Activities to Enhance Attention Skills at Each Level

0 - 1 year

Level 1

The pupil’s attention at this level is held for a moment by the most obvious thing happening, as you would expect of a baby. A pupil who remains at this level and does not move on is extremely distractible. The pupil may be distractible and active or distractible and passive i.e. just watching.

It is necessary for adults to:

  • Control the environment and reduce stimulation/equipment available
  • Be at the pupil’s level, face to face.
  • Be prepared to repeat the same activities
  • Use motivating equipment
  • Use everyday routines to encourage anticipation and prerequisite skills for listening.
  • Praise any responses
    Feely bags
    Stacking beakers
    Musical instruments
    Lift the flap books


  • Present objects face to face, before moving them to the side, (to check they are following/tracking them).
  • Use noise making objects, (initially within their sight and then to the side) to encourage them to turn to sounds, within time begin to hide the noisemaker to see if they can still locate the sound.

1-2 years

Level 2

Pupils become able to choose an activity to concentrate on and this holds their attention for a short time. They do not enjoy adult intervention and like to ‘cut out’ other distractions. It can appear at this stage that the pupil is not listening or hearing. Pupils who remain at this level and do not move forward may demonstrate limited play skills.

It is helpful if adults:

  • Reduce background noise
  • Comment as pupils play, rather than try to distract.
  • Always stop the activity before delivering new information
  • Share familiar songs/stories and encourage the pupil’s participation
    Action songs/nursery rhymes
    Ready Steady Go games
    Indicating familiar named objects


  • Watch the pupil carefully during play to look for signals of pleasure/anticipation, e.g. body movements, facial expression and respond to these signals.
  • Use objects you know to be motivating or stimulating for that pupil: noise making, brightly coloured objects or those with flashing lights, may help to gain their attention.

2 - 3 years

Level 3

The pupil still only concentrates on one thing at a time i.e. single channelled. They are more flexible so can shift from activity to listening and back again with help, e.g. a physical prompt. The adult needs to make sure that the pupil is looking and listening before giving an instruction. He often needs to be helped back to
an activity to finish it once distracted.

It is helpful if adults:

  • Say the pupil’s name before giving instructions
  • Encourage the pupil to look at you before speaking
  • Use gesture or visual cues to accompany speech
  • Praise for good listening

    Pupil to fill gaps in familiar songs/stories
    Identifying musical instruments by sound
    Musical statues.


  • Say the pupil’s name first if it helps focus their attention, then keep instructions short, accompanied by gestures, signs, objects and appropriate facial expression/body language.
  • Use an animated voice, plus simple and repetitive language to encourage them to be interested in voice. Repeat back their sounds to help them focus on your voice.

3 - 4 years

Level 4

The pupil has more voluntary control, but is still distracted, particularly by noise. They cope better with objects or people moving around them. The pupil moves to being able to listen without having to look at the speaker. They can often remember what they were doing and return to an activity, once distracted.

To encourage attention at this level:

  • Give time to shift their attention
  • Use prompts (e.g. symbols) to help maintain attention
  • Give simple commands to follow during familiar tasks
  • Encourage to match sounds to objects.
    Sound lotto
    Carry out 2 named actions
    Shop play: fetching 2 requested items
    Copy a rhythm


  • Use simple, familiar action rhymes, with animation, interesting intonation and tactile feedback. Stimulating all of the pupil’s senses may gain their attention more readily.

4 - 5 years

Level 5

The pupil is ready to attend to instructions relating to the task in hand i.e. he can continue a task without looking up to receive the instruction. He has integrated the attention channels i.e. auditory and visual. This starts slowly and depends on adults only expecting this behaviour infrequently, for short spells and with positive reinforcement.


To follow an instruction:

  • Play ‘Simon Says’ miming the actions
  • Play ‘Simon Says’ without miming
  • When changing activities encourage the pupil to listen to an instruction such as ‘If you are wearing a red jumper you can move to…’
  • Set up a screen or divider between two pupils. Give them both identical sets of three beads and a string. Ask one to thread them and at the same time tell the other what they are doing so that they can copy. At the end the two strings should be identical.
  • Follow a two step instruction without visual clue
  • Follow a three step instruction without visual clue

To identify and pick up a series of four or five related objects:

  • Play the washing line game but with an extended list. Introduce a fantasy element e.g. ‘Pretend you are going on holiday and you must take…’

To listen for and acknowledge key moments in a story:

  • Tell a story with animals in it and ask the pupil to listen for one animal and make the noise or mime the animal when he hears it.
  • Tell a story about a pupil’s birthday and the different presents he gets. When a present is mentioned he collects the appropriate object/picture.
  • Give the pupil a set of pictures or objects in a story. Ask him to put the pictures/objects out as he hears the appropriate words in the story. This can be developed by increasing the number of pictures/objects.

To listen for a given sound or recall a linked action:

  • The pupil has to remember the code for different musical instruments i.e. the piano is a dog, a tambourine a cat. They then have to move and act according to the sound heard.

5 - 6 years

Level 6

At Level 6 the pupil may need support to attend and listen in a larger group or in activities less motivating for them or for longer periods of time. They may not be aware when they are not listening so may need reminding to stay on task and praise given for good listening skills.

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Last updated: 21 October 2015

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