Deficits ADD : Tips Teachers Should Know
100 suggestions on teaching children with attention deficit problems ADD.
Also applicable for children with learning differences and disabilities.
Research shows there are an estimated 3 to 5 percent of school-age children
with Attention Deficit Disorder. In response to the needs expressed by
teachers for teaching strategies that work with these children, the U.S.
Department of Education has supported research in classrooms to determine
successful teaching techniques employed by elementary school teachers
to keep children focused and on task. The following tips, for experienced
and inexperienced elementary school teachers alike, are tried and true
methods for reaching children with ADD.
Children with ADD typically have problems with inattention, impulsiveness,
and hyperactivity. They often have difficulty paying attention in class
and seem to shift aimlessly from one unfinished activity to another. These
children generally appear restless, fidgeting constantly in their seats,
playing with pencils or other objects, or disturbing nearby students.
Many children with ADD also have difficulty following their teachers'
instructions or forming friendships with other children in the class.
Like other children with disabilities, children with ADD learn best when
their teachers understand their special needs and individualize their
educational program to meet these needs.
"Attention Deficits: What Teachers Should Know" is a how-to guide with
instructional practices you can use to help children with ADD in your
class. The practices themselves should be part of an educational program
based around three key components-classroom accommodations, behavior management,
and individualized academic instruction.
To make this book as valuable a resource as possible, you should consider
these steps in developing an effective educational program for your students
Evaluate the Child's Individual Needs
Assess the unique educational needs of a child with ADD in your class.
Working with a multi-disciplinary team, consider both academic and behavioral
needs, using formal diagnostic assessments and informal classroom observations.
Select Appropriate Instructional Practices
Determine which instructional practices will meet the academic and behavioral
needs you have identified for the child. Select practices that fit the
content, are age appropriate, and gain the cooperation of the child.
Integrate Appropriate Practices Within an Individualized Program
Combine the practices you have selected into an individualized educational
program. Plan how to integrate the educational activities provided to
other children in your class with those selected for the child with ADD.
Because no two children with ADD are alike, no single educational program,
practice, or setting will be best for all children.
Children with ADD often have difficulty learning and achieving academically
in school. Effective teachers constantly monitor the child and adapt and
individualize academic instruction.
General Instructional Principles
Effective teachers help prepare their students to learn when they introduce,
conduct, and conclude each academic lesson. These principles of effective
instruction, which reflect what we know about how to educate all children
in the class, will especially help a child with ADD to stay focused on
his assigned tasks as he transitions from one lesson to another throughout
the school day.
Students with ADD benefit from clear statements about their teacher's
expectations at the beginning of the lesson. Consider these strategies.
- Review Previous Lessons. Review information
about previous lesson on this topic. For example, remind children that
yesterday's lesson focused on learning how to regroup in subtraction.
Review several problems before describing the current lesson.
- Set Learning Expectations.State what students are expected
to learn during the lesson. For example, explain to students that a
language arts lesson will involve reading a story about Paul Bunyan
and identifying new vocabulary words in the story.
- Set Behavioral Expectations.Describe how students are expected
to behave during the lesson. For example, tell children that they may
talk quietly to their neighbors as they work on a seatwork assignment
or raise their hands to get your attention.
- State Needed Materials.Identify all materials that the child
will need during the lesson. For example, specify that children need
their journals and pencils for journal writing or their crayons, scissors,
and colored paper for an art project; rather than leaving children to
figure out on their own the materials required for a lesson.
- Explain Additional Resources.Tell students how to obtain help
in mastering the lesson. For example, remind the children to refer to
a particular page in the text book to get help in completing a worksheet.
When conducting an academic lesson, effective teachers use some of
the following strategies.
- Use Audio-visual Materials.Use a variety of audio-visual materials
to present academic lessons. For example, use an overhead projector
to demonstrate how to solve an addition problem requiring regrouping.
The students can work on the problem at their desks, while you manipulate
counters on the projector screen.
- Check Student Performance.Question individual students about
their mastery of the lesson. For example, you can ask a student doing
seatwork to demonstrate how he or she arrived at the answer to a problem
or ask individual students to state, in their own words, how the main
character felt at the end of the story.
- Ask Probing Questions.Probe for the correct answer before calling
on another student and allow children sufficient time to work out the
answer to a question. Count at least 15 seconds before giving the answer
and ask follow-up questions that give the child an opportunity to demonstrate
what he or she knows.
- Perform On-going Student Evaluation.Identify students who need
additional assistance. Watch for signs of lack of comprehension, such
as day-dreaming or visual or verbal indications of frustration. Provide
these children with extra explanation or ask another student to serve
as a peer tutor for the lesson.
