Below you will find a list of specific strategies to support children with ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms in school:
Many of these strategies can be utilized to help any child with challenging behaviors, not just those with ADHD.
Below this list, there are recommendations for whole-class strategies that benefit all children, including those with ADHD. After that, you will find additional and relevant information about students with ADHD.
List of Strategies
1) If a child has trouble sitting still or staying in their seat, they should be given opportunities to move throughout the day.
Opportunities for movement can include:
- standing up at desk while doing work
- walking around the class in a predefined area
- getting out of seat to stretch
- passing out materials
- erasing the board
- running errands to the school office
- going to the water fountain
- incorporating movement into learning activities
It is up to the parents and the school team to work with the child to figure out what type of movement/movement break would be best.
Related Article: How Exercise Can Help Kids with Autism and ADHD
2) Seat the student away from distractions as much as possible.
Keep the child seated away from the window, door, pencil sharpener, and talkative peers.
3) Have lists available for students when their are multiple steps (a list can be written, pictures, or both). For example you could have a list of the steps for the morning routine or a list of steps for long division. Remind your students to refer to the list if they forget the steps and do not refer to it independently.
3) Chunk school work into small manageable steps.
Give the student a certain task to complete. Check it when done and then give them a break to move or engage in a preferred activity when the task is completed.
For example, if the class has to complete 20 math problems, allow the student with ADHD to complete 10, take a two to five minute break and complete the next ten. Make the goal reasonable for the child. Some children might need a break after only five questions. Allow extended time to get tasks completed.
4) Use a Timer
For open-ended assignments such as listening to a class lecture, try using a timer. For example, have the student listen for five minutes and write down three important facts, then give the student his break.
You can also use a timer to time the break time. Allow the timer to dictate the end of the break, rather than you arbitrarily saying “okay, breaks over.” Let the student know the exact plan (e.g., after you write down three facts, you will have a two-minute break).
For children who have trouble understanding the concept of time or numbers a visual timer can be helpful because the child can see how much time is left. Visual timers can be purchased on Amazon or other online stores.
Here are some examples:
Just to clarify, this is not indicating that you put time constraints on how long the child has to complete a task. The timer signals how long a child will be working on a task before a break and how long the break will last.
See 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion for more information.
Red Clock Visual Timer – With a red clock visual timer, children can see time running out as the red disappears.
Sand timer – Sand timers let children know that time is up when the sand at the top gets to the bottom.
You can even get a visual timer app on your phone or tablet. Just search your app store.
As a student improves focus and reaches small goals, you can gradually try to extend the time expected to work before break.
FYI: Graphic organizers can be another great way to help students with ADHD pay attention during lectures. See How to Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, Listening, Note Taking, and Study Skills to learn how to implement this strategy.
5) Assist the student with staying organized.
Show them exactly how to organize their materials and supervise and guide them regularly, while they try to do it independently. As they become more independent with organization, slowly fade out the organization checks.
6) Stay close to the student
Frequently walk by their workspace, keep them seated near you, or stand near their desk when teaching (whichever strategy makes the most sense for your situation).
Watch how much attention increases when children have images and materials to handle and focus on while learning (this works well with many children, not just those with symptoms of ADHD).
- Research-Based Classroom Interventions for Children with ADHD
- School interventions for ADHD: A literature review
- Teaching Children with ADHD
Here are some class-wide strategies to help all students, including those with ADHD:
1) Phrase directives in the positive and use redirection.
Tell your students what you want them to do rather than what you don’t want them to do (e.g., “put your pencil down” instead of “stop tapping your pencil,” “look up here” instead of “stop talking,” or “finish writing your sentence” instead of “stop playing with things in your desk,” etc.).
Sometimes nonverbal redirection such as tapping the student’s paper to remind them to continue writing or pointing to where the student should be is enough.
2) Post clear rules that tell your students exactly what you expect (e.g., raise your hand, quiet while working, stay in your area) and frequently review these rules.
When any child breaks the rules, including a child with ADHD, remind them of the rule in a neutral and confident tone (e.g. when the student calls out point to the rule and say “raise your hand when you have something to say.”).
