How to Pay Attention in the Classroom

Paying attention in the classroom

  • Try to anticipate the main ideas of the coming lecture:
    Look over your notes of the previous lecture and read the course material.
    If you have questions about material from the previous class or text, ask the instructor before class about them
    Prepare a few questions you expect to be answered on new material if possible
  • Resist distractions
    by sitting in front of the room away from disruptive classmates and by focusing on the instructor through active listening and note taking
  • Put yourself in the “mood” with
    attentive expression and posture; do not sprawl
  • Shift position in your seat every so often
    Don’t sit frozen in one position
    Shifting on occasion will help keep the blood circulating, send more oxygen to your brain, and help you remain alert
  • When appropriate: ask a question, ask for more clarity, or engage an instructor and the class in dialogue
  • Train yourself not to give in to distractions

The Spider Technique

Hold a vibrating tuning fork next to a spider web. The spider will react and come looking for what is vibrating the web. Do it several times and the spider “wises up” and knows there’s no bug and doesn’t come looking.

You can learn that. When someone enters the room, or when a door slams, do not allow yourself to participate. Rather, keep your concentration on what’s in front of you.

Form a tunnel between you and the lecturer

  • Practice letting people move or cough without having to look at them – just let them “be out there” as you focus on what is being taught
  • When talking with someone, keep your attention on that person, look at his face, and note what is being said. Let the rest of the world just be “out there.”
  • Use the ‘Be here now‘ technique to help you regain concentration when you do become distracted momentarily.

Active listening

What affects listening?

Active listening intentionally focuses on who you are listening to, whether in a group or one-on-one, in order to understand what he or she is saying.
As the listener, you should then be able to repeat back in your own words what they have said to their satisfaction. This does not mean you agree with the person, but rather understand what they are saying.


What do you think of the
subject matter?
Have you a lot of experience with it?
Will it be hard to understand, or simple?
Is it important to you, or just fun?

Is the speaker experienced or nervous?
What are his/her  non-verbal cues?
What frame of mind is he or she?
How personable, threatening,

Is the message illustrated with
with visuals or examples?
Is technology used effectively?
Are concepts introduced incrementally,
or with examples?

Is the space conducive to listening?
or to interaction or exchange
with the speaker?
Are there avoidable distractions?

Described above are the external factors.
Now: what about you, the center, the listener?

Prepare with a positive, engaged attitude

  • Focus your attention on the subject
    Stop all non-relevant activities beforehand to orient yourself to the speaker or the topic
  • Review mentally what you already know about the subject
    Organize in advance relevant material in order to develop it further (previous lectures, TV programs, newspaper articles, web sites, prior real life experience, etc.)
  • Avoid distractions
    Seat yourself appropriately close to the speaker
    Avoid distractions (a window, a talkative neighbor, noise, etc.)
  • Acknowledge any emotional state
    Suspend emotions until later, or
    Passively participate unless you can control your emotions
  • Set aside your prejudices, your opinions
    You are present to learn what the speaker has to say, not the other way around

Actively listen

  • Be other-directed; focus on the person communicating
    Follow and understand the speaker as if you were walking in their shoes
    Listen with your ears but also with your eyes and other senses
  • Be aware: non-verbally acknowledge points in the speech
    Let the argument or presentation run its course
    Don’t agree or disagree, but encourage the train of thought
  • Be involved:
    Actively respond to questions and directions
    Use your body position (e.g. lean forward) and attention to encourage the speaker and signal your interest

Follow up activities

Give the speaker time and space for rest after talking
Express appreciation for the sharing to build trust and encourage dialogue

Check if you have understood

  • Restate key points to affirm your understanding & build dialogue
  • Summarize key points to affirm your understanding & build dialogue
  • Ask (non-threatening) questions to build understanding

Continue dialogue:

  • Reflect on your experience to demonstrate your interest (feedback)
  • Interpret after you feel you have grasped content
  • Apply what you have learned to a new situation

In a group or audience
give the speaker space to regroup, to debrief after talking

During Q & A

If posing a question

  • Quickly express appreciation
  • Briefly summarize a preliminary point
  • Ask the relevant question

If making a point

  • Quickly express appreciation
  • Briefly restate the relevant idea as presented
  • State your idea, interpretation, reflection
  • Invite a response

Continued development

  • Get contact information for later reference
  • Invite friends/colleagues/etc. for discussion afterward
  • Write out a summary with questions for further review