Attention and concentration


One general definition of attention is:

“a heterogeneous function that comprises several different processes and capacities that are related aspects of how the organism becomes receptive to stimuli and how it may begin processing, incoming or attended to excitation whether external or internal (Lezak, 1995). Attentive processes underline and energize cognitive and behavioral activities, serving somewhat as command operations, calling into play one or more cognitive functions”.

(Commodari, 2012, p. 18Attention Skills and Risk of Developing Learning Difficulties. Current Psychology)

Attention and concentration are different psychological functions. However, there is a tendency across different contexts, to combine these terms and discuss them in a genetic way.

Attention plays a pivotal role in learning. The capacity to focus on selected information for sufficient periods, while inhibiting interference, is fundamental for skill acquisition and informed decision making together with wider cognitive and behavioural skill development (Commodari & Guarnera, 2005Attention and reading skills. Perceptual and Motor Skills).

The main components of attention include:

  • Reaction time: the time needed to detect the appearance of a stimulus;
  • Immediate attention span: information that can be grasped at once, which is a form of working memory;
  • Divided attention: the ability to respond to more than one task at a time;
  • Alternative attention: the capacity to shift in focus and between tasks.
PE Scenarios

Difficulties in sustaining attention

Difficulties in sustaining attention

The teacher is explaining what to do next during a class. The teacher knows that one of the girls, Lua (8-year old), is easily distracted, so he asks her to be at the front during the explanation. After a while Lua starts looking back and talking to her friend. The teacher calls her name and Lua resumes her attention. Lua is again distracted when she hears someone opening the gym hall door and she turns her head to see what is happening. The teacher asks the children to work in pairs to discuss and clarify the instructions provided. Lua’s partner becomes agitated and complains to the teacher that Lua did not understand the instructions given.

Example of inclusive practice
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Difficulties in focussing attention

Difficulties in focussing attention.

The teacher has given the class a juggling task. The students will each have two small-sized balls. The aim for each student is to start by holding one juggling ball in each hand and exchange the balls from one hand to the other. This task involves the students tossing the first ball and then the second ball upwards in an arcing trajectory and catching them in opposite hands.

Difficulties in focussing attention

The teacher has given the class a juggling task. Each child has two small-sized balls and the task involves tossing the first ball and then the second ball upwards in an arching trajectory. The aim of the task is for each child to exchange the balls from one hand to the other, catching in opposite hands.

Die Schüler/innen beginnen zu üben. Einige erfüllen diese Aufgabe in wenigen Versuchen, während andere, egal wie sehr sie es versuchen, nicht mit der gleichen Geschwindigkeit vorankommen. Julian (11 Jahre alt) ist ein Schüler, der Schwierigkeiten hat. Das Problem ist, dass Julian zwei Bälle gleichzeitig in die Luft wirft; das heißt, er wartet nicht, bis der erste Ball den Höhepunkt seiner Flugbahn erreicht hat, bevor er den zweiten Ball in die Luft wirft. Er ist frustriert und beginnt, sich von der Aufgabe zu entfernen und andere abzulenken.

Example of inclusive practice
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The students begin to practice. Some achieve this task in a few attempts while others, no matter how hard they try, do not progress at the same rate. Julian (11-year old) is one student experiencing difficulties. The issue is that Julian is tossing two balls into the air at the same time; that is, he does not wait until the first ball has reached the peak of its trajectory before tossing the second ball into the air. He is frustrated and begins to move off-task and distract others.

Example of inclusive practice
Support, Strategies and Adaptations
  • Enable time and space for communication and listening. Provide clear spaces that allow everyone to maintain an equal distance from the teacher (i.e., in a semicircle). (FAFocused or selective attention)
  • Support explanations with drawings or diagrams. (FA) (SASustained attention)
  • When a number of classes are working in a shared practical space (i.e., in a large sports hall), coordinate the teachers’ explanations so they do not interfere between them. (FA)
  • Aim to position classes in ways that reduced distractions in the background (i.e., by facing towards the teacher and there only being a wall in the background). (FA)
  • Vary the pace and focus of lessons so that there are episodes that prioritise and foster attention skills. (SA)
  • Actively involve students. Rather than the students passively listening to the teacher, find opportunities to involve them in decision making (e.g., about the type or timing of that learning task or the focus of the next lesson). (FAFocused or selective attention) (AAAlternative attention)
  • Maintain attention with active introductions to a lesson or series of lessons. (FA)
  • Have clearly defined and shared learning intentions for lessons. Share the intentions at the beginning of lesson with the students and check with the class, at the end of the session, to gauge personal fulfilment of the learning intentions. Design learning tasks that relate to, and foster progression towards, the intention of the lesson. (SASustained attention) (AA)
  • Vary the boundaries of tasks. Open task boundaries may encourage multiple interpretation and solutions while close task boundaries may foster precision and accuracy in response. Teachers can make decisions to shift the task boundaries by being attentive to individual and group needs. (AA) (DADivided attention)
  • Organise lessons so that there are clear routines: a period of time in the same place at start to explain the lesson intentions; opportunities for individual exploration and teamwork; efforts to garner the students’ thoughts and behaviours.
  • Organise learning tasks so that there are opportunities for students to work autonomously as this will allow the teacher time to nurture individual students.
  • Adapt the terminology used with classes so it matches the developmental stage of children. Use various sources to illustrate tasks and generate ideas (e.g., demonstrations, short videos, web links, task cards, and model performers).
  • Check for understanding regularly. Confirm that learners understand tasks and, after the explanation, allow time for them to ask questions.
  • Provide wider roles and responsibilities for students in classes that extend beyond the physical domain. (DADivided attention) (AAAlternative attention)
  • Allow children with attention challenges to move or stand during situations that demand them to remain stationary for long periods. (SASustained attention) (AA)
  • Further develop students’ concentration skills with alternative and contrasting plenary activities such as relaxation work, breathing techniques, and yoga positions. (AA) (SA)
  • Create a climate of trust and support between classmates.
Examples of inclusive practice
Difficulties in sustaining attention