Some children respond to a simple gesture even better than a verbal reminder of the rule. For example, pointing to the rule or making a gesture, such as raising your own hand to remind the child to raise their hand.
Remember to phrase rules in the positive, “raise your hand” rather than in the negative “stop calling out.” Research shows that children respond better when you tell them what to do rather than what not to do.
Implement these rules with consistency. If you allow some of the children break the rules some of the time, you can’t expect children to know when to follow the rules. The expectation should be for them to follow the class rules at all times.
Related Article: Printable Classroom Rules with Matching Visuals
3) Give children choices throughout their day.
This gives students a sense of control. Feeling in control is very important for students with challenging behaviors. When they feel more in control they are less likely to defy you because they feel like their opinion matters, which helps them feel respected.
Here are examples of some choices for students:
- Do you want to write your assignment on paper or type it on the computer?
- Read a page from a book of your choice and summarize the page by either drawing a picture or writing a paragraph.
- After you complete your assignment, do you want to play a math quiz game or play hangman on the board?
4) Use random selection to call on students, rather than just calling on the ones who raise their hands.
For example, you can write each student’s name on a popsicle stick and put the sticks in a cup. A student will never know when their turn is coming to participate, which will encourage all students to pay attention.
5) Keep lessons short or break longer lessons up into mini lessons that vary in type/style.
For instance, talk to the class about how to use the “ch” sound. Have them practice making “ch” words with magnetic letters on a portable whiteboard, then have them write words with “ch” and draw a picture to go with each word.
6) Praise students for following the rules and participating.
Examples include, “Thank you for raising your hand.”, “You worked very quietly today.”, “You remained in your area during your assignments. Nice work!”, “Great participation during science today,” etc.. These postivie affirmations help with student self-esteem, reinforce rules, and motivate other students to receive the same type of praise.
7) Allow students to earn time to engage in preferred activities for following class rules and completing their assignments.
Preferred activities can include movement breaks like the ones mentioned above, class time to play a game, ten minutes of extra recess, 15 minutes to talk to peers, drawing a picture, computer time, or whatever you deem appropriate for your students and classroom. Talk to your students to find out what motivates them.
For more ideas for preferred activities check out Break Ideas to Increase Student Motivation.
When working with children at home, encourage them to complete homework, chores, and follow rules by using the same methods described in his article for encouraging compliance in the classroom.
Additional Information Related to Student with ADHD
This article was written prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Since the pandemic updates have been made to this post. Hopefully, changes in education will lead to reduced class sizes for the long-term. In a large setting with only one adult present, students can fall behind or get lost.
Some students may feel afraid to ask for help or be anxious around a lot of people. Some will get distracted by noise, movement or visuals in their environment. Children with ADHD may do better with fewer people, more choice, and more interactive/hands-on activities.
While ADHD is a real condition that impacts a child’s (or adult’s) attention, activity levels, and decision-making, the symptoms can be exacerbated in a large group environment, with academic demands, and little support available.
Working in schools for close to 20 years, I have known many children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or who have ADHD-like symptoms. Many of these students frequently have difficulty at school.
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They often get yelled at, lose recess time, get put in time out, get detention, or get a phone call home. When they get home they may be punished again for their behavior at school or for exhibiting challenging behaviors at home.
Consequences in school generally occur when students have trouble in the following areas: following directions, sticking to the class routine, keeping track of assignments, staying seated, staying in their area, working quietly, completing their work, raising their hand before speaking, or just demonstrating self-control in general.
Students with ADHD (and some without) cannot always control their behavior. Actions can come out impulsively before the child has the opportunity to think about or realize the potential consequences. Their actions are not based on willful, purposeful defiance. When children get punished for actions they cannot control, behaviors often get worse.
Over time, from being embarrassed in front of peers, yelled at by teachers and/or parents, and punished for things they cannot help, their self-esteem goes down. The feel frustrated and angry and they may shut down (refusing to do work, not communicating their feeling with adults) or their behaviors may increase rather than decrease.
