The previous post emphasised how EFL / ESL teachers have to gain student interest for information processing to take place. If not, the raindrops on the window will be the memories students create during an English language lesson.

Also mentioned were three necessary components that need to be taken into consideration: attention, meaning and emotion.  Incorporating these three elements is a priority, especially in today’s digital environment of information and stimuli overload where teachers are in competition with ‘everything’ in attracting and gaining the attention of their students. How can English language teachers arouse student interest and prevent weariness and inattention?

Teachers — You are service providers

The truth is if you are a teacher, you are a ‘service provider’. The English language is your ‘product’ and your students are your ‘target audience’. Therefore, when you are presenting the ‘sales pitch’ for your lesson, your ‘selling technique’ has to introduce persuasive content.  You have to plan a lesson that satiates attention, is meaningful, and reaches students’ emotions by being interesting, challenging, and worthwhile. If not, you may be competing with a humming neon light. Your aim when developing your lesson is to attract your students’ attention and hold onto it. If you don’t find your lesson stimulating, your EFL / ESL students won’t either.  

Three ways to ‘attract and attain students’ attention’

‘Attracting students’ attention’ means activating their sensory receptors so stimuli reach the first stage of information processing — the sensory memory. If information is held in this area for a second or two, it is transferred into short-term memory by means of a cognitive process named ATTENTION which selectively concentrates on one feature of the environment while disregarding others.  Attention effectively filters out the incoming stimuli leaving only those which are of interest at any given time. (Hopefully your lesson and not a fly head-butting the light).

1. Activate sensory receptors

Remove the competition:

  • Create a calm, predictable learning environment
  • Notice and remove superfluous sensory disturbances

Give your lesson titles a makeover:

From: Practising question forms
To: Are You Still Using DOES instead of DO? Let’s Change That

From: How to Succeed in a Job Interview
To: Let’s Get You That Job! Six Essential phrases.

Find interesting props

  • Use attention-grabbing  imagery
  • Place visuals in unexpected situations or locations
  • Decorate your bulletin board differently to fit the lesson
  • Routinely add an extra item to your bulletin board which students have to find

2. Increase interest level

Once you have gained your students’ attention, as a teacher, you have to work on increasing the interest level and keeping them engaged. The students need reasons to remain interested. You have to ensure the lesson content is meaningful, stimulating and worthwhile.

Stimulate student interest — display progress and goals

  • Present a timeline illustrating – where they were; where they are; where they need to reach and where this particular lesson fits into the overall course.
  • Explain what your students will be able to accomplish once the session is completed and how that fits into their learning curve.
  • Timelines can also be made individually for each student. They can also fill in their own progress.

State the lesson’s specific SMART aims

Explain what your students will be able to accomplish using SMART aims once the session is completed and how that fits into their learning curve.

SMART aims are Specific, Measurable, Attainable / Achievable, Relevant / Realistic and Time-bound.

  • S: Is your goal for your lesson specific?
  • M: Is this goal measurable. How will you / students know they have achieved their goal?
  • A: Is this goal attainable? Can it be achieved with the current skills and abilities and the new material to be learned?
  • R: Is your goal realistic?
  • T: Does this goal have time constraints? No determination or motivation will be created by an open-ended goal. (The timeline will help with this)

Emphasise the benefits of learning the material

State the aims of the lesson then present the benefits of the lesson and highlight the impact of not paying attention.

  • For example, rather than simply saying:
    “Our lesson today will teach you important phrases to use in a job interview.” 
  • Rephrase and explain to the students the real benefits:
    “In this lesson you will learn important phrases which will teach you to express your skills and experience and help you get through an interview with confidence.”
  • For example, rather than simply saying:
    “Today we will learn vocabulary to express likes and dislikes.”
  • Rephrase and explain to the students the real benefits:
    “By the end of this lesson, you will be better able to express your likes and dislikes so you will be able to say what you want and don’t want in a social situation / job interview / in a shop.”

3. Deliver meaningful lessons

The Emotional Affect

Once you have gained your students’ attention and interest, the content of the lesson needs to be meaningful in order to tap into their emotions. Interestingly, emotional memory takes precedence over any other kind of memory because if something causes a strong emotion, a stress response occurs which results in interrupted transmission in the brain. If this happens all the other memory lanes become blocked.

Emotions strongly influence attention, especially in controlling selectivity as well as motivating students’ response and behaviour. Invest time in getting to know your target audience — your class members —  you can then craft meaningful lessons accordingly.

  • Discover your students’ likes, interests, hobbies and concerns.
  • Keep a running list of frustrations and motivations.
  • Select significant contexts, with a high level of relevancy to students’ needs and passions.
  • Relate concepts to students’ background knowledge.
  • Provide stimulating, comprehensible information broken down visually and verbally into manageable chunks.
  • Ask students for feedback. Find out if the topic was interesting or useful. Use this information to reflect and plan your future lessons.

Teachers can also aid emotional memory by:

  • using stories and articles with strong themes and plots that students can relate to
  • including music
  • encouraging role plays
  • bringing accessories to enhance the learning experience

Use the SMART acronym again to check your content:

  • S: Is your chosen subject matter significant?
  • M: Is your chosen subject matter meaningful and motivating?
  • A: Is your chosen subject matter attention grabbing?
  • R: Is your chosen subject matter relevant?
  • T: Is your chosen subject matter thought-provoking (yes, I know – th not t)

Aim for ‘customer’ satisfaction

Your aim as a teacher is to achieve ‘customer’ satisfaction in the same way a retailer or service provider does. If you create lessons that motivate your students, they will feel satisfied when they have accomplished an enjoyable, meaningful task and they will invest in the work necessary to create memories that later can be reinforced in follow-up lessons. This fulfillment will be revisited and renewed when the topic is presented again and they can use their learned knowledge to participate and engage in the lesson, instead of feeling left behind and staring out of the window at the ever changing cloud formations.

Free Resources

Join other teachers and professionals if you are interested in:
  • Finding out more about how to quickly and easily recognise and help struggling students.
  • Checking whether your lessons are ‘memory friendly’.
  • Having other useful, time-saving resources at hand.
Go ahead check out my free how-to guides and toolkits. Enjoy!

Other posts in this series

Interesting Reading and Resources

Tom Berger How to Maslow Before Bloom, All Day Long September 23, 2020

Chai M. Tyng, Hafeez U. Amin, Mohamad N. M. Saad, Aamir S. Malik. The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory Front Psychol. 2017; 8: 1454. Published online 2017 Aug 24. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01454PMCID: PMC5573739

Youki Tarada. Research-Tested Benefits of Breaks March 9, 2018

Copyright Lesley Lanir. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Disclaimer: Content on this site is for educational purposes. If you re-use any content please include original source and copyright information.

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