The Flashlight Technique

Description: The Flashlight Technique is based on the work of cognitive scientist J.P. Das, co-author of Assessment of Cognitive Processes: The Pass Theory of Intelligence, and neurologist Frederic Perez-Alvarez and educational psychologist Carme Timoneda-Gallart, authors of A Better Look at Intelligent Behavior.

Children with inattention often wish to be on-task, but they have difficulty re-alerting to the desired stimuli after their brain drifts off and attends to something else. We can kindly help them to become attuned to their “Re-Alerting Engine” by teaching them that, in their mind, there is a flashlight. The flashlight can be turned on to alert them to a specific stimulus; it can be shined on that stimulus to “focus.” When children are empowered to know what they need to do to re-alert and re-select after their mind drifts, then they are better able to control their attention.

This is how you do the Flashlight Technique (or with “My Attention Engine” Your Headlights!).

Talk with the child one-on-one in a kind, collaborative manner and tell him that you have been noticing he has difficulty keeping his attention focused on the work in class. Ask him if he has noticed as well. Then share that you have an idea that might help. Tell him that you once had a student named Max who taught you about imaginary flashlights. Max said that when his mind was drifting in class and he would catch himself, he would switch on an imaginary flashlight and point it where he needed to be focusing.

Help the child to turn his flashlight on the person, topic or task, by respectfully asking him to reflect and be mindfully present regarding the current topic. Provide support, respect, and encouragement to the student for his efforts.

“The purpose of your flashlight is to help you shine your light on what is most important for you to focus on right now.”

Ask the child if he thinks this might be helpful and talk with him about how you can help with questions and cueing prompts in class. Agree to the prompts, so that he feels helped and supported, not humiliated, in class. That’s it, super simple. A kind conversation, a social narrative story and a plan the two of you develop together to help him learn how to alert, focus and sustain his attention. An excerpt from 70 Play Activities – Kenney & Comizio 2016.


The Components of the Flashlight Technique entail:

  1. Helping the child become more aware of his own “attention engine.” What does he focus on? What draws his attention? How does he know what he is supposed to focus on? How does he know when a person, place or thing is important to focus on?
  2. Helping the child become aware of the process of “drift.” When does his attention shift? When does he drift off? What is he thinking about or noticing when he drifts? Knowing that drift is natural and great! The key skill is knowing when to re-alert to which salient target (person, place or thing).
  3. Helping the child to “re-alert” his attention so that he is no longer in “drift”; instead he is actively seeking a relevant stimulus upon which to focus.
  4. Helping the child to “re-engage” with the salient stimulus, usually a person, topic, task or activity.

Practice the Flashlight Technique in various settings and under different circumstances. Ask the student to come back and tell you the story of what worked and what needs revision.

Try The Flashlight Technique in your classroom or practice and let us know how it goes in our Facebook Community. 

Read about how to have the Cognitive Conversation about Attention here.

Find more tools and activities here.

Attention is a cognitive skill and cognitive skills can be learned. One way we teach students about their attention cycle is with My Attention Engine, the classroom activity set that helps children recognize, strategize and learn how to alert, shift, and maintain their focus. With My Attention Engine stickers, bookmarks and the “road to attention” game board, enhancing student attention is now informative, practical, and fun.