teaching students with adhd
Feb 01 2021

Teaching Students With ADHD in 2022 (A Complete Guide)

Positive Action Staff
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood mental health disorders in the U.S. ADHD symptoms frequently show up in school, where students struggle to succeed in a classroom setting.

Although a teacher is often not a qualified mental health professional, they may be the first to suspect that a child has ADHD.


Children with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD are often impatient, interrupt at inappropriate times, and may defy classroom rules.

Their classroom behavior may initially come off as rude and disruptive when there’s really more at play.

For this very reason, Positive Action special education curriculums are helping students and teachers to achieve their educational goals through different tailored lessons and materials.

“I am very grateful for these lessons. They fulfill a need that so many children are lacking in the educational process today” — Linda Davis, 2nd Grade Teacher, Davis Elementary

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is characterized by an ongoing pattern of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity that obstructs regular executive function.

Executive function refers to a group of cognitive skills required for managing one’s behaviors such as self-control, working memory, and mental flexibility.

These functions allow people to follow orders, pay attention, regulate emotions, and achieve goals.

Here’s something interesting. In a 2016 study published in 2018 on the prevalence of parent-reported ADHD diagnosis, scientists discovered:

  • Approximately 6.1 million children and adolescents in the United States had at one time received an ADHD diagnosis.

  • 5.4 million children and adolescents had ADHD at the time.

So how does ADHD show up in a classroom setting? Students with ADHD may:

  • Exhibit attention-seeking behavior by talking out of turn or leaving their seat.

  • Find it difficult to follow instructions, especially when presented with a list, or math equations that require ordered steps such as long division.

  • Often forget to take down homework assignments, work on them, or bring the completed work back to school — this is especially true for children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

  • Lack fine motor control, which makes note-taking difficult and handwriting challenging to read.

  • Have problems with long-term projects where there is no direct supervision like holiday homework.

  • Fail to do their part during group work and create conflicts with other students.

What Causes ADHD?

ADHD is recognized as a neurodevelopmental disorder that is often inherited as it is genetic.

In fact, there’s an increased frequency of ADHD in first-degree relatives of students with ADHD.

Other factors can also have an influence, such as:

  • Low birth weight

  • Smoking

  • Taking opioids or drinking alcohol during pregnancy

  • Brain injury and lack of oxygen at birth

  • Certain conditions like epilepsy

Bottom line: ADHD isn’t caused by bad parenting, too much sugar, or too many video games. It’s a legitimate brain-based biological disorder.

That said, there are accommodations teachers can make to help students with ADHD thrive in the classroom.

How Do You Deal With ADHD in the Classroom?

Classroom Accommodations for Students With ADHD


  • Place the student with ADHD away from the windows and doors. You can further position them right in front of your desk (unless that would be a distraction for them).

  • For ADHD students, seating in rows where they can focus on the teacher usually works better than having students seated around tables or facing one another.

  • Select a quiet area free of distractions for test-taking and personal study.

Information Delivery

  • Give one instruction at a time and repeat when necessary.

  • Where possible, work on the most complex material early in the day.

  • Adopt visual learning materials like charts, pictures, and color-coding.

  • Develop outlines for note-taking that organize the information as you deliver it.

Student Work

Create worksheets and tests with fewer items and administer short quizzes instead of long tests.

Test students with ADHD according to their preferred modality, such as oral tests or filling in blanks.

Divide lengthy projects into sections and define short-term goals for each section.

Instead of denying late work, accept it and give partial credit for partial work.


  • Have the student keep a master binder with color-coordinated sections for each subject, then ensure all items placed therein go in the right sections.

  • Provide a three-pocket notebook insert for homework assignments, completed homework, and “mail” to parents (permission slips, PTA flyers, etc.).

  • Help students create personalized systems for writing down assignments and important dates and then follow up to ensure they’re using them.

How Do You Teach Students With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD?

There are certain school-based management techniques shown to be effective for students with ADHD. These are:

  1. Behavioral classroom management

  2. Organizational training

Behavioral Classroom Management

This approach encourages positive behaviors in the classroom through reward systems like a daily report card or badges while discouraging negative behaviors like sudden outbursts.

This teacher-led approach aims to influence student behavior constructively.

Instead of punishing the negative aspects out of ADHD students, teachers focus on increasing academic engagement.

