We have been talking a lot lately about having “Cognitive Conversation” with your students. Cognitive Conversations are discussions that bring “Front of Mind” what we can think, say and do to use our cognitive and self-regulation skills more effectively.

We notice with students that when we show them how to be “Cognitive Scientists” who understand and help their brains, they feel empowered. You can have a cognitive conversation about many topics, impulsivity, worry, anxiety and so on. Here is a bit of content from our books 70 Play Activities and Musical Thinking, to help you have the Cognitive Conversation about attention with your students.

The Cognitive Conversation on Attention

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 focus on what they need to and even re-alert and re-focus after their mind drifts, then they are better able to control their attention.

STEP 1: Have The Cognitive Convo…Talk with the child 1:1 in a kind and 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. 

STEP 2: Give him a framework. Everyone has a flashlight in their brain. Your flashlight helps you to select then focus on who or what is important for you to pay attention to right now. This is selecting, one type of attention in your Attention Engine.

Step 3: Talk with the student (over time) about the different types of attention in his “Attention Engine.” This empowers him to know more about how his brain works, so he can learn to coach his brain.

Find the printable images and activities to use with your clients and students in the Musical Thinking book, Immediate download here.

Types of Attention in Your Attention Engine

  • Alerting – Moving to a state of cognitive readiness.
  • Selecting – Moving one’s attention and focus to a specific target stimulus (person, object, place).
  • Attending – Directing meaningful energy and attention to a specific target stimulus.
  • Sustaining – Maintaining attention on a specific target stimulus, long enough to take action on it.
  • Drift – Losing focus, becoming distracted, off-task or mind wandering.
  • Monitoring drift – Observing the mind becoming off-task.
  • Re-alerting – Bringing attention back online.
  • Re-directing (re-selecting) – Shifting attention from one stimulus to another with purpose or intent.

Use the Flashlight Technique

Teaching a child to use his flashlight is done in three steps:

Teaching the child to notice he is off-task.

Q: Where is your flashlight pointing?

Helping him alert his brain to salient information.

Q: Where does your flashlight need to point?

Pushing the re-engage button.

Prompt: You can use your flashlight to select what you need to focus on right now.

Q: Can you choose to shine your flashlight now so that you can direct your focus where it’s needed?

The Flashlight technique



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.

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

Find more tools and activities here.