- Help Students Self-Correct Their Own Mistakes.
Describe how students can identify and correct their own mistakes. For
example, remind students that they should check their calculations in
mathematics problems and reiterate how they can do that; remind students
of particularly difficult spelling rules and how students can watch
out for "easy-to-make" errors.
- Focus DawdlingStudents.Remind students who dawdle to keep working
and redirect these students to focus on their assigned task. For example,
you can provide follow-up directions or assign learning partners. These
practices can be directed at individual children or at the entire class.
- Lower Noise Level.Monitor the noise level in the classroom
and provide corrective feedback, as needed. If the noise level exceeds
the level appropriate for the type of lesson, remind all students --
or individual students -- about the behavior rules stated at the beginning
of the lesson.
Preparing for Transition
Students with ADD often have difficulty refocusing their attention
as they end one academic lesson and move on to the next lesson. Effective
teachers help their students prepare for these transitions when concluding
- Provide Advance Warnings.Provide advance warning that a lesson
is about to end. Announce five or ten minutes prior to the end of the
lesson (particularly for seatwork and group projects) how much time
remains. You may also want to tell students at the beginning of the
lesson how much time they will have to complete it.
- Check Assignments.Check completed assignments for at least
some students. Review with some students what they have learned during
the lessons, to get a sense of how ready the class was for the lesson
and how to plan the next lesson.
- Preview the Next Lesson.Instruct students how to begin preparing
for the next lesson. For example, inform children that they need to
put away their textbooks and come to the front of the room for a large
group spelling lesson.
Individualized Instructional Practices
Effective teachers individualize their instructional practices based
on the needs of their students in different academic subjects. Students
have different ways of getting information, not all of which involve traditional
reading and listening. Individualized lessons in language arts, mathematics,
and organizational skills benefit not only children with ADD, but also
other children who have diverse learning needs.
Language Arts Reading Comprehension
To help children with ADD who are poor readers improve their reading
comprehension skills, try the following instructional practices:
- Silent Reading Time. Establish a fixed
time each day for silent reading (e.g., DEAR: Drop Everything And Read).
- Follow -Along Reading.Ask the child to read a story silently
while listening to other students or the teacher read the story out
loud to the entire class.
- Partner Reading Activities. Pair the child
with ADD with another student partner who is a strong reader. The partners
take turns reading orally and listening to each other.
- Storyboards. Ask the child to make storyboards
that illustrate the sequence of main events in a story.
- Storytelling. Schedule "storytelling" sessions
where the child can retell a story he or she has read recently.
- Play-acting. Schedule "play-acting" sessions
where the child can role play different characters in a favorite story.
- Word Bank. Keep a word bank or dictionary
of new or "hard-to-read" sight vocabulary words.
- Board Games for Reading Comprehension.
Play board games that provide practice with target reading comprehension
skills or sight vocabulary words.
- Computer Games for Reading Comprehension.
Schedule computer time for the child to have "drill-and-practice" with
sight vocabulary words.
Phonics and Grammar
To help children with ADD master phonics and grammar rules, the following
- Mnemonics for Phonics and Grammar. Teach the child mnemonics
that provide reminders about hard-to-learn grammatical rules such as
(a) correct punctuation, (b) irregular verb tenses, and (c) correct
- Word Families. Teach the child to recognize
and read word families that illustrate particular phonetic concepts
(e.g., "ph" sounds).
- "Everyday" Examples of Grammar Rules. Take
advantage of naturally occurring events to teach grammar rules skills
in the context of everyday life. For example, ask a boy and a girl who
are reading a story together questions about the proper use of male
and female pronouns.
- Board Games for Phonics and Grammar. Play
board games that practice phonetically irregular words.
- Computer Games for Phonics and Grammar.
Use a computer to provide opportunities to have "drill-and-practice"
with phonics or grammar lessons.
- Structured Programs for Phonics and Grammar.
Teach phonics and grammar skills through a structured program such as
Sandy Rief's "Simply Phonics" program.
Writing and composition
In composing stories or other writing assignments, children with ADD
benefit from the following practices:
- Standards for Writing Assignments. Identify
and teach the child classroom-wide standards for acceptable written
- Recognizing Parts of a Story. Teach the
student how to describe the major parts of a story (e.g., plot, main
characters, setting, conflict, and resolution).
- Post Office. Establish a "post office"
in the classroom and provide students with opportunities to write, mail,
and receive letters to and from their classmates and teacher.
