Word Play – Call to Pay Attention

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

I spent some time last week in a K – 1 classroom, working with a teacher who used word play to catch and keep her young students’ attention. Her animation reminded me of a conductor standing before a glorious symphony – the children’s voices responding to her commands.

Mrs. Radcliffe used a wonderful variety of word play to gather the children together before I presented my program to them. “If you can hear me say touch your nose, touch your nose,” this smiling teacher called out to the class. Moving around the room, she continued the word play, “If you can hear me say touch your toes, touch your toes.”

On she went, mixing up action commands with word reply commands, like, “If you can say ‘mouse in the house,’ say ‘mouse in the house.'” She closed the attention-getting word play with a dramatic and intentionally drawn out rendition of a love expression. Mrs. Radcliffe called out to her class, “If you can hear me say I, say I” and they did. “If you can hear me say, LOVE, say LOVE,” and the students said LOVE louder than they said I. “If you can hear me say MRS., say MRS.,” and the students knew where this word play was headed. She then predictably said, “If you can hear me say RADCLIFFE, say RADCLIFFE,” and the class squealed with laughter as they finished the word play saying her last name.

Notice how she used the words, “If you can HEAR me.” This approach engages kids and leads them to LISTENING, a first cousin to HEARING. Every teacher and parent knows that listening is mandatory for paying attention in school, at home, anywhere!

Listening to Mrs. Radcliffe catch her students’ attention with her word play made me think of more word play opportunities. Sky’s the limit. One trick that always works is the use of alliteration. For example, if you need to get the attention of your class you can ask for a show of hands from students who love the beach. Then you can reach into your desk or folder (you get the idea) and hold up a seashell, asking the kids to repeat the phrase after you, “She sells seashells down by the seashore.” Challenge the kids to say that sentence five times and offer to reward them after the lesson you’re about to introduce, if they are successful with the word play.

Sometimes quick word play works best to catch and keep K – 5 students’ attention. Pick a seasonal word like the name of a flower that blossoms in the spring where you live. “If you can hear me say daffodil, say daffodil,” you might offer for a certain region of the United States. You know that kids love improvisation, so after they say “daffodil,” you can add that you’ll soon bring some daffy daffodils to class and ask who will be daffy about the daffodils with you. Remember, it’s word play. You can make it up as you go, just like Mrs. Radcliffe does.

Speaking of words, I checked out the origin of the word, ATTENTION, as I was preparing to write this blog. As you may know, the word comes from the Latin noun, attentionem, which means mental heeding. The noun is derived from the verb attendere, to direct one’s mind or energies. Noteworthy are the variety of verbs that accompany the word, attention. These include to pay, gather, attract, draw and call. This diversity of verbs opens up more opportunity for word play to catch and keep K – 5 students’ attention.

When I work with students, I speak in as many languages as I know, if only in bits and pieces. The word ATTENTION is spelled the same in French as it is in English. The German word for attention – ACHTUNG – is attention-getting all by itself. I haven’t translated ATTENTION into as many languages as I’d like to, so please feel free to instruct me in other languages through your comments on my blog.

I do know that all teachers appreciate new words and new effective ways to catch and keep K – 5 kids focused on learning.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings.

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
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Solution: Show toy cars and pretend to make them zip across a page, telling the class that good writing includes action words (verbs) that have "zip." Ask the class for examples of "zippy" verbs like zoom, race, flash, rush, etc.

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