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Home » Blog » Teacher Support » Routines & Procedures » Classroom Procedures: Tips for Increasing Student Participation When Giving Directions

Classroom Procedures: Tips for Increasing Student Participation When Giving Directions

Routines & Procedures

Written by: Katie Palmer

Getting and keeping student attention appears to become more difficult each year! Students are distracted by a wide array of things, so is there a way to get their attention, give clear directions and increase their participation?! We think so! This post will feature tips & tricks for all three of the following areas:

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Increasing Student Participation

If your students are not actively participating, here are some amazing strategies straight from the classrooms of teachers in our 1st and 2nd grade facebook groups!

1. Clap!

Clap for everything to build a culture of love and respect! Someone gets an answer right? Clap! If the answer is wrong, still clap for trying. Variation: clap in sign language with a silent cheer OR do a “Firework”.

2. Class Cheers

Use class cheers. Dr. Jean has some great ones! (See video below.) Learn 1-2 a week at the beginning of the year and you’ll be set!!

3. Doorbell

Use a doorbell signal for choral response for most answers. After appropriate think time and silent signals they’ll be ready with an answer.

4. Sign Language for Yes and No

Learn the words yes and no in sign language! It helps when you’re in a small group or in the hall and need to correct behavior without talking. Restroom, stop, and sit down are good signs to use.

5. Desks as Dry Erase Boards

Don’t tape name tags to the tops of desks! Write names on desks with sharpie paint pen and kids use dry erase on their desk tops for a huge workspace.

6. Lucky Ducks

Buy little yellow duckies and put their name on them and toss them together in a large bowl. Call on students as your “Lucky Duck” who gets to answer. It’s more fun than popsicle sticks!

rubber duck participation tool

7. Yo! Yes?

Read the book “Yo! Yes?” on the first day. It has a great theme of friendship and then use the title as call and response for attention. Say “Yo!” and students respond “Yes?”. Kids also like to be split into two groups to read the book as a class.

8. Kagan Mats

Kagan mats are excellent for creating different groupings and increasing student participation!

Using a mat like the one in the video below, you can ask 1’s to talk to 2’s and 3’s to talk to 4’s. You can also change and have 2’s share with 4’s and 1’s with 3’s, for instance. You can also use these mats for table jobs. For example, 1’s will get the papers, 2’s will get the scissors, etc.

9. Eliminate Right and Wrong Answers

Eliminate students’ fears of participating because they don’t want to be wrong with this method: When asking a question like “what is two plus 3?” all students know they could possibly get called on. First call on 3 or 4 that have their hands raised and then call on others. But here’s the trick – don’t tell them if their answer is right or wrong. Just smile as they answer and immediately move on to the next student for their answer. Once 6 or 7 people are called on, go over the correct answer. The engagement and listening will be high and your students won’t be afraid to answer questions when they know you won’t point out that they got it wrong. Best of all, your most quiet students will start raising their hands to answer questions!

10. Hand Signals

Teach kids that when a question is asked, everyone responds with a hand signal.

  • Answer = (sign language A)
  • Question (sign language Q)
  • Comment (sign language C)

This helps to avoid a discussion being derailed by a student raising his or her hand and asking an unrelated question. Tell the Q and C people that you’ll call on them at the end of the answers. This works great!

The video below includes a lesson and song to teach students the American Sign Language alphabet.

Attention Getters

There’s nothing like feeling ultra prepared and thinking you will have an all star, ultra engaging lesson, only to start teaching and seeing your students doing everything BUT listening! How can you quickly get their attention without giving the teacher stare? Check out these teacher tried tips below!

1. Finger Sums

Grab attention by holding up 2 fingers and saying “make the sum of 7” and having them figure it out and hold up 5 fingers. The classroom will quiet down quickly and it’s a great skill review!

Variation: Do “Make a 10” as an attention getter. Say, “Make a ten” and hold up a random number of fingers (less than 10) and students have to stop and show the fingers needed to make 10.

2. Ring Chimes

Ring a yoga chime as a classroom reset. On the first day of school practice putting heads down when they hear the chime and taking deep breaths as they listen to the chime fade away. When the sound is gone and they feel calm they sit up again.

Here is a great chime from Amazon:

3. Body Check

Do a “Body Check” when sitting on the carpet for a lesson or story time. They check their bodies as we say the chant “Criss cross applesauce, hands in your lap, eyes are looking, ears are listening, mouth is quiet”. As the year goes on, reminding them to do a body check when they aren’t sitting properly works like a charm!

4. Maracas

Use a maraca to capture attention of students. Shake it and they stop, look, and listen. It works like magic and is often something that people/parents are amazed at.

5. “If you hear me, tap your head”

Say, “If you hear my voice, tap your head, touch your nose, clap 2 times,” etc.

