Every teacher knows a class paying attention has a much better chance of mastering objectives than one off task, but how do you keep kids engaged and focused? Even more importantly, how do you communicate that to your class in a concise, positive way?

Enter SLANT, an acronym we use across KIPP schools and TEAM to teach kids to stay engaged in a lesson without telling them “pay attention” all the time. SLANT is a great way to help clarify expectations and keep kids engaged efficiently.

What is SLANT?

SLANT is an acronym that stands for:

  • Sit up straight – Show good posture by having your back against the seat back.
  • Listen – This one is obvious, but it’s not a bad idea to explicitly state the obvious sometimes.
  • Ask and answer questions- This encourages participation, but doesn’t penalize kids for not knowing all the answers.
  • Nod for comprehension – This is a non-verbal one. There are other non-verbal signals that could fall under this.
  • Track the speaker – Tracking means following the speaker with your eyes. When the speaker changes, all eyes follow the conversation.

Why is SLANT Important?

“Pay attention” is a lot of syllables. It also isn’t very directive. If I’m a middle schooler, thinking about who-knows-what, “pay attention” is going to mean something very different for me than for my teacher. Saying “SLANT” is a great shorthand way of telling students or a student you need them to fix one or all of these things.

As teachers, we know these behaviors and expectations are important. We know that kids who are actively asking and answering questions, nodding for comprehension, and following the conversation around the room are going to learn better than their peers staring out the window.

Implementing SLANT in Your Classroom

This sounds good, right? Don’t you want a single word to instantly get your class back on task? It doesn’t happen automatically when you put up a chart. There are some steps you should take to implement this in your class. You don’t have to follow all of them, but they might help.

  • Create an anchor chart that will remind students what SLANT stands for.
  • Use a mini lesson to teach SLANT to your class. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, explicitly teaching SLANT (or in that case, just T) is crucial for success.
  • Use kids as a model of what slant looks like.
  • Be a stickler at first to make sure they get it right.

Reminders and Adjustments

Just like anything new, kids need reminders to get it right. SLANT can, and should, be such a big part of your classroom that it works its way into the language of your class. You’re no longer saying “sit up straight” or “your eyes should be on me”. Now, you can say “Show me SLANT” or “track Toni”. Since kids know the norm, you can challenge them to self-assess first, and make corrections second.

The additional power of SLANT lies in developing non-verbal corrections to some of the more common slipups with SLANT.

  • When asking a question, you can raise your hand to remind kids of the A in SLANT.
  • When calling on a kid, say “Track Anthony”, then use two fingers to direct any stray eyes toward the speaker.
  • If a kid is slouched in her seat, fold your hands out in front of you (like on an invisible desk) while looking at her to remind.

There are many other opportunities to work non-verbal cues or SLANT into the vernacular of your classroom to see these results.

What SLANT is Not

Finally, I think it is important to add some disclaimers. First, SLANT can’t be your total classroom management strategy. It’s a piece of a much larger puzzle of managing a room to ensure it is a productive learning environment.

Second, SLANT is a way to economize language to make more room for teaching. It’s not a way to regulate behaviors to such an extent that students can’t be themselves. Independent reading is an example of a time when SLANTing probably isn’t necessary. Kids should be comfortable when reading independently, not sitting with their backs against a chair the whole time. These situations exist. You should use your best judgment to figure out when SLANT might not be appropriate.

Applying This Right Away

If you’re finding this mid-year, you can still work it into your class, though you might not have time to spend a whole class period on it. Teach one letter at a time over the course of a week for a few minutes before you get into the heavy lifting for the day.

Do you use SLANT? What were some advantages you found with it? Were there parts of it that didn’t work for you?

Michael Alderman is a staff writer and content manager for TEAM Schools. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter and interact with him there.

Never Miss a Chance to Make a Difference

Subscribe to KIPP New Jersey’s email newsletter and stay in the loop.

Thank you for subscribing!