16 Games To Encourage Attention and Listening Skills

16 Games To Encourage Attention and Listening Skills

I have been training some lovely ladies at pre-schools and nurseries recently. We are doing very practical, hands-on sessions covering the development of speech, language and communication skills, and how to support these.

16 games for encouraging attention and listening skillsSomething that had a big impact on staff attending the training sessions was the importance of looking, listening, concentrating and remembering. As you can see in the communication chain illustrated on the left, these are foundation skills that the chain is built upon. The trainees said that they had been focussing more on saying words and sentences, and that understanding the communication chain has made a big difference on the support they give and the expectations they have. These skills are invisible, so it is easy to forget them and focus on what you see and hear, e.g. use of language, talking.

I have included a programme of games at the end of this blog post (you can download a PDF version here), but first let’s explore why listening and attention skills are important, and look at some strategies for supporting them.

Why are these foundation skills so important?

16 games for encouraging listening and attention skillsLooking gives us information about objects and people, it helps focus attention and shows others that we are talking to them and interested in what they are saying. We learn about facial expressions and emotions by looking and we learn about the properties of objects, which is important for learning vocabulary.

Listening and Attention are essential for the development of speech, language, communication skills and learning. They enable us to focus on information and process it. If these skills are insecure, then what we build on them will be patchy and inconsistent as it lacks a stable base. Listening and attention difficulties can occur for a variety of reasons. For example:

  • Developmental delay – attention and listening skills follow a developmental order, so if the child is functioning at a level lower than their age, these skills will be less developed than expected.
  • Attention deficits – attention deficits are not usually diagnosed before a child is seven, but consultants are often concerned that there might be an underlying difficulty with attention in younger children.
  • Underlying developmental disorder, e.g. Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning difficulties, hearing impairment, developmental verbal dyspraxia.
  • Sensory processing difficulties – some children find it hard to turn down the volume on background noises in order to focus on one, e.g. an adult talking.

Strategies and Support For Encouraging Attention and Listening Skills

  • Reduce distractions – help the child focus on what you are saying by turning off the tv / radio, making sure others are talking at the same time and that the environment is quiet. I was working in the corridor with a child in a school recently, and it was nice and quiet except for when children went to the toilet and used the hand drier, which was very loud. Every time this happened, the child lost her focus. Remember that for us it is relatively easy to filter out these sounds and remain focused on a task, but for these children that is not the case, so we have to help them.
  • Use a visual to show whether the noise level is just right or too loud

Use a sound toy, e.g. a tambourine, or a visual prompt, e.g. waving your hands in the air, to let children know it   is too noisy and we need to be quieter.

  • Make it easy for them to look at you – be at the same height so it is easy to see your face.
  • Use the child’s name so that they know you want them to listen
  • Consider the class seating arrangements

Research on seating arrangements in classrooms (Hastings and Chantry-Wood, 2000) found that:

Almost all children’s attention to their individual work increases when they sit in pairs, or seating arrangements where no one is opposite them.

Sitting in rows or a horse shoe arrangement, where children can face the speaker, improves the listening of the whole class

  • Give learning breaks – these only need to last two minutes and they have been shown to help children re focus and learn. Research has found that if the child moves in the break, this helps the most, e.g. go and get a drink, put something in the bin, or do Brain Gym type exercises.
  • Keep language simple. Don’t overload the child with too many words and complex vocabulary and grammatical structures.
  • Use visual support, e.g. objects, pictures and use your voice – make your voice go up and down, make it more interesting for children and this helps them listen.

Games to Encourage Listening and Attention Skills

I have put together a programme of lots of my favourite different activities and games to develop these skills. You can view and download the PDF version here.

 Purpose of the games:

To develop speech, language and communication skills in a whole class setting (but you can play these games in groups or one to one).

Tips on when and how to play the games:

Teaching staff, try these for ten minutes every week for a term, whenever you have time. Try to play the games at the same time each week, so that it becomes part of your school routine.You know your class. You know which area, e.g. Looking, Listening and Attention, Understanding Words and Sentences, etc. would be the best place to start. Focus on one area, e.g. Looking, Listening and attention or half a term, then move onto another area.

Parents and carers, you can play these at home and include siblings too. 

1. Copy Me 

What you need: a drum (optional)


The class sit in a horseshoe or in a circle. The teacher claps or drums a short sequence, e.g. claps / drums three times, or claps / drums twice quickly then slightly pauses and claps / drums twice again. The child to the teacher’s left copies the sequence, the child to their left claps the sequence, and so on until everyone in the class has clapped / drummed it.

