Every classroom has students who struggle with staying focused in school, whether or not students have a diagnosis of ADHD. The focusing strategies for students with ADHD will help all students who struggle with staying on task and working, regardless of a diagnosis. The goal for teaching strategies for ADHD students is to teach students to identify what their body needs to stay focused and to advocate for their needs. Not each focusing strategy for students with ADHD will work for each student. You have to know your students and try out different strategies before you find the best solution for them.
When teaching strategies for ADHD students, students need to learn calming strategies. Many students with ADHD display energetic bursts and externalizing behaviors. They may struggle with impulse control and self-regulation. Teach students what their body is doing when they are “going fast” like the cheetah. Tell them what you notice they are doing like, “You are jumping up and down. Your body is going fast! Let’s try a Hawk Hug!”
Teaching focusing strategies for students with ADHD must include calming strategies like mindfulness, yoga, and deep breathing. You need to teach many different kinds of deep breathing and mindfulness, like for students with anxiety, so the child can decide which ones are their favorites and which work best for them. These are my favorites.
Movement Break Strategies for ADHD students
Focusing strategies for students with ADHD should include ways for students to get rid of their excessive energy. When students are “going fast”, a movement break might be exactly what they need, followed up with a calming strategy to re-enter the classroom or their desk. There are the classic movement breaks like jumping jacks, taking a walk, jumping on the trampoline. Then there are movement breaks that the students can do in the classroom that are less distracting to others, like wall or chair push ups. For a wall push up, students place their palms on the wall and push into the wall and back out again. For the chair push up, they hold the seat of the chair and then push their body up out of the chair and back down again. Students can also take a quick walk to get a drink of water.
The OT at my school also gave my students old laundry detergent jugs and filled halfway with water to take around on their walks. This gives them something to hold and do while walking, but also gives some sensory input for them. The other option is to give them some books to deliver to another teacher or the office. You can give the teacher a heads up or just add a note (if the child is young enough) saying that the books are just for a movement break and you will get them later. Although, I’m sure a student in the other class could benefit from bringing the books back at some point!
Internal vs external distractions Strategies for ADHD Students
Students need to learn about where their distractions are coming from so they can learn how to eliminate their distractions. There are internal distractions, like our thoughts, that can affect many students, but especially students with ADHD – Inattentive. These strategies would be the same for students with Anxiety – like completing a puzzle or I Spy book – something to distract the brain and refocus the thoughts.
Students with ADHD – impulsive and hyperactive- will need more help with external distraction strategies. External distractions are distractions the children cannot control – noises and movements in the world around them. Maybe another student talking or someone in the hallway walking by. The student can control how they respond to these distractions. It’s best to try out a few strategies and let the child decide which focusing strategies for students with ADHD are best for them.
Some strategies for ADHD students, that also benefit other students, include using privacy shields. This puts a blinder around the student to the rest of the classroom so they can focus on their work. This also works if they are sitting facing a wall, so it’s a good idea to have an extra desk or table set up against the wall for students. Moving students away from group work areas is another strategy for ADHD students.
If moving spots is not an option or not necessary, maybe a simple wiggle seat would encourage them to stay seated and working, while still getting their wiggles and energy out. Another similar option is the bouncy band that you can add on to chairs for students to kick and bounce on while remaining seated. Offering headphones is also a strategy for ADHD students that get distracted by the noise of the classroom. Using a fidget or Theraputty is a great tool for staying focused during whole group learning times. Finally, timers work really well to show students how long they have to stay focused on their work for. Some students may need an added component of a reward break after they successfully finish working through their timer. You can read more about behavior plans here.
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When teaching strategies for ADHD students, or students who struggle with impulse control, self-regulation, or staying on task, teachers need to teach students many different strategies. The goal is for students to identify what strategies will best help them in that moment and to advocate for what they need. After you teach the different strategies, encourage students to start trying them out. Eventually, they will be able to ask for what they need if you say, “I notice your body is wiggly. What does your body need right now?”
If you are looking for more support and strategies for ADHD students, check out this 10 lesson unit for executive function to support students with ADHD. You might also like this blog post on staying focused at home!
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