- Visualizing Compositions. Ask the child
to close his or her eyes and visualize a paragraph that the teacher
reads aloud. Another variation of this technique is to ask a student
to describe a recent event while the other students have their eyes
- Proofreading Compositions. Require that
the child proofread his or her work before turning in written assignments.
Provide the child with a list of items to check when proofreading his
or her own work.
To help children with ADD who are poor spellers master their spelling
lessons, the following have been found to be helpful:
- Teaching Frequently Used Spelling Words.
Assign spelling words that the child routinely uses in his or her speech
- Creating a Dictionary of Misspelled Words.
Ask the child to keep a personal dictionary of frequently misspelled
- Using Partner Spelling Activities. Pair
the child with another student. Ask the partners to quiz each other
about how to spell new words. Encourage both students to guess the correct
- Working with Manipulatives. Use cut out
letters or other manipulatives to spell out hard-to-learn words.
- Using Color-Coded Letters. Color code different
letters in "hard-to-spell" words (e.g., receipt).
- Using Movement Activities. Combine movement
activities with spelling lessons (e.g., jump rope while spelling words
- Using "Everyday" Examples of Hard-to-Spell
Words. Take advantage of naturally occurring events to teach difficult
spelling words in context. For example, ask a child eating a cheese
sandwich to spell "sandwich."
Students with ADD who have difficulty with manuscript or cursive writing
benefit from these instructional practices.
- Individual Chalkboards. Ask the child to
practice copying and erasing the target words on a small, individual
chalkboard. Two children can be paired to practice their target words
- Quiet Places for Handwriting. Provide the
child with a special "quiet place" (e.g., on a table outside the classroom)
to complete his or her handwriting assignments.
- Spacing Words on a Page. Teach the child
to use his or her finger to measure how much space to leave between
each word in a written assignment.
- Special Writing Paper. Ask the child to
use special paper with vertical lines to learn to space letters and
words on a page.
- Tape Recorders. Ask the student to dictate
writing assignments into a tape recorder.
- Dictating Writing Assignments. Have the
teacher or another student write down a story told by a child with ADD.
- Structured Programs for Handwriting. Teach
handwriting skills through a structured program such as Jan Olson's
"Handwriting Without Tears" program.
There are several individualized instructional practices that can
help children with ADD improve their basic computation skills. The following
are just a few:
- Recognizing Patterns in Mathematics. Teach
the student to recognize patterns when adding, subtracting, multiplying,
or dividing whole numbers.
- Partner Mathematics Activities. Pair a
child with ADD with another student and provide opportunities for the
partners to quiz each other about basic computation skills.
- Mnemonics for Basic Computation. Teach
the child mnemonics that describe basic steps in computing whole numbers.
For example, "Don't Miss Susie's Boat" can be used to help the student
recall the basic steps in long division (i.e., divide, multiply, subtract,
and bring down).
- "Real Life" Examples of Money Skills. Provide
the child with naturally occurring, "real life" opportunities to practice
target money skills. For example, ask the child to calculate his or
her change when paying for lunch in the school cafeteria.
- Color Coding Arithmetic Symbols. Color
code basic arithmetic symbols such as +, -, and = to provide visual
cues for children when they are computing whole numbers.
- Using Calculators To Check Basic Computation.
Ask the child to use a calculator to check his addition, subtraction,
multiplication, or division.
- Board Games for Basic Computation. Ask
the child to play board games to practice adding, subtracting, multiplying,
and dividing whole numbers.
- Computer Games for Basic Computation. Schedule
computer time for the child for "drill-and-practice" with basic computation
- Structured Programs for Basic Computation.
Teach basic computation skills through a structured program such as
Innovative Learning Concepts' "Touch Math" program.
Solving Word Problems
To help children with ADD improve their skill in solving word problems
in mathematics, try the following.
- Rereading the Problem. Teach the child
to read a word problem two times before beginning to compute the answer.
- Using Clue Words. Teach the child "clue
words" that identify which operation to use when solving word problems.
For example, words such as "sum," "total," or "all together" may indicate
an addition operation.
- Mnemonics for Word Problems. Teach students
mnemonics that help remind them of basic questions to ask in solving
word problems (e.g., what is the question asked in the problem, what
information do you have to figure out the answer, and what operation
should you use to compute the answer).
- "Real Life" Examples of Word problems.
Ask the student to create and solve word problems that provide practice
with specific target operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication,
or division. These problems can be based on recent, "real life" events
in the children's lives.
- Using Calculators to Check Word Problems.
Ask the student to use a calculator to check his or her answers to assigned
Some children with ADD benefit from using special materials to help
them complete their mathematics assignments.
- Number lines. Provide a number line for
the child to use when computing whole numbers.
