What Works for Me – A Teacher’s Tips for Teaching Students with ADHD

The other day on my ADHD Kids Rock Facebook Page, I posted a poem I wrote about my difficult experiences in school.  Some of you called it heart-breaking, lots of parents said their kids were going through similarly difficult times at school.  The poem got almost 500 comments — by far, the highest number of comments out of any of my Facebook Posts yet. It seems like it hits a nerve for kids with ADHD, as well as their parents and teachers.

I realize no one wants kids with ADHD to suffer.  It’s not easy for teachers to deal with them in their classrooms — we’re often disruptive, and have a hard time sitting still. What’s a teacher to do?

Well, I’ve been lucky to have a few great teachers over the past couple of years. Brandi Schamber is one of them.  She’s been in the trenches with high numbers of students with ADHD and other learning challenges – and she’s got some unique and practical ideas for teachers with ADHD kids in their classrooms. (She’s also my way cool ginger cousin)  Here’s a list of her top 8 tips for teachers of students with ADHD. It’s a great list, with some ideas you’ve probably never heard before.

Got tips to share with other teachers about working with students who have ADHD?  I’m hoping to build up a great big list of them.  Please add your best tips or resources in the comments section at the bottom!

8 Practical Tips for Teaching Students with ADHD

Tip #1 — Make it your mission to understand the student.

ADHD looks different for each student and even within the individual it can manifest itself differently each day. Be willing to try new strategies when one fails.  It’s easy to feel this is a hopeless battle, so make sure you have supportive peers, coworkers, friends and/ or family members to talk to.  Remember, school can be such a struggle for children with ADHD.  Just by trying to make things better, you can make a huge difference in the lives of the students who have ADHD.

Tip # 2 — Teach the student to give you realistic expectations.

My favourite line is “what can you REALISTICALLY complete in a certain time frame?” Often kids will tell you what you want to hear and often they will fail, leading to a variety of disappointment.  Turn larger objectives into series of smaller goals. Talk about what might be a realistic goal, and recognize them whenever they attain their realistic goals.

Tip # 3 — Get them Moving

Get them out of class out for a 5-minute walk. Send your ADHD student on a mission to get some pencils or a random water break. Even a 30 second dance party can shake up a class.

Tip #4 — Set them up for Success with a Small Goal and a Timer

Find an old egg timer, or have the student set small timers on their phone. Give a task to complete in 2 minutes and that’s it. Small expectations are the key. Success is the key. Two minutes of success might not seem like much to you, but to that student it is a win for the day and they need to feel successful.

Tip # 5 — Show your True Colours

Sometimes I have “ADHD” moments and I let the students see that and how I manage it. Sometimes I go for a walk, take some deep breaths or just have a giggle fit to let my energy out. If they can see you as a human and not a teacher (alien! haha) then they will feel more comfortable and be able to connect with you.

Tip # 6 — Give them Break Cards

Break cards are great. Hand the student two cards with 2 or 5 min breaks on them at the start of class. Teach them to recognize when they are feeling anxious or restless, and that they can use the cards at this time. If they abuse the cards, then limit it to 1 card per class. They must learn structure, but also be able to make their own decisions.

Tip # 7 — Model Organization

During transition times I give students an “Am I ready” checklist with questions such as:

  • Do I have all my supplies?
  • Should I use the washroom or get a drink?
  • Did I bring my homework to class?
  • Do I need clarification or repetition of the next steps?
  • Should I take one of my breaks now?

Rewards can be very effective and simple…. Watch a YouTube Video, listen to a song, go for a walk.  These things can help motivate and refresh the student.

Tip # 8 — Sweet Rewards

Some people are against the reward system, but it can be very effective and simple. If you complete this, or stop doing that, or concentrate for 5 minutes, then you can watch a YouTube video, listen to a song, go for a walk, etc. Sometimes a simple thing can be a great motivator for a student. These things can help motivate and refresh the student.

External Resources

Have you got some great ideas for teaching kids who have ADHD?  Do you have a Pinterest Board or a favourite website of ideas specifically for teaching kids with ADHD?  Share them in the comments below, let’s get a great list going!

This BC Government website has an in-depth article on teaching students with ADHD in the classroom, including some detailed case-studies. (Click “Next” at the bottom of each page.)

There are 30 practical ideas for teaching students with ADHD here. 

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