The ADHD Classroom: Tips for Teachers

Try these ADHD classroom tips if you are a teacher who wishes to become more effective in reaching your students who suffer from ADHD.

The reason is not just practical, but a necessity.

Most teachers will teach a child with ADHD at some point in their careers (ADHD may affect up to 14% of all school-age students), and such children often have different educational and social needs.

In fact, one of the reasons teaching is a highly challenging profession is because teachers are expected to teach a wide range of students.

However, with a little practice, time, and experience, any teacher can become a more effective educator.


ADHD Classroom Tips For Teachers

1. Student-teacher compatibility: Because students have different learning styles, and teachers have different teaching styles, it is essential to match the right teacher with the right student. Teaching students with ADHD requires both structure and flexibility, and the ability to know when to use them.

2. Your ADHD classroom should have clear rules. Post them on the wall, on his desk, etc. Have the child repeat the ADHD classroom rules and expectations to help them remember them. 

adhd classroom

3. Proximity. Seat the child close to the teacher so they are better monitored.

4. Eliminate distractions and stimulation in your ADHD classroom. Place the child away from windows, doors, or other active areas; preferably somewhere quiet. However, some ADHD children prefer a background of “white noise” or music at low volume; it helps them focus. 

5. The child should be given immediate feedback and consequences (both good and bad) about their behavior. When correcting the child, remain calm and do not get angry. Simply make the correction and move on. 

6. Praise positive behaviors in order to better encourage and reinforce such behaviors. Use rewards, tokens, or other incentives that are agreed upon in advance so that child has something they wish to earn. (This typically includes increased privileges.) This way there are no surprises; the child has agreed to do X in order to earn Y. If not, no reward. You may need to change the rewards in order to prevent boredom and refresh the goals and objectives.

7. Allow frequent breaks. This often includes physical stimulation, walking, etc.

8. Break tasks and homework down into smaller sections with clear understanding of what makes the task complete. Make sure directions are simple and concise; do not overload the student with too much information.

9. Task reminders: it is helpful to use timers or verbal reminders to communicate how much time remains for a task or activity.

10. Flexibility is key in an ADHD classroom: you should expect (and allow) restlessness. In order combat this, it is often helpful to allow the student to stand up at his desk if it helps him stay on task, or squeeze something tactile (a stress ball, etc.) if it helps him focus. (Believe it or not, chewing on gum can help improve the focus of those with ADHD!)

11. Plan the most difficult tasks/subjects in the morning. Both teachers and students are more productive when they are fresh and less fatigued.

12. Recess is essential for blowing off steam. Both children and adults focus better after exercising, which provides important oxygen to the brain. As a result, never disallow recess as a consequence for bad behavior; remove another privilege instead that is agreed upon by the child. 

13. Utilize extra support; this may include tutors, aids, or a peer study buddy.

14. Parental involvement and team meetings are key. Share this list with parents, who should follow these same rules at home. Maintain open parent-teacher communication, provide daily/weekly progress reports, and immediately notify parents of missing or incomplete assignments. Communicate via email, meetings, whatever is most convenient. The treatment/educational team should gather regularly to discuss progress and identify helpful resources and interventions.

15. At the end of class or the end of the day give the child some extra time (5 minutes) in order to get organized, gather materials, etc.

16. Color-coded materials can help ADHD students become better organized.

17. Repetition: Combine saying, writing, seeing, and doing in order improve memory. Tape-recorders, digital recorders, smartphones, etc. are all useful in an ADHD classroom if they help students retain information.

18. Create a predictable routine.

19. Make sure you have the student’s full attention when communicating with him. Hold eye contact, briefly place hand on their shoulder to get their attention, etc. “Please look at me when I speak to you.”

20. Catch students being good and praise positive behavior. This reinforces good behavior and communicates classroom expectations.

21. The most effective ADHD interventions consist of tackling the condition on multiple fronts. Not just home and school, but this includes medication, therapy, coaching, improving organizational skills, etc.


The Argument For MORE Stimulation In The ADHD Classroom

The flip side to all of the above is that since children with ADHD seek additional stimulation and typically feel bored or constricted in traditional institutional educational settings, they will respond better to additional stimulation (albeit a more controlled, not random stimulation).

Perhaps this takes the form of educational computer programs that offer more stimulation than the current versions that are often just (boring) computerized versions of traditional worksheets, quizzes, etc.

Learning From The Success Of Other Countries

Other countries may provide clues. For instance, in Germany early child education involves an outdoor component (they even call it the “forest kindergarten”). The argument for outdoor classrooms is that they encourage children to gain a wide range of skills, including fine motor skills, survival skills (building fires, tools, shelter, etc,), social cooperation, observing and respecting nature, animals, and seasonal changes, etc.

In Finland and east Asia, children are typically given a 15 minute recess for every 40 or 45 minutes of instruction. This allows the children to play and the teachers to rest, grab a coffee in the lounge, etc.

Research concludes that exercise, recess, and play increase the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the brain which helps both children and adults re-energize and improves focus and attention.

Such educational practices provide a greater breadth of experience. Researchers and advocates of these approaches claim that the more senses involved in the learning experience, the deeper the learning process. Such learning experiences enhance self-confidence by teaching children to overcome obstacles and enhancing social/emotional intelligence.

Education in Finland is ranked the highest in the world. Teaching is a respected profession in Finland and Finnish teachers are paid as much as doctors.

These examples stand in stark contrast in comparison to US public schools, where public education tends to be a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy that is focused solely on statistics and test scores (Common Core), and is slow to change.


The Bottom Line

All educational policies have their unique strengths and weaknesses. The best we can do is learn and borrow from a broad range of approaches and use what works and avoid what doesn’t. As a teacher you try to utilize all the educational tools available to you and stick with those that are most effective.