When everyone has clapped / drummed the sequence, start again but clap / drum a more complicated sequence, e.g. increase the number of claps / drums, vary the rhythm, etc.

Follow the same procedure as above but choose a child to start by clapping / drumming and the class copy his sequence.


  • Perform an action or make a noise, e.g. hop, or blow a raspberry. The child on your left has to copy your action / noise and add an action or noise of their own.The child on their left has to copy the two actions / noises, and add one more. Each child copies the actions / noises and adds another one – see if you can get round the whole class before someone forgets!
  • Perform a sequence of actions or noises, e.g. touch your head, turn about, touch the floor; clap, stamp your feet, blow a raspberry. When you say “Go!” the children copy you.

2. Go!

What you need: a list of instructions (see example instructions – you know the children so you can make them harder or easier).


The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Explain: “Listen carefully. I am going to tell you to do something. For example, jump! Turn around! Don’t do it, until I say GO!

Get the class to stand up. Read the instruction and leave a short pause before you say GO!

To make this harder: leave a longer gap before you say GO!

Suggestion: Chose children to think an instruction and say GO

Example Instructions:

  1. Stand up. Go!
  2. Pat your head. Go!
  3. Close your eyes. Go!
  4. Stick your tongue out. Go!
  5. Rub your tummy. Go!
  6. Go!
  7. Clap twice. Go!
  8. Turn around. Go!
  9. Shake hands with the person next to you. Go!
  10. Pull a silly face. Go!
  11. Close your eyes and hop. Go!
  12. Pat your head and touch the floor. Go!

 3. Fruit Salad

 What you need: (Optional) pictures of fruit.


The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Put the fruit on the board (four or five types of fruit, e.g. bananas, apples, pears, grapes, peaches) Go round the class touching each child’s head and telling them what fruit they are, e.g. “You are banana. You are apple. You are pear. You are grape. You are peach. You are banana…..”. Check they can remember what fruit they are (e.g. Put your hand up if you are a pear, etc.)

When you say a fruit, e.g. banana, all the children that are bananas have to swap places. After a few turns, sit down when the children are changing places so that a child is left without a seat. That child then calls out a fruit and tries to make sure that he gets a seat so that another child has to call out the fruit!


  • Call out something that most definitely will not be in a fruit salad from time to time, e.g. a sock, a worm!
  • Play this game with speech sounds (phonemes not graphemes), e.g. “You are s, you are k, you are sh, you are b….” When you say a speech sound, e.g. “sh”, all the children that are sh, swap places.

4. Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!

What you need: List of true and false statements, e.g. “I’ve got blue hair. Thumbs up or thumbs down?!” “Spiders have eight legs. Thumbs up or thumbs down?!” (See example statements)


The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Get everyone to give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Tell the class you are going to tell them something. They have to listen carefully. If they think it is true, they give you a thumbs up. If they think it isn’t true, they give you a thumbs down. (Practise first as they can find thumbs up/down hard).

Example Statements:

  1. Milk is purple.
  2. It is very hot at the North Pole.
  3. Spiders have eight legs.
  4. Apples grow on trees.
  5. Spaghetti grows on trees.
  6. Cats bark.
  7. A bicycle is faster than a car.
  8. A train is faster than a bicycle.
  9. An ant is smaller than a butterfly.
  10. Christmas is in August.
  11. You need helmets to play tennis.
  12. I’ve got orange eyes.

Suggestion: Make statements about curriculum topics you have been working on, e.g.


  1. The Romans invented showers.
  2. Romans wore togas, etc.

Numeracy: 2D and 3D shapes:

  1. All the sides of a rectangle are equal.
  2. A cube is a 2D shape.
  3. An octagon has six sides. etc.

When the class are familiar with this activity, get them to make five true or false sentences in pairs or small groups.

5. Hurrah-Boo!

What you need: List of hurrah-boo statements (nice and not so nice sentences!), e.g. “We’re going to the cinema!” “There’s no playtime today!” (See example statements)


The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Practise saying “Hurrah!” and “Boo!” Tell the class that you are going to tell them something – if they like it, they have to say “Hurrah!” and if they don’t like it they have to say “Boo!”

