ESL Teaching Methods: Tips for Teaching Kids with ADHD

Every student is an individual, and can present their own unique challenges to a teacher. I recently wrote about the challenges of teaching shy kids; in this article, I’m taking a look at the
complete other end of the spectrum of personality types you are likely to find in your classes. Kids with ADHD can be some of the most difficult to manage. Especially for new teachers who
are still learning the basics of classroom management, having students who frequently talk out of turn, can’t stay in their seats, and often disrupt class can turn every class period into a battle.

Here are some tips for teaching kids with ADHD, keeping them engaged in class, and turning them from a source of disruption and frustration to a source of energy and inspiration.

Establish clear rules and structure in your classroom

Hyperactive students tend to do better in classrooms with a clear structure and rules. Often, these students don’t want to be disruptive or frustrating; they simply can’t help themselves and
lack the ability to focus on things for very long. Providing them with clear structure and frequently reminding them to keep their behaviors within that structure is a powerful tool to keep
them engaged in class and not disrupting it.

Make Accommodations

While you shouldn’t completely change the rules for these students, making some small accommodations can have a huge effect on their behavior. You might agree, for example, to let them sit on the floor next to their chair sometimes, or give them a few “two minute passes” per class, which they can use to get up and move around when they really need to. The key is to accept the unique challenges that their behavior, which they often can’t help, presents, and to find a way to work with it in your classroom.

Give them chances to move

Sitting in a desk for long periods of time is a challenge for these students. They need to move, and if you don’t give them ample opportunity to do it within the rules of the class, they will break the rules to do so. Let them hand out worksheets, write on the board, go on brief errands outside of the classroom (if you trust them enough), be the scorekeeper in classroom games –
whatever they like to do, encourage it as much as you can.

Use rewards for finishing their work

It’s extremely hard for these students to focus on worksheets, exams, or lessons. If they have a very specific reason to be motivated and care about finishing it, they are much more likely to
focus and power through. Specific criteria helps: “You just have to finish three more questions on this worksheet, and then we can play your favorite sticky ball game,” or “There are only five
more minutes in this lesson; if you can stay in your chair until then, I’ll let you use my special markers to draw on the board.”

Redirect their attention

You don’t want to butt heads in the middle of class. Rather than telling kids with ADHD to stop doing something, try redirecting their attention elsewhere, away from the disruptive behavior. If they are speaking out of turn and asking inappropriate or unrelated questions, rather than telling them to be quiet, try answering their question in a way that relates to the lesson. If they are having trouble staying in their seat, try giving them a task like helping you write on the board or passing out worksheets.

Look for the root causes of particular behaviors

A student’s behavior may be because another student is egging them on or picking on them behind your back. Maybe they are frustrated and embarrassed that they don’t understand the
material; rather than ask for help, students with ADHD will often start acting out. Pay attention to when certain behaviors occur, and look for root causes that you can address.

Pay attention to where they are sitting

If possible, sit the student away from distractions such as windows or students that they are likely to talk to. If you have rows of desks, sit them in the middle or in a location where it would be more difficult for them to get out of their chair. Structure and arrange the class as much as possible to make it more difficult for them to be disruptive.

Engage the student’s strengths

Students with ADHD are often very creative and very talented. Find out exactly what their strengths are, and make opportunities to use those strengths. You might find, for example, that
they are brilliant artists – which can be a problem when they doodle all over their worksheets. If you make use of it, by having them draw pictures of vocabulary words on the board, or playing
drawing-based games, it can also be a great way to keep them engaged and feeling like a valuable part of class.

There’s nothing wrong with asking one of your fellow teachers for advice, or with asking a teaching assistant or school staff to sit in for a couple of classes. Because they can devote a lot
more attention to the individual student while you focus on giving a lesson, they may notice things about the student’s behavior that you would have missed, which can be very helpful in
improving participation and behavior.

Talk directly to the student

These are often very smart kids, and they don’t necessarily want to cause problems. Take a few minutes to talk with them, and come up with a plan or some suggestions for how they can
manage their behavior. A big part of managing kids with ADHD in your class is building a relationship and trust with them. Consider it a team effort, not a battle, and bring the student on

Don’t forget about the rest of the class

Other students can get frustrated with the accommodations you make for students with ADHD, and can feel neglected because of the time you often have to spend managing them. Be open
with all of your students. Speak to them individually if it seems that they are particularly upset or affected by classroom dynamics. You might need to explain to them, as best you can, what
their classmate is struggling with and how you need everyone’s help. It’s also a good idea to talk to your student with ADHD one on one to discuss how his or her behavior is affecting the
rest of class, and come up with some ideas for what to do about it.

Get the parents involved

The student’s parents are a great resource to help you out. They can talk to their child about the issues that are coming up in class, and they can give you ideas for what has worked for

Stay patient and empathetic

Never, never let yourself start thinking that they’re just a “bad kid.” Many kids who are diagnosed with ADHD have amazing talents that just don’t fit very well in the traditional
classroom environment. These kids are often brilliant performers, athletes, or creative thinkers. Remember that your role as a teacher isn’t to get your students to sit in a desk and finish a
worksheet, but rather to see their potential and inspire them to live up to it. Staying patient and empathetic can be a challenge, but it’s worth it, both for you as a teacher and for the impact that it will have on your student.

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