The teacher explained to the class that they would be starting a new gymnastic unit of work in two weeks’ time which would include a group challenge: creating acrobatic figures in pairs and quartets. For the first lesson, the teacher asked the children to prepare by drawing some acrobatic figures and bring these ideas to class.

When the children enter the gym, they give their drawings to the teacher. The children then take a seat on benches arranged in a semi-circle, facing the teacher, but with a wall in the background; this is the usual space in the hall where the teacher meets the class at the start of lessons.  On the adjacent board, the teacher has already placed several photographs of simple gymnastic balances and formations. The teacher then engages the children in discussion of the drawings and selecting drawings in relation to criteria to add to the board. The teacher purposefully keeps this explanation at the start of the lesson brief (between 5 – 10 minutes). This enables the teacher to use the drawings created by the children to emphasise the focus of the lesson and engage children like Lua who can be easily distracted. The teacher makes it clear to the children that the drawings and photographs will remain on display on the board during the lesson and that they can go to the board for a reminder about the main focus of the lesson. When the children are working on the task in small groups the teacher moves from one group to another, checking understanding and engagement. This guiding approach by the teacher supports the children to be autonomous in their learning and supports Lua and other children who similarly tend to lose focus on tasks to be discreetly supervised, and when required receive specific support.

Difficulties in focussing attention

In the present unit the students are working to improve juggling. The group practiced this content last year. They used, then, an information sheet with different challenges that range in complexity from juggling with one ball to juggling with three balls. These three different juggling challenges each have a corresponding ‘difficulty code’ and ‘mastery code’. This is to say that the challenges may be adapted to be easier or complex and can be performed in accordance with performance criteria relating to the skill of juggling.

The students resume their juggling work with last year’s information sheet. The intention is to revise how the sheet operates and to consider the progress made from their efforts in the previous unit. Thereafter, the students are expected to push the boundaries further to assess their current level of ability and select learning challenges accordingly.

The teacher is aware that Julian struggles with juggling. Last year, finding it hard to master any of the juggling challenges, Julian quickly became frustrated and started to distract other learners. One problem was that he struggled to judge the trajectories of the balls in the air. This year the teacher prepared a video clip to support Julian’s learning. The clip is a representation of the ball movement as they are exchanged from one hand to the other. The teacher showed the juggling movement in slow motion, which further supported Julian to grasp the timing and ball trajectory. Thereafter, while Julian practised the juggling challenges deemed appropriate for this stage of learning, the teacher provided him with visual and audio cues to guide the release of the second ball. The teacher praised improvements and suggested returning to easier juggling challenges, which Julian had already achieved to a certain degree, to further promote his mastery of these tasks.

Further Reading

Sensory integration and the child. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services – Ayres, A. J. (1979).

This book explains in an accessible way the Sensory Integration Theory. It has been published in many countries and languages. There are many editions, included a special 25th anniversary edition of the book (2005).

Strategies for achieving joint attention when signing to children with Down’s syndrome – Clibbens, J., Powell, G. G., & Atkinson, E. (2002).

International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 37(3), 309-323.

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Attention Skills and Risk of Developing Learning Difficulties – Commodari, E. (2012).

Current Psychology

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The course of neuropsychological functions in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder from late childhood to early adolescence – Dreschler, R., Brandeis, D., Földényi, M., Imhof, K., & Steinhausen, H. (2005).

Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

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Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence – Goleman, D. (2013).

New York: Harper.

Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom: Practical Application. New York, NY: Guilford Press – Hall, T. E., Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (2012).

Book with interesting proposal for learning content areas (Maths, Sciences, Language…).

Left minineglect in dyslexic adults – Hari, R., Renvall, H., & Tanskanen, T. (2001).


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The effects of yoga on the attention and behaviour of boys with ADHD – Jensen, P S., & Kenny, D. T (2014).

