10 ADHD Strategies Every Teacher Should Know

“If I have something subtle to occupy me — like a small fidget toy — I am neither distracted nor seeking out distractions. I am relaxed and alert.” Hearing students with ADHD describe their unique challenges in their own words can unlock amazing collaboration and tremendous learning.


A teacher helps a student one on one, a smart strategy to help adhd students.

Learning Is a Collaboration

Success in the classroom is a two-way street. To learn, students must show up prepared and excited for class. But teachers have to prepare as well. Understanding a student’s unique challenges will help teacher and student become a winning team. Here are valuable strategies from a student with ADHD to clue teachers into how students with ADHD learn best.

ADHD Student sleeps in class because the teacher didn't grab her attention.

Grab My Attention

I don’t always make eye contact, sit upright, or even sit still, but that doesn’t mean I’m not listening. If you’re not sure, ask me what you just said rather than constantly asking if I’m paying attention. If I respond correctly, then I am. If I can’t repeat the information, try to gain my attention before stating it again.

Kids sing while learning -- getting all their senses involved is a top strategy to help ADHD students.

Get All of Me Involved

It is a challenge for me to learn passively for extended periods of time. Get me as involved as possible because my brain does better with interactive learning. The more of my senses you address, the more engaged I will be. Don’t just tell me what to do, show me how, and then have me show you I understand.

A daydreaming student could use a fidget toy to keep him relaxed and alert.

I Can Be Distracted, or Not Distracted Enough

Sometimes I don’t pay attention because I’m distracted. Sometimes, I need a distraction. A totally still environment can cause my ears and eyes to strain to find out where distractions went. If I have something subtle to occupy me —two-quarters to rub together or a small fidget toy — I am neither distracted nor seeking out the distractions. I am relaxed and alert.

Students who are interested raise their hands to participate in class.

I Need Stimulation

Don’t take it personally if I seem bored. I have a hard time motivating myself to do tasks that are not highly interesting to me. My brain craves stimulation, so even listening to soft background music through headphones helps keep part of my brain busy. Give me incentives, too. Small rewards help encourage me so that I can pull my attention back to the work you want me to complete.

A boy plays at recess because movement is a great strategy for helping ADHD students learn.

I Need to Move

My attention span is tied to my energy levels. I know I’m supposed to get school tasks done while I’m sitting at a table or desk. But how am I supposed to go forward if my brain is always in neutral? If I cannot move while I think, my engine will stall.

If a shutdown occurs, let me stand, move, or shift gears before returning to the subject. Sometimes a movement break — a few jumping jacks — can jump-start my progress. This works better for me than suggesting I buckle down to complete a task.

A teacher guides a student, employing a common strategy to help ADHD students learn.

Lead the Way for Me to Learn

What I have learned in school is not always apparent, even to me. I need you to help me show what I have learned. When I have to answer a question, make the answer be a goal that I want to reach and that I will be proud of achieving. I need to feel like you’re guiding me toward finding the answer.

Interrogating a student will cause them to shut down, not comfortable giving a report in front of the class.

Don’t Interrogate Me

If you tell me I’m not trying hard enough or not cooperating, my motivation and mindset become that of a prisoner locked in a room. When stress clamps down on my mind, I drag around the mental and emotional chains of judgment — that I should know this, but I’m just not smart enough. Being interrogated, especially in front of my classmates, does not motivate me, but discourages me from wanting to try.

A bored and unmotivated ADHD child needs encouragement to succeed in school.

Encourage, Don’t Shame, Me

Sometimes I draw attention to myself without meaning to, like when I am fidgeting and don’t know it, or when I’m staring off into space because my mind has wandered. I need your patient encouragement, not shaming or derogatory remarks. In fact, I need more positive reinforcement than my classmates, but I get much less than they do because of my struggles.

Teacher uses strategies to help ADHD students succeed by acknowledging a student's achievement with a high-five.

I Want What You Want: Success

I want to succeed. I am not acting this way to annoy you or to be disrespectful. My brain works differently, but it does work. I can tell when adults don’t seem to like me. I may miss out on a lot of subtle cues, but if you like me and are on my side, I will know it and will work a lot harder than if you are just putting up with me.