Developing Alertness

Being alert in class is essential to learning and performance. Students who can sustain appropriate levels of alertness are characterized as being vigilant or fully engaged in school activities, for example, when attending to a lecture, reading a text book, writing a report, or solving mathematical problems. Students who effectively control their alertness are able to concentrate without becoming mentally fatigued (especially when sitting still and/or listening for long periods of time), and to pay attention without feeling excessively “ bored” or “tired.”

Here are some strategies to develop and strengthen students’ alertness controls.

Helpful Hints

  • Adjust the rate, complexity, and/or volume of information that must be attended to (or processed) at any one time. For example, tape recorders and books on tape are excellent tools teachers can use to slow the rate of presentation down, to allow for repetition of important information, etc.  
  • Modify your schedule so that tasks that require a great deal of effort are planned for periods when students have adequate or high levels of alertness.  
  • Give student advanced warning before being called on in class (e.g., In three minutes I am going to ask you to answer the first two questions on the board. Tomorrow, I will ask you to recap this lesson).  
  • Provide frequent breaks during the day. Breaks between activities may have a purpose such as collecting papers, assisting the teacher in getting ready for the next activity by passing out materials, erasing the board, or writing objectives on the board. You can also make breaks during lessons instructionally relevant by having students talk to each other about how well they are doing, list one or more facts or skills they are learning, or what strategies they are using to complete the task.  
  • Encourage students to use stretching and walking around as ways to revitalize themselves. Getting the blood flowing more evenly throughout the body results in more oxygen being carried to the brain, and thus in feeling more alert.  
  • Periodically shift formats, for example, mixing lectures with reading, hands-on activities, and discussions.  
  • Use visual or verbal cues, or touch a student lightly to communicate that his/her alertness is diminished. Adjust seating arrangements, such as table clusters or staggered desks to allow the student an unobstructed view of signals and to give you access for making subtle contact or gestures.  
  • Provide students with time to pursue high interest activities that may serve to enhance their alertness. For example, set aside a space in the classroom where students can go to strengthen their strengths and exploit their affinity area for gaining expertise (e.g., Jonathon’s Art Station, Joanna’s Model Car Area, Louisa’s Web of Spiders).