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5 Effective Lesson Ideas for Teaching Students With ADHD

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UPDATE 8/24/2017: This post has been updated with new lesson tips and ideas.

I was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) when I was very young.

This meant the rigid constructs of school were difficult for me to adhere to, especially when it came to lectures or very slow lessons using overhead projectors and extremely dated video documentaries.

The lack of motion and stimulation taxed my patience.

Monotony was also a nemesis of mine. When lessons required me to repeat the same dull action in my seat, such as writing spelling words over and over, I found myself fidgeting, spacing out, or drawing and writing other things.

However, one benefit of my ADHD was the level of commitment and hyperfocus I could dedicate to something that caught my attention and interest. These were predominantly activities that had either plenty of movement and spontaneous action, or plenty of imagination and color such as fine arts, music classes, and creative projects.

As a teacher, if you aren’t taking into account similar experiences that your own students with ADHD may be having, there may be leaving loads of intellectual potential untapped.

To help you better meet their needs and tap all that potential, here are five lesson ideas for teaching students with ADHD.

1. Stage a creative class project

Studies have shown a correlation between ADHD and a heightened sense of creativity. The overactive mind of someone with this disorder yearns for activities without limited and structural bounds so they can channel their energy into action.

Simply put, people like me just want to express themselves. This is where creative class projects come into play. I was always excited when class projects were geared toward some sort of artistic goal, such as drawing a diagram of a cell in science classes, or building things in shop class. The more open to creativity the project was, the better I would perform.

Many students who underperform due to their shorter attention spans also suffer from low self-esteem which, in a vicious circle, can then negatively affect their academic performance. A creative project that gives a student the ability to succeed, earn praise from their peers and teachers, and see positive progress with their education, will, conversely, boost their confidence and self-esteem.

Some great creative project ideas include model and diorama building for science and history classes, creative writing assignments in language arts classes, or even mock events such as Model U.N. and mock court cases.

Here are a few other class projects ideas you should consider:

Own a [insert thing here]

  • Students take ownership of a thing relevant to a lesson (planet, decade, career, person of interest, etc.).
  • Students are split into groups and sent off to become experts on their assigned thing and present to the class via PowerPoint, iMovie, or any other medium of presentation.

Create a new ending

This idea is particularly interesting to me, seeing as though my overactive brain loves to overanalyze and imagine different endings for movie and book plots. Students are tasked with drafting a new ending for a movie, book, short story, or historical event, along with a rationale for their new ending.

Portfolio showcase

I’m an artist with ADHD, and I relish any opportunity to showcase my work. Many ADHD students have creative talents to showcase, whether it’s artwork, photography, videography, singing, or an instrument. This portfolio showcase ought to show progress and improvement over a period of time.

All of these options give students the ability to make decisions about which direction they will take their assignment, and this piques the interest of an energetic ADHD mind.

2. Flashcards

As an underlying symptom of ADHD, I am gifted with a less-than-stellar memory. Trouble with short term memory is a common issue for those suffering from ADHD.

In addition, I find that things that don’t stimulate my overactive mind are harder to remember than things that do. For example, because I am a very visual person, I have trouble remembering names, but if I see a face, it sticks like glue.

I don’t purposely forget names, however if that name is not immediately associated with a face, it is hard to give that name any weight, which makes it harder for me to remember.

There are ways to combat this though.

One lesson idea perfect for developing memory skills is flashcards, especially for learning crucial concepts such as multiplication tables. When I got home from school, my mother would use flashcards to teach me my multiplication tables and, still to this day, I can rattle off “9×6 is 54” at the drop of a hat. It helped to get the constant reinforcement of visual cues with these otherwise uninteresting math problems.

This method not only applies to math problems, but can also be used to memorize historical dates, historical figures, vocabulary words, and spelling.

3. Role playing activities

When I was in school I constantly found myself tapping my feet, fidgeting with my fingers, fidgeting with my clothes, staring outside at cars driving by, and looking for any excuse to get out of my seat. All the pent up energy needed to be expressed somehow, and as long as I had to sit in my seat, I would struggle to be productive.

This changed whenever my teachers gave us assignments which required interaction with others and movement around the room. All of a sudden my attention was with the task at hand because my need for stimulation was being met.

Role playing activities are a great way to get your students up and moving around in a similar way, while still learning. In literature classes, this kind of role playing can be used to give visual representations of the story being studied. In math classes, simulation games where students act out the roles of business people buying and selling items can teach complex concepts.

Tips for role-playing lessons:

If a lesson seems boring and dry for you to teach, chances are that lesson is not sticking with your students, especially not with your ADHD students, so you should add some movement and interaction.

4. Classroom debates

Another symptom of ADHD is the tendency to blurt out answers before being called upon or before a question is done being asked.

I stated earlier that creative assignments are perfect opportunities for ADHD students to shine and find the praise they miss out on in more rigid academic activities. However, sometimes structure must be introduced to help ADHD students learn to not only wait their turn, but to take their time weighing their decisions and answers.

The perfect way to instill this structure and improve your ADHD students’ knowledge of particular subjects is to stage classroom debates. In structured classroom debates, students get the opportunity to discuss classroom subjects, learn more about lesson concepts, and develop patience and critical thinking skills. As a teacher, you should actively participate in the debate to step in when a student is out of line, whether by what they say or how and when they say it.

Classroom debate ideas:

For other classroom debate ideas, check out the New York Times’ list of the 100 most popular student debate questions.

5. Game show-style reviews and exams

I hated taking written tests as a child. It was already hard enough for me to memorize concepts, numbers, and dates from lectures, but the added anxiety of having to show what I had memorized made concentration very difficult.

One way to mitigate this anxiety and concentration issue is by turning your tests into stimulating classroom game shows, which encourages active participation and verbal communication. As a student, I had an easier time remembering and reciting information if it was done in an active and vocal way. The sound of my voice reciting information, similar to visuals, stimulated my brain and kept my interest better than that of a onesided lecture and paper exam.

Scholastic has compiled a list of five classroom review games that go beyond the typical classroom Jeopardy. The options include:

  • Family Feud
  • Pyramid
  • Wheel of Fortune
  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
  • Deal or No Deal

The active process of using points in a game, such as classroom Jeopardy or Family Feud increases the likelihood that information will be retained and recited with greater accuracy.

More lesson ideas

Whichever lesson ideas you take away from this, remember that flexibility and understanding go a long way when educating ADHD students.

What do you think of these lesson ideas? Do you know of any other lesson plans that would be helpful in teaching ADHD students? Let us know in the comments below!

And, if you enjoyed this piece, I’ve compiled other lesson plan ideas and classroom suggestions that you may find useful on the Capterra School Administration blog:

Looking for School Administration software? Check out Capterra's list of the best School Administration software solutions.

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About the Author

Nick Morpus

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Nick Morpus is a Content Writer for Capterra, a free resource that matches buyers and sellers of business software. He has a background in politics, economics, and journalism, which he dedicates his off-time to contributing his thoughts to other political sites. In his free-time he enjoys reading, drawing, photography, playing guitar, writing, and cooking.

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