- Manipulatives. Use manipulatives to help
students gain basic computation skills such as counting poker chips
when adding single-digit numbers.
- Graph Paper. Ask the child to use graph
paper to help organize columns when adding, subtracting, multiplying,
or dividing whole numbers.
Many students with ADD are easily distracted and have difficulty focusing
their attention on assigned tasks. However, there are several practices
that can help children with ADD improve their organization of homework
and other daily assignments.
- Assignment Notebook. Provide the child
with an assignment notebook to help organize homework and other seatwork.
- Color-Coded Folders. Provide the child
with color-coded folders to help organize assignments for different
academic subjects (e.g., reading, mathematics, social science, and science).
- Homework Partners. Assign the child a partner
to help record homework and other seatwork in the proper folders and
- Cleaning Out Desks and Book Bags. Ask the
child to periodically sort through and clean out his or her desk, book
bag, and other special places where written assignments are stored.
Children with ADD who have difficulty finishing their assignments
on time can also benefit from individualized instruction that helps them
improve their time management skills.
- Using a Wristwatch. Teach the child how
to read and use a wristwatch to manage his or her time when completing
- Using a Calendar. Teach the child how to
read and use a calendar to schedule his or her assignments.
- Practicing Sequencing Activities. Provide
the child with supervised opportunities to break down a long assignment
into a sequence of short, interrelated activities.
- Creating a Daily Activity Schedule. Tape
a schedule of planned daily activities to the child's desk. Study Skills
- Using Venn Diagrams. Teach a child with
ADD how to use Venn diagrams to help illustrate and organize key concepts
in reading, mathematics, or other academic subjects.
- Note-Taking Skills. Teach a child with
ADD how to take notes when organizing key academic concepts that he
or she has learned with a program such as Anita Archer's "Skills for
- Developing a Checklist of Frequent Mistakes.
Provide the child with a checklist of mistakes that he or she frequently
makes in written assignments (e.g., punctuation or capitalization errors),
mathematics (e.g., addition or subtraction errors), or other academic
subjects. Teach the child how to use this list when proofreading his
or her work at home and school.
- Using a Checklist of Homework Supplies.
Provide the child with a checklist that identifies categories of items
needed for homework assignments (e.g., books, pencils, and homework
- Preparing Uncluttered Workspace. Teach
a child with ADD how to prepare an uncluttered workspace to complete
his assignments. For example, instruct the child to clear away unnecessary
books or other materials before beginning a seatwork assignment.
- Monitoring Homework Assignments. Keep track
of how well your students with ADD complete their assigned homework.
Discuss and resolve with them and their parents any problems in completing
these assignments. For example, evaluate the difficulty of the assignments
and how long the children spend on their homework each night.
Children with ADD often are impulsive and hyperactive. Effective teachers
use behavior management techniques to help these children learn how to
control their behavior.
Students with ADD benefit from frequent reinforcement of appropriate
behavior and correction of inappropriate behavior. Verbal reinforcement
takes on the form of praise and reprimands. In addition, it is sometimes
helpful to selectively ignore inappropriate behavior.
- Verbal Praise. Simple phrases such as "good
job" encourage a child to act appropriately. Praise children frequently,
and look for a behavior to praise before -- not after -- a child is
- Verbal Reprimands. Do not hesitate to request
that a child change his or her behavior. The most effective reprimands
are brief and directed at the child's behavior -- not at the child.
- Selective Ignoring of Inappropriate Behavior.
Carefully evaluate whether to intervene when a child misbehaves. In
some instances, it is helpful to ignore the child's inappropriate behavior,
particularly if a child is misbehaving to get your attention.
Effective teachers also use behavioral prompts with their students
with ADD, as well as with other students in the class. These prompts help
remind students about your expectations for their learning and behavior
in the classroom.
- Visual Cues. Establish simple, non-intrusive
visual cues to remind the child to remain on task. For example, you
can point at the child while looking him or her in the eye, or hold
out your hand, palm down, near the child.
- Proximity Control. When talking to a child,
move to where the child is standing or sitting. Your physical proximity
to the child will help the child to focus and pay attention to what
you are saying.
In some instances, children with ADD need counseling to learn how
to manage their own behavior.
- Classroom Interviews. Discuss how to resolve
social conflicts with classroom interviews. Conduct impromptu counseling
sessions with one student or a small group of students in the classroom
where the conflict arises. In this setting, ask two children who are
arguing about a game to discuss how to settle their differences. Encourage
the children to resolve their problem by talking to each other, while
you quietly monitor their interactions during the interview.
