So you have just been put in charge of a group of miscreants. Be they elementary school children or adult learners, it is important to use the Two Basic Principles in order to get and keep their attention.
Basic Principle Number one: Charisma
It is important to be charismatic. It doesn’t mean you have to look like a movie star or spout amazing aphorisms every single moment. Charisma is all about attitude. The number one quality to develop is confidence. The second most important is knowledge. If you know your subject, you will naturally seem charismatic because of the ease and comfort with which you are able to discuss it. The third most important quality is a sense of humour. Even if you are not naturally funny, you can always borrow some humorous ideas from various sources: find a comic strip that relates to your subject, have a “joke of the day” – you can even get the students to contribute to this one, use a witty or funny quotation from an expert in your field. For example, many students think of math as being extremely dry, but the great mathematicians were very funny people, and there are many mathematical jokes to be shared. Of course, the best method is to work an array of jokes seamlessly into your teaching material. Students will definitely pay attention when they know they can look forward to being entertained, and let’s face it, entertainment is very much part of a teacher’s job. So whether it is bad puns or dry sarcasm, make sure you inject a dose of humour into every lesson.
Basic Principle Number Two: Rewards
This principle works like a charm. All you need is an effective reward system, and you have a hundred percent your class’ attention. There are many types of rewards, the most obvious one being candy. (Of course, teachers must be aware of any allergies any students might have before giving them any kind of food.) Younger students such as ones in elementary and junior high love getting candy; high school students can sometimes be indifferent to it; college students will kill for candy. On the whole, candy is a very safe bet because most people love it. You can award candy for correct answers to individual students or for good behaviour to the whole class. There are also many non-edible prizes: pencils, erasers, notebooks and other low-cost items.
Some rewards actually require little or no spending. For example, one university instructor has a special turtle figurine. If a student asks a really perplexing question that confuses the teacher, then the turtle will stay on that student’s desk until another interesting question is posed by someone else. So it almost doesn’t matter what the prize is; the point is to introduce an element of competitiveness. Other rewards can take the form of non-material privileges. For example, if everyone pays attention, the last fifteen minutes of class can be devoted to games such as hangman or bingo. Some teachers make bingo cards that are related to their subject or play a game of Jeopardy to review the material, keeping game time productive.