Strategies to support ADHD in the classroom

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All students experience challenges with concentration, sitting still and following directions in class but for students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), these challenges can be much more frequent and have a significant impact on their learning. Their difficulties with inattention, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity means that students with ADHD may find tasks that require sustained effort, organisation and self-regulation more challenging than their peers.

When students with ADHD aren’t able to achieve the same results as their peers in the classroom, they may become overwhelmed, impatient or frustrated, which can lead to disruptive behaviours such as talking out of turn or moving around without permission. It is important to recognise that these behaviours aren’t an act of defiance, but a sign that your student may need additional supports or strategies put in place.

While children with ADHD can have difficulty concentrating during classroom discussions or activities, they have strengths in other areas such as creative thinking, problem-solving, hands-on working and the ability to hyper-focus on topics that interest them. By adapting your teaching methods and lesson structure to work with their strengths, you will give them the best opportunity to learn with their peers. Making these small adjustments can benefit all students, not just those with ADHD. Here are some simple strategies you can implement in the classroom that will help students with ADHD thrive.

Strategies to help students with ADHD in the classroom

Set clear rules

When communicating classroom rules, keep language positive by telling students what they should do rather than what they should not do. Instead of saying: “No loud talking”, try saying, “Sit down and work quietly”.

Establish a classroom routine

Children with ADHD thrive in familiar and structured environments so a daily classroom routine can help students feel more prepared for the lesson ahead and give them more opportunity to concentrate on each task.

Use visual aids

Students with ADHD are sensory learners and tend to respond well to visual cues. When delivering information, consider ways that you can include pictures, colours, videos and charts in your classroom to help students with ADHD more easily absorb new information. Displaying key points on the board can help to remind students of what they are meant to be focusing on.

Minimise distractions

Minimising distractions and disruptions is crucial to helping students with ADHD stay focused in class. Seating students toward the front of the classroom and away from doors can remove potential distractions from movement inside and outside the classroom.

Simplify tasks and instructions

Breaking down tasks into smaller steps gives students a series of goals to work towards, which can help to make work feel more achievable. When students with ADHD feel accomplished, they are more likely to show interest in their learning.

Allow for breaks and movement

Sitting still is a challenge for students with ADHD and may act as a barrier to their learning. Make time for regular breaks for the entire class to stretch and move between classroom activities to give students with ADHD the opportunity to regulate and refocus. Be mindful that some students may find it difficult to refocus after a break so explore what works for your students.

Where possible, try to incorporate movement into learning activities to keep students engaged. If you notice a student beginning to fidget, try assigning them a small task that requires moving around the classroom. This could be handing out worksheets, getting up to put away resources or helping you write on the board.

Keep feedback positive

Students with ADHD may respond better to receiving regular, positive reinforcement rather than being consistently reprimanded. Recognising their achievements, even the small ones, can help to keep them motivated. It is important to ensure that praise is also given in front of their peers.

Try not to correct or reprimand too quickly. If your student makes a mistake, use the sandwich approach to give them constructive criticism. Start by recognising what they have done well, then offer suggestions for improvement and end by reinforcing what they are doing well. Use their mistakes as an opportunity to help them learn by asking them questions such as, “Does that sound like the right answer?” or “Is that a good way or a bad way to talk in class?”

 

Structuring lessons to support students with ADHD

Starting the lesson

  • Capture students’ attention with a visual and/or aural cue to indicate that the lesson is starting, and they are expected to listen.
  • List the lesson plan on the board in simple steps for students to refer back to throughout the lesson.
  • Clearly tell students what they will be learning and what they will need to participate in the lesson.

During the lesson

  • Alternate between activities that capture different levels of interest to help students with ADHD stay focused and engaged in the classroom. Consider delivering high-concentration tasks earlier in the lesson or at a time you have identified as their best time of ‘alertness’. This is when they are most likely to maintain focus and retain information.
  • Students with ADHD may find it difficult to move from one task to the next. You can help them transition by letting the class know a few minutes before you are about to start a new activity.

Finishing the lesson

  • Capture students’ attention and summarise what has been covered during the lesson.
  • If there is homework, write it on the board and have the class repeat the task and/or document it before leaving the classroom for the day.

 

Making some small changes to the way you approach activities or structure lessons will not just make a significant difference for students with ADHD, but can help to support other students in your class to concentrate and perform their best.

For more great strategies to empower your students to learn and reach their potential, check out our Professional Development webinars and workshops.

 

Resources

Department of Education, South Australia: Supporting children and students with ADHD 

Department of Education and Training, Victoria: Tips for Managing ADHD in the Classroom

All Play Learn: Primary School Teacher Strategies for ADHD

Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne: ADHD – ways to help children at school and home