- Social Skills Classes. Teach children with
ADD appropriate social skills using a structured pull-out class. For
example, you can ask the children to role play and model different solutions
to common social problems. It is critical to provide for the generalization
of these skills, including structured opportunities for the children
to use the social skills they learn.
For some children with ADD, behavioral contracts, tangible rewards,
or token economy systems are helpful in teaching them how to manage their
own behavior. Because students' individual needs are different, it is
important for teachers to evaluate whether these practices are appropriate
for their classrooms.
- Behavioral Contract. Identify specific
academic or behavioral goals for the child with ADD. Work together with
the child to cooperatively identify appropriate goals such as completing
homework assignments on time and obeying safety rules on the school
playground. Take the time to ensure that the child agrees that his or
her goals are important to master.
- Tangible Rewards. Use tangible rewards
to reinforce appropriate behavior. These rewards can include (a) stickers
such as "happy faces" or sports team emblems or (b) privileges, such
as extra time on the computer or lunch with the teacher. In some cases,
you may be able to enlist the support of parents in rewarding the children
- Token Economy System. Use token economy
systems to motivate a child to achieve a goal identified in a behavioral
contract. For example, a child can earn points for each homework assignment
completed on time. In some cases, students also lose points for each
homework assignment not completed on time. After earning a specified
number of points, the student receives a tangible reward such as extra
time on a computer or a "free period" on Friday afternoon.
Many children with ADD benefit from accommodations that reduce distractions
in the classroom environment. These accommodations, which include modifications
within both the physical environment and learning environment of the classroom,
help some children with ADD stay on task and learn. Accommodations of
the physical environment include determining where a child with ADD will
sit in the classroom. There are two main types of special seat assignments.
- Seat Near the Teacher. Assign a child a
seat near your desk or the front of the room. This seat assignment provides
opportunities for you to monitor and reinforce the child's on-task behavior.
- Seat Near a Student Role Model. Assign
a child a seat near a student role model. This seat arrangement provides
opportunities for children to work cooperatively and learn from their
peers in the class.
Effective teachers also use different environmental prompts to make
accommodations within the physical environment of the classroom.
- Hand Gestures. Use hand signals to communicate
privately with a child with ADD. For example, ask the child to raise
his or her hand every time you ask a question. A closed fist can signal
that the child knows the answer; an open palm can signal that he or
she does not know the answer. You would call on the child to answer
only when he or she makes a fist.
- Egg Timers. Note for the children the time
at which the lesson is starting and the time at which it will conclude.
Set a timer to indicate to children how much time remains in the lesson
and place it at the front of the classroom; the children can check the
timer to see how much time remains. Interim prompts can be used as well.
For instance, children can monitor their own progress during a 30-minute
lesson if the timer is set for 10 minutes three times.
- Classroom Lights. Turning the classroom
lights "on and off" prompts children that the noise level in the room
is too high and they should be quiet. This practice can also be used
to signal that it is time to begin preparing for the next lesson.
- Music. Play music on a tape recorder or
chords on a piano to prompt children that they are too noisy. In addition,
playing different types of music on a tape recorder communicates to
children what level of activity is appropriate for a particular lesson.
For example, play quiet classical music for quiet seat activities and
jazz for active group activities.
Effective teachers make accommodations in the learning environment
by guiding children with ADD with follow-up directions.
- Follow-Up Oral Directions. After giving
directions to the class as a whole, provide additional, oral directions
for a child with ADD. For example, ask the child if he or she understood
the directions, and repeat the directions together.
- Follow-up Written Directions. Provide follow-up
directions in writing. For example, write the page number for an assignment
on the blackboard. You can remind the child to look at the blackboard
if he or she forgets the assignment.
Effective teachers also use special instructional tools to modify
the classroom learning environment and accommodate the special needs of
their students with ADD.
- Highlighting Key Words. Highlight key words
in the instructions on worksheets to help the child with ADD focus on
the directions. You can prepare the worksheet before the lesson begins
or underline key words as you and the child read the directions together.
- Using Pointers. Teach the child to use
a pointer to help visually track written words on a page. For example,
provide the child with a bookmark to help him or her follow along when
students are taking turns reading aloud.
- Adapting Worksheets. Teach a child how
to adapt instructional worksheets. For example, help a child fold his
or her reading worksheet to reveal only one question at a time. The
child can also use a blank piece of paper to cover the other questions
on the page.
This document was developed by the Chesapeake Institute, Washington,
D.C., with The Widmeyer Group, Washington, D.C., as part of contract #HS92017001
from the Office of Special Education Programs, Office of Special Education
and Rehabilitative Services, United States Department of Education.