6. S-T-O-P, Stop!

If students are doing hands-on work as a group, and you need their attention, say “S-T-O-P, stop!” and they respond “Hands on top!” and put their hands on their heads and look at the teacher for full attention. It gets them to stop quick and focus fast as they know they will get some new directions and then be able to go back to the task.

7. Give Me 5

Teach “Give Me 5” as a routine for when attention is needed. It’s easy for substitutes to use as well. If working with someone or a small group, the rule is “ask 3 before you ask me” because sometimes their classmates can help without needing to ask the teacher.

ask 3 before me rule chart

Giving Directions

Once you have student attention, the task is to give clear and concise directions. (Who knows how long you will have their attention!?) Here are some easy ways to give short, understandable directions.

1. 3-Peating

Give directions by “3-peating”. Ask kids to repeat three times what the direction is. For example, “Turn to page 37 in your math book.” Students repeat “page 37, page 37, page 37”.

2. Code Word

Use a code word when giving directions. Afterwards, say the code word and then they know they can begin.

3. Magic Word

Write a magic word on the board. The students can’t move to the next activity or take out their supplies until it’s been said. This works great for a call and response too! Try to incorporate new vocabulary. When the teacher says the magic word, the kids respond with the definition, then clap. The possibilities are endless, but it really helps them listen to ALL of the directions before just jumping in (and reinforces new vocabulary!)


  • Magic word: synthesize. Kids say, “Put it all together” and clap
  • Magic word: perseverance. Kids say, “I will keep going!” and clap
  • Magic word: courage. Kids say, “I’m bigger than my fears!” and clap

Magic Word Variation: Write the magic word on the board every day, and announce it to the class. It can be anything – unicorn, popcorn, stinky feet, etc! When giving directions, announcing something important, or in the middle of a lesson, throw in the magic word. The first student to raise their hand gets a Dojo point or other reward.

4. Ketchup, Mustard and Pickle Time!

  • Ketchup = tasks students need to catch up on, whether it’s with the teacher, a para, or on their own.
  • Mustard = things they must do first.
  • Pickle = free choice, but only from the list provided, which always includes educational things for them to do. Early finisher packets work great as one of the fun but also educational pickle choices!

Find out more about the Ketchup, Mustard, Pickles classroom routine here: Early Finisher Ideas.

5. Sneaky Directions

Display something sneaky on the board without bringing attention to it like “draw a heart next to your name.” If kids do that they get a bonus point or some other type of reward. Leave it up for a couple minutes so if they’re paying attention they do it automatically. Kids love it! Plus, it really shows who is paying attention to directions.

6. Getting Started Chant

Say the following when you’re about to test or get started on class work:

1,2 – Paper towards you

3,4 – Feet on the floor

5,6 – Pick up your stick (pencil)

7,8 – Scoot in with your back up straight

9,10 – Let’s begin!

chant for starting independent work time

7. Call and Response

Call & Response Ideas: Sometimes you just need them to instantly pay attention! When that happens, call & response is the way to go!

  • “Show me you are listening” (students hold empty hands up and focus on the teacher)
  • “Hocus Pocus – Everybody Focus”
  • “Macaroni-n-Cheese – everybody freeze”
  • “Andy’s coming” (students either put their heads on desk or fall to the floor if standing (like the toys do) until they are told “coast is clear”.)
  • “Class, class, class?” (Students respond,“Yes, yes, yes.”)

8. Visual Cues

When giving a page number, say it a few times, but also write it in a designated place on the dry erase board with a marker that has a little bell attached. This way, even if students don’t hear the teacher say it, they know where to look on the board. The bell is an extra attention grabber for them to know, “I need to pay attention to this!”

9. Director of Directions

Choose a random student every day to be the director of directions. After I giving directions once, students must ask the director if they forgot the directions. No more repeating directions over and over!

10. “Pencils on Nametags”

Call out, “pencils on name tags” before and during focused lessons.

Hopefully the tried & true teacher tips will help you grab student attention, be able to give uninterrupted directions and get your students participating more than ever. Remember, we are better together! Stop by the blog again soon for more teacher tips!

Classroom Procedures Series

Hopefully these lining up & hallway tips up your classroom management game! If you enjoyed this post, be sure to visit the other classroom management posts in this series:

Lining Up & Hallway Procedures

Tips for increasing student participation When Giving Directions

Managing Unfinished Work

Organizing & Distributing Supplies

Management of Whole & Small Groups

Routines for Tricky Times of the School Day

1 Comment

  1. The Teacher Treasury

    Thank you for sharing these tips! Student participation is really important to keep them engaged and also to have a little fun during the class session. Love how you also incorporated using hand signals because it makes the class more inclusive.


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