Teaching Students with ADHD

One year I had a boy named Jimmy in my class, and he was one of the coolest kids I ever taught. (I always change names of students on this blog.) Jimmy asked me almost every day how my previous night was. This wasn’t just something he was taught to ask, Jimmy was genuinely interested in what I did and how I was feeling. He had the hardest time sitting still. Jimmy was such a kind kid who seemed to genuinely care for everybody around him and had a heart of gold. He had an extremely difficult time staying focused during a lesson. Jimmy would often display his artistic talents by drawing me pictures. If you’ve worked in a classroom, you probably know a kid just like Jimmy – kind, talented, sweet, but has trouble sitting still and staying focused.

It was clear to me early on that Jimmy had ADHD. I don’t think I heard the team ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) when I was kid. The term ADD was initially used in an American Psychiatric Association manual in 1980. An upward trend of ADHD diagnoses followed a 1997 survey of parents nationwide. As many educators know, that upward trajectory has continued today.

Different students with ADHD benefit from different supports in the classroom. Some students see improved attention simply by sitting near the instruction. Other students need more supports like a timer to help keep them on task or a checklist to ensure they have the belongings they need at the end of the day. I was interested in creating a list of strategies to help students with ADHD, like Jimmy. I used a few websites to help me compile a list of non-medication strategies to use with students:

  • Give minimal number of directions;
  • Give directions in written form when possible for student to reference as they work;
  • Limit the amount of work on a page;
  • Cover up some work or text on a page to minimize distraction;
  • Use color coded folders to help student stay organized;
  • Periodically help students clean out backpacks, desks, folders, etc.;
  • Use checklist for assignments or homework materials;
  • Frequent redirection;
  • Peer tutoring;
  • Think/Pair/Share and other sharing strategies;
  • Give student movement breaks throughout the lesson and day;
  • Teach study skills explicitly;
  • Give student clear expectations;
  • Give students clear deadlines when assignments are due;
  • Use brain breaks;
  • Give students choice on assignments.

This is not an exhaustive list of strategies to support students with ADHD. It is, however, a place to get some ideas to get started. They are strategies I was so glad to discover when I had Jimmy in my class. Hopefully they can help the Jimmy you have in your classroom or school.