Are you struggling to keep the children engaged, especially during whole group activities? You might be making some of the following mistakes:
- Don’t talk over the children. Be sure you use your quiet signal to get all the children’s attention before your start. Use the signal again during the activity – especially if the children are actively moving or enthusiastically excited – to regroup and calm the children down. Avoid using the “I”ll wait…” strategy because you’ll just lose the interest of more children. Instead, actively quiet the children down and then proceed. You might also need a quick relaxation exercise like pretending to breathe in a flower’s smell and breathe out like blowing out a candle. Young children need help self-regulating and often find it hard to have the self-control to stop talking, moving, laughing, and so on.
- Don’t rush around looking for things. Have all your materials ready, close to where you’ll use them. Think through everything you’ll need ahead of time, and make a list if you need to so you’re sure you are all set. Be organized! When I have student teachers videotape themselves, the most common reflection they make is that they needed to be better prepared and better organized.
- Don’t let children’s responses sidetrack you. Children are notorious for answering a question with a lengthy response that can often be completely off-topic. Practice polite, kind ways of setting limits on children’s responses. You might say to a very young child, “I’d talk to you more about that during lunch, Robert. Let’s get back to the story.” For elementary-aged children, you might want to start teaching children how to monitor their responses to make sure they are talking about the topic of the question. Either way, it can be appropriate to stop a child from rambling. This can hard for those of us raised in cultures where cutting someone off can be considered rude. Get over your reluctance – the other children need you to set limits.
- Don’t rely only on handraising. Expecting children to raise their hands to respond often leads to the same children speaking over and over again and others being passive and not interacting. Use alternatives to calling on children such as turn-and-talk, choral responses, or personal white boards. These strategies will also help if you have trouble with children’s long-winded responses.
- Don’t keep the children still for too long. Children need to move frequently. They will find it hard to focus and concentrate for long periods of time without some breaks to move, talk, sing, or loosen up a bit. Research shows that physical activity increases children’s focus and attention!
Try some of these new approaches and see if the children’s engagement improves. Do you have other suggestions for managing your whole group activities better? Please share them in the comments!