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How To Keep Students Engaged · Mrs. P’s Specialties

While most students in special education classes have very limited attention spans there are some students who struggle to attend for even 10 seconds at a time. These students often need to be doing something at all times. It can be a struggle to keep them sitting, calm and busy. Downtime can be a real problem for these kiddos, so it is crucial to have activities and tasks available to grab at any moment to avoid losing their focus and attention and stop them from engaging in unwanted behaviors.

Keep students with very short attention spans engaged in learning blog post featured image

Here are some easy ways to ensure you always have enough meaningful tasks on hand for them:

Interactive books to keep students engaged

Keep interactive and adapted books handy so you can grab them quickly. We keep them in a variety of areas of the classroom:

  • Class book shelf with our theme books
  • In students’ independent reading bags
  • Use in task bins
  • Hang them up on hooks near the door or wait area
  • Set up in morning meeting
  • Post them on your social studies bulletin board
  • Keep them in work stations for students to use between activities

While interactive books are a great way to keep students doing something and engaging with text, they’re also a perfect way to target theme units, to reinforce concepts, for science and social studies lessons … for just about everything! They are such a great way to keep students engaged, focused, and actively participating in literacy, activities, and lessons.

keep students engaged with task cards

Task cards and hands-on activities are a great way to keep students engaged during and between lessons. Task cards don’t have to only be used in independent task bins or centers. They’re also a great way to keep students engaged and on task during:

  • downtime
  • transitions
  • when teachers and paras are working with other students
  • when the need to wait

Prep multiple copies of these tasks and keep them handy to grab when you need one for a student who has finished their work or during downtime in the classroom. Use a variety of hands-on tasks such as clip cards, sequencing activities, matching, and put-on tasks, fill in the blanks, etc in a range of levels. This varied practice is great for dealing with short attention spans and generalizing skills.

fine motor activities keep students on task

Keeping several different fine motor tasks and activities on hand is another must when you have students who have a short attention span and need to stay engaged. Here are some ideas that work really well in my classroom:

  • Stringing beads or pencip grips
  • Cutting out pictures, words, etc.
  • Put-on or clip-pm activities such as putting erasers on pencils, clothes pins on rulesr, lids on containers, etc.
  • Find small items hidden in theraputty
  • puzzles
  • sorting
  • using tongs to move items
  • stamping sets

There are so many possibilities for fine motor tasks, just look around your classroom, gather materials, and be creative.

How to keep students Involved with motor tasks

Sometimes the best thing you can do to keep students engaged is to get them up and moving. The key here is to keep it structured… it’s NOT a time for running around the room or revving up. Ideas on how to keep students engaged with gross motor activities:

  • Exercise choice board- letting students choose the motor activity will help keep them engaged
  • A tailored movement plan from the PT to target generalization & carry over form PT sessions
  • Running errands in the building
  • Taking a walk in the hallway carrying something heavy or wearing a weighted backpack (when approved by your OT)
  • A life skills based chore such as vaccumming, swiffer the hall or classroom, wash the windows, clean empty tables or desks, etc.
  • Yoga cards in a quiet space to run through the poses.

Your OT and PT can help you determine which activities would be best. Research has proven that kids learn best when they get movement throughout the day!

Sneak in writing to keep students engaged

Writing activities are a great way to keep students engaged and on task. It can be self-directed or directed by staff. For example, if students like to explore or use writing tools, allow them to use them within and between activities to help keep them focused and engaged.

Ideas for writing type activities that are low prep:

  • Copying letters, numbers, words, sentence, etc.
  • Tracing name, letters, numbers, pictures, etc.
  • Mazes
  • Dot to dots
  • Coloring
  • Making lists
  • Putting words in alphabetical order
  • Practicing copying or writing personal info (name, address, phone number, etc.)
  • Following written directives
  • Question of the day

Keeping tasks and activities easily accessible so that any staff can grab them when needed is essential. I have found that my students with extremely short attention spans usually cannot wait, so we give them another activity or task as soon as they finish one.

How to keep students with very short attention span engaged in learning blog post pin photo

Still teaching remotely instead of in person? No problem! Use the tips HERE to keep student engaged while videoconferencing.

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