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Teaching Students with ADHD: Strategies for an effective lesson

Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, find it difficult to concentrate on tasks, to pay attention, to sit still, to control impulsive behavior, and to listen quietly, which has an impact on their academic performance. They often forget to write down homework assignments, and when they do, it is possible not to do them or not to bring them at school.

Students with ADHD learn best with a lesson carefully structured. They find it helpful when the teacher explains what he or she wants children to learn in the current lesson and places these skills and knowledge in the context of previous lessons. It also helps when teachers preview their expectations about what students will learn and how they should behave during the lesson. The following set of strategies may assist teachers in conducting effective lessons:

Teaching Students with ADHD

Starting the Lesson

  • Review previous lessons.
    Review information about previous lessons on this topic. For example, remind children that yesterday's lesson focused on learning how to regroup in subtraction. Review several problems before describing the current lesson.
  • Set learning expectations.
    State what students are expected to learn during the lesson. For example, explain to students that a language arts lesson will involve reading a story about Paul Bunyan and identifying new vocabulary words in the story.
  • Set behavioral expectations.
    Describe how students are expected to behave during the lesson. For example, tell children that they may talk quietly to their neighbors as they do their seatwork or they may raise their hands to get your attention.

Conducting the Lesson

  • Be predictable.
    Structure and consistency are very important for children with ADHD; many do not deal well with change. They need to understand clearly what is expected of them, as well as the consequences for not adhering to expectations.
  • Use audiovisual materials.
    Use a variety of audiovisual materials to present academic lessons. For example, use an overhead projector to demonstrate how to solve an addition problem requiring regrouping. The students can work on the problem at their desks while you manipulate counters on the projector screen.
  • Use assistive technology.
    All students, and those with ADHD in particular, can benefit from the use of technology (such as computers and projector screens), which makes instruction more visual and allows students to participate actively.
  • Divide work into smaller units.
    Break down assignments into smaller, less complex tasks. For example, allow students to complete five math problems before presenting them with the remaining five problems.
  • Highlight key points.
    Highlight key words in the instructions on worksheets to help the child with ADHD focus on the directions. Prepare the worksheet before the lesson begins, or underline key words as you and the child read the directions together. When reading, show children how to identify and highlight a key sentence, or have them write it on a separate piece of paper, before asking for a summary of the entire book. In math, show children how to underline the important facts and operations; in “Mary has two apples, and John has three,” underline “two,” “and,” and “three.”
  • Help students focus.
    Remind students to keep working and to focus on their assigned task. For example, you can provide follow-up directions or assign learning partners. These practices can be directed at individual children or at the entire class.
  • Eliminate or reduce frequency of timed tests.
    Tests that are timed may not allow children with ADHD to demonstrate what they truly know due to their potential preoccupation with elapsed time. Allow students with ADHD more time to complete quizzes and tests in order to eliminate “test anxiety,” and provide them with other opportunities, methods, or test formats to demonstrate their knowledge.
  • Use cooperative learning strategies.
    Have students work together in small groups to maximize their own and each other's learning. Use strategies such as Think-Pair-Share where teachers ask students to think about a topic, pair with a partner to discuss it, and share ideas with the group. (Slavin, 2002).

Ending the Lesson

  • Summarize key points. If you give an assignment, have three different students repeat it, then have the class say it in unison, and put it on the board.
  • Preview the next lesson.
    Instruct students on how to begin preparing for the next lesson. For example, inform children that they need to put away their textbooks and come to the front of the room for a large-group spelling lesson.
  • Be specific about what to take home.


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