How can you help your students concentrate for longer? Are there simple, evidence-based techniques that can help them pay more attention?
We've been scouring the research of concentration and distractions to find out what works best. Here are seven scientifically proven ways of how to improve concentration.
1. Eat Breakfast - Over 60% of teenage boys and 70% of teenage girls regularly skip breakfast. Students who eat breakfast, such as cereals rich with complex carbohydrates, have better concentration than their peers who either skip breakfast or have energy drinks instead. For more ways in which eating breakfast boosts performance, check out this blog we've written.
2. Exercise at Lunch Time - Researchers at Bristol University have found that people perform significantly better if they work out for 45 minutes at lunch time. As well as improving their mood and ability to deal with stressful situations, their scores for their perceived concentration levels were 21% higher on days that they exercised.
3. Worry About It More – When people are a little stressed, it can increase their concentration. As the authors of this study state, “In certain situations, worry may enhance performance and facilitate concentration, because an individual who is worried about something may allocate extra mental resources.” Too much worry is obviously unhelpful. Too little may also not lead to great focus.
4. Don’t Think Don’t – Ask people not to think of a white bear, and what pops into their head? The exact thing you asked them not to think about. This was the finding of a revolutionary study almost thirty years ago. It has been replicated many times since. A much better technique would be to explicitly tell students what to focus on.
5. Drink Some Water – If you are dehydrated, your ability to concentrate is dramatically reduced. Although ‘dehydration’ sounds dramatic, the effects are still significant even if you are mildly thirsty. To give this some context, if you wait until you feel thirsty to drink, your concentration levels have already dropped. As well as in the classroom, researchers are starting to find evidence that drinking water in exams can help your concentration, thus improving exam marks.
6. The Great Outdoors – Taking a break in a field, park or forest improves concentration much more than if you take a break in a busy urban environment. Students from the University of Michigan found their performance on a boring task improved by 20% if they took a break in natural surroundings. This is because natural environments replenish your brain, whereas urban ones require your brain to stay alert, further draining your mental resources.
7. Pictures of Nature – Don’t have a natural environment nearby? Fear not, as the same sort of benefit has been found in students who simply spend their study breaks looking at pictures of nature, especially those that had water in them. According to the authors behind the study, these pictures “provide effective restoration breaks and allow them to return to their work cognitively refreshed”.
For even more info, take a look at our guide page "Best Ways to Revise", where you'll find links to blogs and research.