The Question of Attention
Gerard Evanski, Ph.D.
As an adult, how long can you pay attention? What factors influence your attention span? Informal polls of my classes and seminars reveal that most adults feel they can pay attention for about 10-15 minutes.
Attention may be for longer periods, depending on several factors. These factors may include the time of day, your interest level in the topic, the energy and expertise of the instructor, how you're feeling, how well your basic needs have been met, how comfortable you are in the group, what happened to you before you came to class, and so on.
Research indicates that the informal polls are right on. After about 10 minutes, 20 at the most, attention will begin to wander.
Dr. Richard Allen explains the attention challenge with the metaphor of an ocean wave. When you are in a learning episode, imagine that it is like a wave coming up to shore. The excitement and energy builds in the wave, but eventually the wave crests at its highest peak. If something different doesn't happen at that point, the wave will come crashing down.
What can you do at the "Crest of the Wave" to keep students' attention and focus, and get the most out of a learning episode? That is the missing ingredient in the recipe for success for today's brains! At the wave's peak is when you should add the missing ingredient into the recipe for success!
The changes at the crest of the wave are called "State Changes." A state change can be something that brings about a change in a student's thoughts, feelings, or physiology.
Our brains basically "run on empty." The human brain does not store energy. The brain needs a constant blood supply which brings it oxygen and nutrients. Dr. David Sousa has said that blood tends to pool in "our feet and our seat" when we sit for too long. Many of my state changes for students are designed to also energize them, and get their blood full of oxygen and flowing to the brain.
Some of the activities can be done individually, some are designed to do in a group. The group activities can have the added advantage of creating a feeling of bonding in a team or classroom community, which is essential for creating a safe, threat-free environment where all can learn.
I have used the simplest state changes with students from kindergarten to college level. I would suggest you try all of the state changes and energizers, and if some don't work with a particular group, feel free to make adaptations as necessary.
Remember, state changes do not have to be complex, expensive, or lengthy to be effective!
Evanski's Examples of Energizers and State Changes
Student State Change #7: Cross Laterals
This activity is challenging, yet fun for all ages.
Instructor State Change # 3: Use Novelty and Surprise!
Students are never too old to benefit from novelty.
Environmental State Change #7: Visual State Changes
A dynamic classroom environment stimulates more effective learning.
Student State Change # 46: Buzz/Fizz
A group game for practicing the multiplication tables.
Excerpted with permission from
The Missing Ingredient: State Changes and Energizers for your Classroom.
© 2002 Gerard Evanski. All rights reserved.
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Also see our page on
Music to Use in the Classroom for State Changes, Transitions, and Energizers.