Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Version Date: February 27, 2014
If you're not paying attention in class or to an online presentation,
you won't learn anything. If you're paying attention--or trying to--but
just can't keep interested or focused, you will learn a lot less than
if you could maintain interest. Lack of interest flirts witih boredom,
and boredom produces a loss of attention. Now, all of us occasionally
experience a wandering mind, especially if the instructor or
presentation is not very compelling by itself.
The good news is that there are many techniques to help you keep
focused on the subject, both in class and when you're reading or
studying. And more than just keeping focused, you can actually increase
your interest in the material with these techniques.
Maintaining Interest in Class
Use some of these techniques ot keep yourself interested and
motivated while in class:
- Listen actively. Listen
for cues to key ideas ("and this is the main reason," "but the
fundamental problem was"), create your own additional examples, connect
the ideas to other ideas or to each other. Think of possible challenges
to the conclusions or develop counter examples. (Challenging
information is a good way to remember it.)
- Take notes. Even if you
never review them, the process of taking notes causes you to pay
attention and process what is going on. And if you review those notes
later, you'll learn even more. Note taking is partly an intellectual
process (using your mind) and partly physical (as you write or type).
This two-part activity helps keep you alert, much more so than simply
trying to listen. See Learning Strategy 9: Note
Taking for more information.
- Paraphrase. Whether or
not you take notes, paraphrase
the content as it arrives. Turning the information into your own words
makes the ideas clearer and more familiar and more memorable.
- Summarize. Don't wait
until the end of the lecture, reading, video or what have you before
you start to sum up what's being presented. Create sectional summaries
as things go along. For example, in a cause to effects presentation,
sum up the cause portion, then the first effect portion, then the
second effect, and so on.
- Make connections. Think
how the material fits in with what you already know. Making some
connections will strengthen the overall memory of the new material.
- Apply the information. If
you can think how what you're learning applies to your own life, you'll
learn it much more easily and your interest in it will be strong.
- Ask Questions. Questions
are curiosity stimulators, and they provide a natural framework for
learning. Ask a question, get an answer, have a nice little learning
unit. Asking questions turns you from a passive recipient of
information to a participant in the content and delivery. You are now
stimulating your own curiosity and that of others in the class.
One of the secrets of maintaining interest with your mind is to
bring your body to your assistance. The more alert your body is, the
more alert your mind is. You've probably found it difficult to
concentrate when you felt sleepy in a warm room just after lunch.
That's your body affecting your mind. So, get your body on your side
with some of these techniques:
- Make frequent eye contact with
the presenter or instructor, even if you are at the back of the
classroom or watching a video.
- Use your head and face.
Nod, smile, mime "yes" or "uh huh" (or say them quietly). If you're
watching a Webinar or video, make facial expressioins--doubt, surprise,
shock, laughter--or at least raise your eyebrows or scrunch up your
face. You might be surprised how alert this practice makes you.
- Lean in and out. When the
delivery is covering something less important, lean back in your chair.
When the important stuff arrives, lean forward. Your brain will
automatically become more attentive.
- Breathe. Take long, slow,
deep breaths to oxygenate your brain.
- Write or doodle. If you
are not taking notes, or between notes, doodle a bit. Random typing
might only distract you, but many people can doodle and still pay
attention. If that doesn't apply to you, skip this idea.
- Sip water. Sipping water,
especially ice water, helps keep you awake and alert.
- Chew on something. If gum
is allowed, try that. Otherwise, get a plastic ball point pen or a
pencil and chew on that.
- Stretch your muscles.
- Place your palms together and push hard.
- Lock your hands together and pull hard.
- Scrunch your shoulders and then roll them back.
- Put your feet together and push them toward each other.
- Lock your ankles and pull hard
Maintaining Interest When Studying
When you read, study, or review your notes, try some of these
techniques to keep yourself alert and interested.
- Avoid information overload.
Trying to push too much information into your long-term memory too fast
doesn't work. Overcramming just pushes previous information out as the
new info comes (temporarily) in. This is why cramming all night for a
test doesn't work, either. Instead of trying to learn everything in one
sitting, try this:
- Divide your study time into segments of 20 or 30 minutes each,
with a five-minute break between each segment.
- Before each segment break, take a couple of minutes to sum up
or think about what you've just covered.
- During each five-minute break, close your eyes and let your
- After each segment break, if you are having trouble
concentrating, change subjects or approaches.
- Use variety. There are
many ways to keep learning interesting by varying the activities of
- outline your material
- draw graphics representing the content
- read the material aloud
- reorganize the content
- underline or highlight important words, phrases, and
- sing important concepts
- put the material in the form of a FAQ: write a series of
questions that the material answers
- Make it visual. Drawings
and pictures are processed by the brain immediately while written words
must be decoded first. So using visiuals will make studying easier and
- draw a diagram
- create a flow chart showing the process, the logic of the
argument, the organization of the whole or part
- draw map
- graph the data
- use symbols to represent ideas
- mark up the reading with symbols like asterisks, plus signs,
check marks, happy or sad faces, exclamation points.
- read it backwards (each paragraph from the last to the
first--for short items, and assuming you have already read it forward)
You really can "psych yourself up" and increase your interest in
a topic you might otherwise not be very excited about. Here are two
ways to do that.
The bottom line is to do what works best for you. If playing a song or
card game breaks your concentration, then don't continue it. Find
another motivating practice.
- Tell yourself how interesting the subject is. In a classroom
setting, do so silently, but when by yourself, say these things aloud:
- This is really interesting.
- I'm learning a lot of valuable and useful stuff in this [book,
- This subject is really important for my [major, career,
- This is actually fun.
- I'm enjoying this.
- I wonder what's coming next?
- Reward yourself for studying. After every hour and a half or so,
give yourself a reward.
- A stick of chewing gum
- A cup of coffee or soda
- One song (mp3 player, YouTube, etc.)
- One quick game
Concluding Personal Story
When I was an undergraduate studying for finals at the university, I
started building little houses out of toothpicks and white glue,
attached to my study lamp. I would read a concept or a vocabulary
word, and then recite or think about it while I glued one more
toothpick to the structure. It really helped me stay put and stay
focused. This was good, because I usually found studying for finals
(history, German, anthropology, political science) pretty boring.
A coworker friend had a large nut and bolt that he would fidget with
while he was thinking. If you need a fidget tool, try it.
Learning Strategy 1: Mnemonics
Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing
Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing
Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring
Learning Strategy 5: Self Explanation
Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal
Learning Strategy 7: Self Assessment
Learning Strategy 8: The SQ3R Reading Method
Learning Strategy 9: Note Taking
Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card
Learning Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Learning Strategy 12: Conversation
Learning Strategy 13: Group Interaction
Learning Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures
Learning Strategy 16: Study Cycles
Learning Strategy 17: Sleep and Rest
Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist
Learning Strategy 20: Asking Questions
Learning Strategy 21: Idea Linking
Learning Strategy 22: How to Use a Book
Learning Strategy 23: Active Listening
Learning Strategy 24: Close Reading
Learning Strategy 25: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 26: Power Thinking
Learning Strategy 27: Planning for Learning
Learning Strategy 28: Outlining
Learning Strategy 29: Analogies
2014 by Robert Harris | How
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About the author:
Harris is a writer
and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the
and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com