Attention, Concentration, Listening and Following Instructions

Our 21st century culture exposes pupils to high levels of continuous noise - eg. traffic, domestic appliances, instant entertainment etc. Many pupils are not used to silence, screening out noise, sitting or concentrating for sustained periods of time. These are skills which may need to be specifically taught.

In addition there are some conditions which can create particular difficulties such as ADHD and Autistic Spectrum Disorders, speech and language difficulties, sensory impairment and learning difficulties.


  • Does the child fidget or have difficulty remaining seated?
  • Does the child shout out?
  • Does the child fail to attempt tasks?
  • Does the child begin but fail to complete tasks?
  • Does the child refuse tasks?
  • Is the child easily distracted?
  • Does the child seem to start to follow instructions but then get "lost" part way through?
  • Does the child appear to become engrossed in an activity and have difficulty moving to the next?
  • Does the child "flit" from one activity to another?
  • Has the child heard you?
  • Is the child able to recall instructions?
  • Although the child seems able to comprehend instructions, they hang back until individually approached.
  • They opt-out of certain instructions - eg. tidying up.


  • Balance the listening, concentrating and practical components of the lesson to the optimum length of time for which the class/pupil appears able to manage and build up over time.
  • Practise opportunities for silence, listening and recall, especially with younger pupils.
  • Play variations on games such as "Simon Says", "I Went Shopping", "Kim's Game", "I Spy" etc.
  • Circle Time.
  • Set "time-targets" for particular tasks, using a sand-timer or clock.
  • Break up tasks into smaller chunks, so that pupils do not feel overwhelmed by the amount.
  • Be aware of how many instructions are being given at once - eg. a sentence like "put your books in the middle of the table and put your pencil in your tray" is two instructions.
  • Use visual or auditory signals to indicate change.
  • Classroom targets - eg. listening to the register/story/instruction/when someone else is speaking. Recognition by reward.
  • Set individual targets and task completion charts.
  • Behaviour rehearsal - eg. the instruction "Tidy up" may be a vague concept to some children. They need to know what is required and practise it.
  • Commercial products for improving listening and concentration.
  • Repeating back.
  • Make sure that work is appropriate.
  • Make sure the task is understood.
  • Some children refuse because they lack confidence, they may need extra reassurance and opportunities to build up independent working.
  • Does the activity need to take into account that it is the end of the morning/day session? Would the material/activity be better placed elsewhere in the week?
  • Styles of learning - take into account the pupils preferred learning style.
  • Positive praise, letters home.
  • Home/school liaison.
  • Extreme work refusal - remove the work and explain that you will return it to them when YOU (the teacher) are ready - ie. you are the one in control. When the work is returned there needs to be an opportunity to revisit the instructions and find out why the pupil felt they were unable to do the work.
  • Utilise school hierarchy of rewards/sanctions.
  • Use viewfinders to reduce the amount of text visible at any one time.
  • Use self-monitoring.