Recipe for Success: Dealing with Distractions and Helping Kids Focus

You’ve probably been there: kids spinning in different directions, sometimes all talking at once. They’ll chatter about what they had for breakfast, or their birthday coming up (in only 11 months!), or whatever. Trying to get them all to focus on your lesson can be challenging.  

Today’s guest author Kyoko was born and grew up in Japan, moved to California when she married, and now has a sweet college-aged daughter. She has served in Primary for many years and loves everything about Primary (the hard work and the joy)! Kyoko shares the following terrific ideas to get kids focused.

Keeping children’s interest requires preparation. Arriving in the room before the children is the first step. Setting up the room with pictures or music playing also sends the signal that something interesting is going to happen. Using variety in teaching is key; no one likes to listen to a monologue week after week.

Recipe for Success = Preparation.

  1. Arrive before the children
  2. Set up the room
  3. Use variety in teaching

But after you’ve laid the foundation with good preparation, when you need an instant focusing activity, try these ideas:

  • “Tell me that story when we’re walking to the Primary room, OK?” This shows interest in the child and his/her life without letting them take over your lesson. Be sure to remember to ask them later, so they know you’re genuinely interested.
  • Freeze/unfreeze: Ask the children to freeze in place, whatever they’re doing. Then give the most important part of the lesson — the main point — in 1-2 minutes while they’re frozen.
  • Set the timer. “For 15 minutes, we’re doing this. Then we’ll move onto another activity.” The timer gives the children the idea that this part of the lesson will come to an end! And children often enjoy watching the countdown.
  • Ask them to take notes. Older children can take notes or draw the main points of the lesson, then share their ideas at the end. You can give them a clipboard with a sheet of paper so they can take their notes home, or a small notebook that you keep with you. Notetaking is a skill, so don’t give up if it takes a few weeks for them to figure out what you’re asking them to do. It doesn’t hurt to let them doodle for a few minutes, especially at first. Doing something often helps kids listen better, even if it’s not always apparent.
  • Substitute a child’s name. Lesson manuals often have stories about ordinary children that illustrate the points of the lesson. Instead of Bobby or Susie, insert the name of children in your class. This doesn’t work for stories about actual people — scriptural characters or modern-day prophets — but it works beautifully for the case studies or examples often found in lesson manuals. Make sure you keep track so every child’s name will eventually be used.

    Pick a helper. I put a chair right next to me and ask a certain child if he/she wants to be my helper today. Every kids love to be spotlighted. I pick somebody who is not that happy to be there, or a child who is looking straight at me (that means ready he/she is ready)! You have to see the big smile of the child when you pick them. They look so proud of themselves!

  • Draw. I draw pictures on the chalkboard instead of showing printed pictures sometimes when I start feeling like I’m losing them. Kids laugh at my drawing sometimes but I laugh too! Then I challenge them to draw while I tell stories from scriptures. They love to participate.
  • Vary your voice. When I read scriptures, I read like a story book by changing tones, speed etc. They seem to pay more attention. has many resources to liven up your lessons, including related music, videos, and gospel art. To download from YouTube to your computer, so you’re not relying on the chapel’s wireless connection, put the letters “ss” before the link.


More Blog Favorites: For more ideas, see the “Lovable Rascals” skit and “Your Preparation Leads to a Child’s Reverence: Two Guided Meditations.” Hold onto your funny bone while you see lessons go haywire! Drawing and note-taking particularly appeal to kinesthetic learners: see “Teaching to a Child’s Whole Body.”   Also see “Potatoes every night: Variety in Teaching.”




Filed under Discipline, Reaching the One, Teacher Support

3 responses to “Recipe for Success: Dealing with Distractions and Helping Kids Focus

  1. Pingback: Staffing, Training, Behavior Management, and more! | Primary in Zion

  2. Pingback: Unresponsive children – “love them today, maybe teach them tomorrow” | Primary in Zion

  3. Pingback: Primary presidencies – staffing, training, and holding it together! | Primary in Zion

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