Related Article: 9 Practical Strategies to Decrease Impulsive Behavior in Children
While every child with ADHD is different, below are some common characteristics.
Children with ADHD often have trouble:
- catching directions the first time (they may be distracted by something else or thinking about something else).
- remembering directions (they are often thinking of so many things they may forget information that the parent or teacher deems important).
- controlling their impulses (they may blurt something out, grab something from another student, call out in class, etc. even after being told not to several times).
- remembering or carrying out multiple steps such as that in a morning routine in class (e.g., unpack, put your belongings away, take out your pencil and morning journal, complete the writing assignment on the board) or for an educational assignment (such as completing a long division problem or planning a school project).
- concentrating or focusing for prolonged periods of time, which may be required for a written assignment, a reading assignment, or listening to a teacher-directed lesson (they can become distracted by movement or noises in the environment, distracted by their own thoughts, feel a need to get up and move, or simply need a mental break because they can only sustain attention for so long)
- keeping their body still or remaining seated
- keeping materials organized or keeping track of important papers or belongings
Related Article: What are the Symptoms of ADHD and What Can You Do to Help?
With the right strategies in place, children with ADHD symptoms can make positive behavior changes in school and at home.
As a parent, you can be an advocate for your child. Work with your child’s teacher, administrator, and school counselor to help them understand your child’s symptoms if they interfere with learning, social skills, or emotional regulation.
Work with the school team to understand the behaviors your child is exhibiting. For example: Is he talking too much and not completing work? Is he out of his seat and calling out? Is he losing his papers and forgetting how to carry out routines? Is it all of the above?
Let the school know that your child needs to be supported rather than punished for behaviors they may not be able to control.
It is important to understand; however, that a teacher’s job can be overwhelming. They have 20+ students to manage, lesson plans to write, tests to grade, scores. and grades to keep, etc. It can be overwhelming for a teacher to implement all the strategies necessary to support students with behavioral needs like those with ADHD, especially when they may have more than one child with behavioral challenges in their classroom.
Despite these facts, your child’s teacher can put forth their best effort to understand what strategies are recommended for children with ADHD or children with challenging behaviors, and try their best to put these strategies in place.
If they cannot meet your child’s needs due to feeling overwhelmed, the school needs to work with you and your child’s teacher, using a team approach, to figure out how to utilize the possible resources in the building.
For example: Can the school counselor get involved? Can a peer buddy help? Can an administrator step in? There are a lot of resources in a school that can be exhausted in order to help teachers feel supported when implementing strategies.
If a child’s needs are so great that they cannot be supported in a classroom (or virtual environment) with one teacher, even after all school resources have been exhausted, they may benefit from an evaluation by a school psychologist to determine what additional supports they may be eligible for.
If your child qualifies for special education they will get an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in which they will have individual goals possibly for academics, behavior, focus, or social skills. They will also have accommodations or modifications such as extended time to complete assignments or a reduced workload.
Special education looks very different than it did in the past. Children can often remain in the general education setting and receive extra support from a special education teacher or paraprofessional.
If your child does not qualify for an IEP, they may qualify for a 504 plan. Children with ADHD or other conditions (e.g., generalized anxiety disorder, depression) are entitled to a 504 plan (also called a Chapter 15) if their disability is interfering with their educational progress, but they are not in need of special education services.
A 504 plan allows students to have accommodations and modifications within the general education curriculum. Teachers, parents, other school staff, and sometimes the student contribute to what goes into the 504 plan by discussing the students’ needs.
A 504 is a legal document that requires your child’s school to provide accommodations for your child, so they are not falling behind their peers due to their disability. Talk to your child’s school for more specific information. You can also read more about 504 plans by doing a Google Search.
- 21 Accommodations Available for Your Child with Special Needs
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Video Presentation Created Before COVID-19
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, caregivers, educators, counselors, and therapists to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them. For Rachel’s top behavioral strategies all in one place, check out her book, Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children, a Guide for Parents and Teachers. If you want Rachel to write for your business, offer behavioral or academic consultation, or speak at your facility about research-based strategies that support children, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.