to trying to shout over the students, it's best to have some type of signal planned and practiced beforehand so students will know, when they hear the signal, all talking will stop and their full attention will be on the teacher.

Many teachers have used a bell, whistle, gong, clapper, tambourine or some other type of device, and while these can be effective, after awhile students become used to them and begin to "tune them out." After this happens, it's crucial that teachers have additional methods for getting and securing students' attention in the classroom. Below is a list of Attention Grabbers that have been very effective and useful in many different classrooms ranging from the primary grades through college-age students.

Attention Grabbers

Teacher says: ready to rock?
Students reply: ready to roll!

Teacher says: all set?
Students reply: you bet!

Teacher says: macaroni cheese!
Students reply: everybody freeze!

Teacher says: hocus pocus!
Students reply: time to focus!

Teacher says: are you ready kids?
Students reply: aye aye, Captain!

Teacher says: alligator, alligator!
Students reply (while forming the shape of an alligator's jaws with their arms stretched out in front of them clamping shut for each word "chomp"): Chomp, Chomp!

Teacher says: one, two, three, eyes on me!
Students reply: one, two, eyes on you!

Teacher says: tootsie roll, lollipop!
Students reply: we've been talking, now let's stop!

Practice Beforehand

It's crucial that teachers introduce the Attention Grabber to students and have them practice several times chorally together before using them when students are busy in discussions. Teachers tell students that when they hear the teacher say the first line of the Attention Grabber, they are to say the second line and then stop talking and whatever else they are doing and give their full attention to the teacher. It's also helpful to students for the teacher to either write the Attention Grabber on the classroom board or screen so that all students are able to see the words while they are practicing. In addition, teachers can make a poster for each Attention Grabber to be displayed in the classroom to help students remember what the words are. It's important to use the same Attention Grabber for a week before moving onto a new one. This gives the students full opportunity to learn it, but less likely to become over sensitized to it, and students appreciate new and different things.

Once all of the Attention Grabbers have been used for a week, the teacher can either start over at the beginning of the list or invite students to come up with their own Attention Grabbers-they really enjoy doing this!

Benefits for Teachers and Students

Attention Grabbers have many benefits for both teachers and students. When taught and practiced correctly, teachers can feel more comfortable allowing students to enter into meaningful student-led discussions (see Weih, 2016) without feeling they might lose control of them and have to resort to shouting for the sake of regaining their attention. Moreover, teachers can implement Attention Grabbers as a transitional choral response strategy to let students know that they need to get ready for a different activity.

Most students actually do appreciate routine and structure in their classroom. They find comfort in knowing what is to come, but yet, also enjoy fun and new things within that zone of structure. When teachers implement Attention Grabbers, students know what is going to happen; they know what to listen for, and how to respond when they hear it. This takes the guessing away from trying to figure out what the teacher wants. They also prepare students for learning whatever the teacher has planned for the next instructional moment.

Closing Comments

If there is a particular Attention Grabber that students seem to struggle with learning, then just abandon it and choose a different one from the list. Students also enjoy using the Attention Grabbers when they are leading discussion groups or presenting in front of the classroom.


Weih, T. G. (2016). Discussion strategies for the inclusion of all students. ERIC: Institute of Education Sciences (ED561060).

Copyright © 2016 Timothy G. Weih, Ph. D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA

About Author / Additional Info:
Timothy G. Weih is an associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA, and teaches elementary teaching methods courses.