Organizational Training

In this approach, teachers help students with time management, planning skills, and methods to keep school materials organized.

These proactive measures serve to optimize student learning by reducing distractions and interruptions.

These two management techniques require trained staff — be it teachers, counselors, or school psychologists — to follow a specific curriculum that supports positive behavior.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that the school environment and program be included in any child with ADHD treatment plan.

It doesn’t stop there; AAP also recommends teacher-administered behavioral therapy as a treatment for students with ADHD.

Engage Positive Action to professionally train your staff so that your students reap the benefits they deserve.

“Positive Action is a good curriculum and we tied it in with our PBIS. It really helped in making this a safe school where academics and behavior work together so that everybody can learn.” — From a Principal in Robeson County, North Carolina


Now let’s go through an ideal lesson structure in a classroom where some students have ADHD.

Teaching Strategies for Students With ADHD

Teaching strategies that support students with ADHD aim to help students stay focused during the lesson.

Starting the Lesson

  • Use a cue like a bell or a timer to signal the start of a lesson — you can use these same cues to show how much time is left as the lesson goes on.

  • Establish regular eye contact with any student who has ADHD.

  • Outline the activities of the lesson on the board.

  • Tell students exactly what they’ll be covering and what your expectations are.

  • Clearly state the materials they’ll need for the lesson.

Conducting the Lesson

  • Keep instructions simple and structured while using your audiovisual learning materials.

  • Vary the teaching pace and list of activities by including competitive games like puzzles where applicable.

  • Decide on a covert cue with the student who has ADHD, such as a pat on the shoulder or placing a sticky note on the student’s desk, to remind them to stay on task.

  • Give the student with ADHD frequent breaks and let them squeeze a rubber ball or tap something that doesn’t make noise as a physical outlet.

  • Try not to call on a student with ADHD for a task or question that might be too difficult for them in public.

Ending the Lesson

  • Summarize key points.

  • In case there’s an assignment:

  • Let three different students repeat it.

  • Have the entire class say it in unison.

  • Write it on the board.

  • Be specific about what students should take home then allow time for the student with ADHD to organize their materials.

How Do You Motivate Students With ADHD?

It’s no secret: many children with ADHD have faced years of negative experiences in learning environments.

Truth is, when students don’t fully understand why and how their condition makes learning difficult, they blame themselves — saying “I’m stupid,” “I’m not good at math,” or “Writing just isn’t for me.”

This is where a supportive teacher plays a crucial role in:

  • Educating students on the impact their condition has on their schoolwork.

  • Collaborating with them to work around or strengthen the skill deficit.

Remember: Language is everything. For example, a teacher may say,

“You and I know that this might be challenging for you. You also know that positive self-talk can help you get over these tough spots.

What’s your brain telling you? If you’re getting an ‘I can’t’ message, practice what you’ve learned to turn it around.”

Or in the case of a student with a history of failure and frustration, the enlightened teacher may say,

“Before you start on this new material, ask yourself: ‘What have I done successfully in the past that’s kind of like this task?’”

This second response sets a competence anchor that encourages the student to step into unfamiliar territory with more confidence.

Go a step further.

Show the student a reading passage that they’ve previously read and were able to comprehend well.

Ask the student to compare the new passage with the one they’ve already read to gauge the difficulty level for themselves.

This kind of pre-assessment places the student in an “I can do this” mindset, thus improving their chances of overcoming the challenge.

Ultimately, affirm your student’s ability to give their best and let them know that it’s enough.

Here’s a catchy song to help you get started.

Rise to the Challenge

Yes, the world may be full of learning challenges for children with ADHD, but difficult doesn’t mean impossible.

Positive Action’s six-unit concepts prove this point.

In Unit 5 specifically:

  • There’s a direct focus on mental health as students learn the importance of self-honesty and how to be honest with others.

  • Students also learn how to:

  • Identify their strengths and weaknesses and be content with themselves

  • Avoid blaming others or making excuses

  • Develop personal responsibility by doing what they said they would

Let this be the moment that education rises to the challenge, where teachers use their natural gifts as educators and students are treated as compassionate and motivated learners.

If you want to see how Positive Action can increase educational success at your institution or organization contact us by phone, chat, or email or schedule a webinar with us below.