I am a super-focused person. I know what I want, I figure out how to get it, and then I take care of business. While I call it “focus” because I want to be nice to myself, those who know me well might choose to use the word “obsessed” instead … but that’s beside the point. (Hey, we are all a work-in-progress!)
The real point of me telling you this about myself is to say that even I, someone who is super focused/obsessed, completely zone out at times — even during class. (Yes, I still take classes because I’m so
obsessed with focused on school.)
Even I, the teacher who teaches executive function and focusing skills, occasionally zone out when I’m not supposed to. My bad.
I’m telling you this to let you know that I get it — I get what it’s like to sit in class with all the good intentions in the world, and then suddenly realize you haven’t heard a word the teacher has said. We “check out” when we are reading (here’s some advice on how not to do that), so it only makes sense that we’d “check out” in other contexts when information is coming at us too — like during class.
In a perfect world, we would all use these 7 tricks to avoid zoning out in class, which would prevent us from checking out in the first place. If you live in a perfect world, these 7 tips might be all you need.
But I’m assuming you live in my world, one that’s not perfect! And so we need some strategies to handle to the moments when, for whatever reason, we just stop paying attention and go off into La-La-Land.
So these 4 tips below are emergency strategies we can use during those moments when we realize that we’ve just zoned out for a bit. Use these strategies to seamlessly get yourself back on track, back into focus, and back into whatever is going on in the classroom.
What to do when you zone out in class
1. Scan the room right away. Right when you realize that you’ve checked out (so, the moment you come back to reality), pay super-close attention to what’s happening in the class. Who’s talking? If the teacher is talking, pay attention and quickly write down what s/he is saying. I’ll come back to this in tip #4. If you had been taking notes when you first zoned out, reread what you last wrote and try to connect the dots to what the teacher is talking about when you checked back “in.” Also look at the board to see if there’s any clues as to what’s happening. Look at things the teacher wrote up there. Look at the agenda.
2. Copy people around you. Look around the room and see what your classmates are doing. What materials or books do they have on their desks? Take out those same items. If they’re taking notes on something, you should start taking notes on something (anything!) until you figure out what’s going on. If you can, take a peek at their notes too; doing so might help you figure out what you missed.
3. Ask for instant clarification. If you’ve made an effort to figure out what’s happening, but still have no clue, then just raise your hand and ask the teacher to repeat what s/he just said. Something simple like “Could you please repeat that last part?” or “I’m sorry, could you please say that again?” is just fine. There won’t always be a perfect time for you to interrupt the teacher like this, so you can always quietly ask a classmate next to you if it makes more sense. Or, just move to the next tip.
4. Ask for delayed clarification. After class, approach the teacher with your notebook where you wrote down what was happening when you “came to” — back in tip #1 — and ask him or her to repeat what he or she said right beforehand. Seriously, this isn’t as hard as it sounds. Something like this is fine: “Hi, quick question. I’m a little confused over what you said before this point [point to the notebook]. Could you please explain that again?”
The last piece of advice I’m going give you for what to do when you zone out in class is this: Do NOT just sit in class confused, waiting for yourself to become unconfused. That’s lame and doesn’t work. The very second you realize you’ve checked out and missed something, try to refocus yourself and rejoin the class. If you’re still lost, then ask the teacher for help. Do not leave the classroom until you feel confident that you got the information you missed.
Also, keep in mind that we all zone out once in awhile. No big deal, usually. Sometimes we are just tired or bored or have something on our minds that distracts our thoughts. However, if this happens to you allllll the time, something else might be going on that you might want to look into. In this case, no big deal either: just let the right people know what’s happening (parents, teachrs, guidance counselors) and they’ll take it from there.