Example Statements:

  • Christmas has been cancelled!
  • We’re going to do maths all afternoon!
  • School is cancelled next week!
  • We are going to watch tv all day tomorrow!
  • We will have sweets for lunch!
  • It is going to snow tomorrow!
  • The Queen is coming to our school tomorrow!
  • We are getting a dog for the class!
  • We are going to the zoo tomorrow!
  • We are having monkey’s brains for lunch!
  • We are going to clean the classroom all day tomorrow!
  • We are going swimming after lunch!
  • One Direction are coming to school this afternoon!

6. Listen and Jump

What you need: List of statements, e.g. “If you have got trousers on, jump!” (See example statements)


The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Give a command involving an action that the children have to do. For example, “If you have blue eyes, jump!” “If you have a sister, jump!”

 Suggestion: Children can think of two or three commands in small groups or pairs. They can give the commands to the class.

 Example Commands:

  • If you have curly hair, jump!
  • If you have short hair, jump!
  • If you have long hair, jump!
  • If you have black hair, jump!
  • If you have red hair, jump!
  • If you have blonde hair, jump!
  • If you have brown hair, jump!
  • If you are wearing black shoes, jump!
  • If you have brown eyes, jump!
  • If you have blue eyes, jump!
  • If you have green eyes, jump!
  • If you are wearing a skirt, jump!
  • If you are wearing trousers, jump!
  • If you have a sister, jump!
  • If you have a brother, jump!
  • If you have a pet, jump!
  • If you have a dog, jump!
  • If you have a cat, jump!

Suggestion: Make statements about curriculum work, e.g.

Science: If you think that the nearest planet to Earth is Mars, jump! If you think that humans could live on the moon, jump! Etc.

Literacy: If you can spell because, jump! If you can spell people, jump! If you know what letter comes after f in the alphabet, jump! Etc. 

7. Squashed Bananas

What you need: List of questions, e.g. “What do you brush your teeth with?!” (See example questions)


 The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Choose a child to sit in front of the class. Ask the child a question. They have to answer, but they can only say “Squashed bananas” and they must NOT laugh! If the child laughs, they are out.


  • Get the class to think of, and ask questions.
  • Have a class champion!



What’s your name?

What would you say to the Queen if she came to tea?
Where do you live? What is in your bag?
What do you clean your teeth with? What is in your pockets?
What do you wash with? What is your favourite ice cream?
What do you brush your hair with? What do you write with?
What does your best friend look like? What are you going to give to your mum for Christmas?
What do you want for your birthday? Who do you like to dance with?
What do you like wearing? What do you play football with?
What do you clean the house with? What are you sitting on?
If you won a million pounds, what would you buy? What are you wearing?

 8. Who’s Missing?

What you need: N/A


The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Tell the class to look around the horseshoe like detectives! Tell them to look at who is where……….. Then tell them all to close their eyes. Choose a child and tap them on the shoulder. The child quietly gets up and leaves the room. Tell the children to open their eyes, look around and put their hand up if they know who is missing.

Suggestion: Increase the number of children that you tap on the shoulder to increase the memory load.

9. Build It

 What you need: Wooden building bricks or duplo blocks.


The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Put the bricks on the floor in front of the class. Place a brick on the floor to start the tower. When you say a child’s name, they come and put a brick on the tower until it falls down!

Variations: Children put a brick on the tower when you look at them.

 10. Tell It!

 What you need: an envelope or a bag with the titles of well known stories or nursery rhymes in it, e.g. Sleeping Beauty, The Hungry Caterpillar, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Tiger who came to Tea, Humpty Dumpty, The Duke of York, etc.


 The class sit in a horseshoe or a circle so that you can see everyone. Take a title from the envelope and read it to class, e.g. Cinderella. Start telling the story. Choose a child to continue the story. After a short time, choose another child to continue telling the story, and so on until the class have told the whole story.


  • The child choses the next child to continue telling the story.
  • Make up a story with the class and take it in turns to tell parts of it. Have an object bag. Each child takes an object and they have to include this in the story.

11. Magic Sound

 What you need: (optional) pen and paper


Either sit the children at tables with pen and paper or the class sit in a horseshoe. Introduce a magic sound, e.g. s. Every time the children hear you say the magic sound, e.g. s, they have to stand up (clap/stamp their feet, etc.) or tick the piece of paper.

This is easy: Count to at least five silently then say s. Do this at least four times (leaving shorter or longer pauses depending on the group). Or hum a tune for at least five seconds and then say s (humming increases the anticipation!)

This is harder: say at least five other speech sounds before you say s. For example: b, t, k, w, d, s. Repeat this at least four times. It is harder for children to hear s if you say similar speech sounds, e.g. f, sh, v, z.

