At a glance
Students with ADHD don’t get distracted or misbehave on purpose.
Teaching strategies that help students with ADHD can benefit all students.
Wait time and respectful redirection are two examples.
Students with ADHD can have a hard time focusing in class. They might also have trouble remembering directions or act impulsively even if they know the rules. But there are teaching strategies you can use to help students with ADHD — and all students — thrive in your classroom.
Here are eight teaching strategies to try.
1. Give transition warnings.
ADHD can make it hard for students to transition from one activity to another. Giving advance notice can help students switch gears and be prepared for what’s next.
One way to do this is by using nonverbal signals. As one example, you can tell students you’ll tap on their desk as a sign that you’ll call on them next.
Learn more about nonverbal signals.
2. Give feedback with respectful redirection.
Since kids with ADHD can have trouble managing emotions, it helps to give feedback that’s immediate, calm, and concise.
Respectful redirection is a positive behavior strategy you can use to give in-the-moment feedback without making a big deal of it. Address the issue with the student as quickly and as privately as possible.
3. Break directions into chunks.
Students with ADHD can have trouble following multi-step directions. One way to help is to break down directions into manageable chunks. This may take a little more of your time at the start of an activity. But it will save you and your students time, confusion, and frustration in the end.
Imagine that you’re giving students class time to work on ongoing art projects. First, you could review the purpose of the project. Then go over the materials list and give students time to take them out. Once you’ve checked that all students have their materials, give clear instructions for how to continue working on the project.
Share with families how they can break down assignments at home.
4. Set a timer.
Knowing there’s a limit to how long an activity will last can make it easier for students with ADHD to stay engaged. You can use a timer to show the time left in an activity or how much time until a break. Timers can also warn students about transitions.
Try projecting a physical timer on your document camera. Or use one of the many free classroom timers you can find online.
Keep in mind that timers can make some students nervous. If you have anxious students, try a different strategy.
5. Use checklists and schedules.
Time management and organization can be challenging for students with ADHD. They may have a hard time getting to class or finishing tasks on time. Or they may have trouble finding materials in their backpacks, lockers, or desks.
Schedules and checklists can help students get organized. You can also send home these organization printables so families can help their kids get organized.
6. Take brain breaks.
Sitting still for long periods of time can be hard for students with ADHD. Brain breaks can help by switching up what they’re doing for a few minutes.
Brain breaks are quick, structured breaks using physical movement, mindfulness exercises, or sensory activities. Movement breaks like stretching give students a chance to get up and move around. Relaxing brain breaks like deep breathing can help calm students and allow their minds to settle enough to shift focus.
Explore different kinds of brain breaks.
7. Use wait time.
Students with ADHD sometimes rush to answer a question or say the very first thing that comes to mind. Wait time, or “think time,” is a strategy that helps students with ADHD and those who need more time to process information.
With wait time, you ask a question and then pause for three to seven seconds before taking responses. This pause helps students think about their answers before sharing. And when students see that wait time is a part of your routine, they’ll know they don’t have to rush to give a response.
8. Teach with empathy.
Remember, students with ADHD don’t mean to misbehave or get distracted. They’re often trying as hard as they can to pay attention or stay organized. But ADHD can make it harder for them. When you keep this in mind and approach your students with empathy, you can help them feel understood and supported.
Learn more about teaching with empathy.
Some ADHD strategies take extra time to set up, but they save time in the end.
Not all strategies work for all students. Work with your students to find the strategies that work best.
Families can use some of these same ADHD strategies at home.
About the author
About the author
Gretchen Vierstra, MA is the managing editor at Understood and co-host of the “In It” podcast. She’s a former educator with experience teaching and designing programs in schools, organizations, and online learning spaces.
Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of the Understood team since its founding. He has also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in both general and special education.