I was trained in Suzuki teaching methods. One of the main ideas Dr. Suzuki stressed was to talk very little in the lessons. This is really hard, lol. But it does keep the attention of the student. As a teacher, I must set up the student for success. So it’s a fine balance between conveying a message to him/her by playing only, and whether he/she is catching on quickly enough. You can use touch, sound and facial expressions to try to get the student to imitate your actions or sounds. The more talking, the more likely students will zone out.
Another attention grabber, really effective in group situations, is to have them follow your lead, and you try to trick them. Begin playing together, then they have to watch you for changing tempos, or abrupt stops where something unexpected occurs (like putting the bow on your head, or turning around in a circle). All kids love this. Let a student lead and see how creative they are!
I really like the idea of improvisation, for students who feel confident enough for it. Sometimes it takes a little training, like when to play a tune up an octave or add ornamentation or double stops. Supplementary fiddle tunes is good for this. Alternatively, when they are playing something simple, and you provide a lovely accompaniment, students feel like they are playing real music. It adds a dimension to playing that is both a challenge (because they have to keep their part going while you play something different) and a delight (because harmony is beautiful, and being part of making it is joyous). Parents sitting in are really happy when they hear their child playing with this added harmony.
Some students like to have a little say in their practice, especially gifted and younger students. Parents are often pressed for time, and just want to get the practice done. But they need to remember, if the student feels like its playing a game, even dropping a pebble into a jar after each task, it will be more fun and get the work done without struggles. Ultimately, as teachers and parents, our goal should be to create an appreciation for beauty and self expression. We don’t need to be too serious about a fast track to professional careers. Violin playing is for enjoyment. It is also a process like many other activities, that can teach self discipline, persistence, finishing what you start, self expression, performance and appreciation for hard work. Anything that gets us from fun to fantastic is worth trying!