For example: Say the following sounds: b k d m p s w t g l ch s sh n h f b dg s p k t ch d s

This is even harder: Ask the children to listen for animals that start with s (or food / clothes / names / transport, etc that start with s – use key words from class topics if you can) As above, say at least five words that start with different speech sounds before you say one that starts with s, e.g. cat, donkey, duck, pig, dog, seagull. (This activity is harder if the words contain s in any word position, e.g. walrus (at the end of the word), ostrich (in the middle).

For example: Say: whale eel   dolphin   penguin   seal chicken duck   goose cuckoo turkey seagull   worm ladybird bee snail donkey sheep horse cow dog   squirrel

12. Guess The Instrument

 What you need: a selection of different musical instruments, e.g. bells, shaker, drum, whistle, etc.


Children sit in a horseshoe or at tables. Show the class at least three instruments (depending on their level). Play each one for the class. Ask the class to close their eyes and play at least two.

Choose a child to come and show you which instruments you played.

To make this harder: increase the number of instruments you play.

To make this easier: give each child an instrument. They place the instrument on the floor or on the table if they are sitting at tables. They put their hands on their legs. When you say “Go!” They have to pick up their instrument and play it until you say “Stop!”

Choose children to say Go and Stop!

13. Oranges and Lemons

 What you need: Paper and pencils or crayons.


Children sit at tables. Divide the class into oranges and lemons. Give different instructions to the oranges and lemons, so they are not doing the same thing. See listed examples of instructions to use.

Example Instructions

  • Oranges, draw a house! Go! Lemons, draw a dog! Go!
  • Oranges, draw a tree next to the house! Go! Lemons, draw a cat next to the dog! Go!
  • Oranges, draw the sun! Go! Lemons, draw a bicycle! Go!
  • Oranges, draw two flowers! Go! Lemons, draw a cake! Go!
  • Oranges, draw a bird! Go! Lemons, draw a cup of tea! Go!

14. That’s Wrong!

What you need: an envelope or a bag with the titles of well known nursery rhymes in it, e.g. Jack and Jill, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Baa Baa Black Sheep.


 Children sit in a horseshoe. Take the title of a nursery rhyme out of the bag. Tell the class that you are really good at saying nursery rhymes. Tell them that if they hear any problems, they can stop you, but they won’t because you are amazing at nursery rhymes!

Make errors in the nursery rhymes as you tell them. For example: “Baa, baa blue sheep” The children correct you, e.g. “No! Baa, baa black sheep!” Ask if you can try again, e.g. “Oh sorry! I thought it was blue sheep. Can I try again? Thanks. I will be fine now. Baa, baa black sheep have you any wool? Yes, Sir. Yes, Sir. Five bags full” and so on!

For example: Baa baa pink sheep, have you any bananas, yes sir yes sir 500 bags full, one for the elephant, one for the crocodile, and one for the granny who lives down the lane.

Variations: Tell well-known stories and make errors in your telling.

15. Make A Card

 What you need: Paper or card, coloured crayons, pens or pencils, decorative materials, e.g. sequins, glitter, feathers, etc.


 Children sit at tables. Tell them they are going to make a card. They have to listen carefully and do what you tell them to do. Pause between instructions so they have time to follow your direction.

  •  Fold your paper/card in half.
  • Draw a big flower on the front.
  • Colour the petals red or orange.
  • Choose four sequins from the box. Stick one sequin on each petal.
  • Open up the card. Choose a piece of tissue paper from the box.
  • Cut the tissue paper into a big heart.
  • Stick the heart on the right hand page.
  • Write To Mum at the top of the page.
  • Write love from and your name at the bottom.

Suggestion: Give each child two pieces of card, e.g. a green piece and a red piece, or two faces, e.g. a happy face and a confused face. Tell them that if they are not sure what they have to do, they can hold up the red piece of card (or the confused face) and you will come and help them.

16. Action!

 What you need: pencils and paper, enclosed texts or sections from class reading books, curriculum texts, well known stories, etc.


Children sit at tables. They listen to the text and put a tick on their piece of paper every time they hear a doing word (verb). For example, He jumped down onto the grass, and ran across the field. Read the text twice.

Suggestion: Check that the class know what a doing word (verb) is, e.g. put at least four words on the board, make sure at least two are doing words: car, eat, wash, dog, on. Ask the children which words are doing words – action words – give an example. In pairs, the children decide which ones are doing words.

I hope these games help, and that you enjoy them!

Floortime therapy - drawing of Lucy Sanctuary

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