Journal of Attention Disorders

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A 30-minute physical education program improves students’ executive attention – Kubesch, S., Walk, L., Spitzer, M., Kammer, T., Lainburg, A., Heim, R., et al. (2009).

Mind, Brain, and Education

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Universal design for learning: Theory and practice – Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014).

Wakefield, MA: CAST.

Las funciones ejecutivas del estudiante – Moraine, P. (2014).

Madrid: Narcea

Universal design for learning in action: 100 ways to teach all learners. – Rapp, W. H. (2014).

Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes – Book with practical advises to implement Universal Learning Design in schools.

Organización y planificación en niños con TDAH: evaluación y propuesta de un programa de estimulación – Rubiales, J., Bakker, L., & Delgado-Mejía, I. D. (2010, p.52).

Cuadernos de Neuropsicología

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Creating Inclusive Youth Sport Environments with the Universal Design for Learning – Sherlock-Shangraw, R. (2013).

Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
Paper with advises and examples to Implement Universal Learning Design in Sport contexts.

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Autism spectrum disorders – Singhania, R. (2005).

The Indian Journal of Pediatrics

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Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park – Taylor, A. F., & Kuo, F. E. (2009).

Journal of Attention Disorder

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The building process as a tool towards an all-inclusive school. A Swedish example focusing on children with defined concentration difficulties such as ADHD, autism and Down’s syndrome. – Tufvesson, C., & Tufvesson, J. J (2009).

The Indian Journal of Pediatrics

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Coaching athletes with hidden disabilities: Recommendations and strategies for coaching education – Vargas, T., Flores, M., & Beyer, R. (2012).


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Relevant Resources

Getting it Right from the start

Lieberman, L., Lytle R., & Clarcq, J.A. (2008). Getting it Right from the start. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance - Journal paper with advises to implement Universal Learning Design in Physical Education.

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Fundación Cadah

Fundation focused on ADHD. Their webpage offers information for teachers, such as advices for adapting PE lessons.

Orientación andujar

Webpage (in Spanish) with resources and advices for different educative problems.

National Center on
Accessing the General Curriculum

Hall, T., Vue, G., Strangman, N., & Meyer, A. (2004). Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum.


Webpage of the organization Collaborative in Lidership in Ayers Sensory Integration (CLASI) with free webinars about different aspects of that theory. Sensory integration theory provides evidence from basic and applied science about the ability to receive, sort, process, and make use of the information originating from the body and the environment and perceived by our senses (touch, gravity, body position and movement, sight, smell, hearing, taste). This sensory information goes to the brain, where it is organized and interpreted. Although the Sensory Integration is a therapeutic practice, it is interesting for teachers to know about it.

Creating Inclusive Youth Sport Environments with the Universal Design for Learning

Sherlock-Shangraw, R. (2013)
Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance

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This web site includes a lesson on differentiated instruction and information on how teachers take student differences into account and modify their instruction to meet the needs of all students. This site includes examples, definitions, and activities and provides related videos.

Differentiating Instruction

Finding manageable ways to meet individual needs (excerpt) - Willis, S., & Mann, L. (2000). Curriculum Update - Based on the concept that “one size does not fit all” the authors describe the teaching philosophy of differentiated instruction. More teachers are determined to reach all learners: to challenge students who may be identified as gifted as well as students who lag behind grade level. This article excerpt describes the essential components of differentiated instruction beginning with three aspects of curriculum: content, process, and products.

Physical education for children with moderate to severe disabilities

Grenier, M., & Lieberman, L. J. (2018)
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. - Example on inclusion in climbing.

Talks from the I Seminario de deporte inclusivo

Universidad Francisco de Vitoria. Madrid. Julio 2019 (in Spanish).


Better Movers and Thinkers (BMT)

An approach to learning and teaching in physical education designed to develop the ability of all children and young people to move and think in a more cohesive way with a specific focus on developing, enhancing and fostering executive function skills within the learning process.

Salvesen mindroom centre resources

Videos, app and leaflets

Circle Resource

This resource aims to bring together and share good inclusive practice, focusing on approaches to improve the engagement and achievement of all learners including those who require additional support.

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Here visitors will find an articulation of UDL, discussions of its core concepts, descriptions of UDL research projects, a listing of tools and resources that support UDL, and ideas and examples for implementing UDL


Video and other resources explaining the main ideas for implementing UDL in PE.


This sports federation has a specific set of videos for inclusive sport (in Spanish).


This research center is focused on inclusive sport. With a YouTube channel (in Spanish).

Conditions associated with this additional need

Asperger syndrome

Attention deficit disorder (ADD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)

Childhood Experiences

Inhibitory control deficit

Learning disability

Sensory integration dysfunction


Aufmerksamkeitsdefizitstörung (ADS)

Aufmerksamkeitsdefizit-Hyperaktivitätsstörung (ADHS)

Autismus-Spektrum-Störungen (ASD)

Childhood Experiences

Inhibitory control deficit

Learning disability

Sensory integration dysfunction