For Teachers

Attention-Grabbing Teaching Techniques for Distracted Students

Classrooms — filled with students, posters, and more — are major sources of distractions for students with ADHD. But with the right strategies, teachers can help these students concentrate and better process information. These are the strategies I use an an educational therapist to increase clarity.

Illustration of student in class

The classroom is an amusement park, in the most frantic and frenetic sense, for our students with ADHD.

Especially when children are battling visual discrimination challenges and/or dyslexia on top of ADHD, the classroom is inherently distracting — with 20 to 30 other students, posters everywhere, written information on a white board, and lots of talking and movement going on. Even if teachers design their classrooms to minimize the stimuli, these students struggle daily to focus their attention on learning.

One way to compensate for distracting environments is to put information in “high definition.” Teachers should make everything they’re presenting — content, directions, assignments, schedules — as visually clear as possible.

Here are four attention grabbing teaching strategies to address academic challenges, increase clarity, and make information memorable for students with ADHD.

Color Code Information for Better Retention

Assigning colors to certain types of information is effective in helping students make sense of it. If you’re discussing the Allied and Central powers of World War I, and you’re making notes on the white board, use two different colors to make the sides and their objectives distinct.

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At home, parents often use schedules and calendars to help their children prepare for upcoming events. It adds extra clarity to this information if you color-code it. On a calendar, you could put school tasks and related due dates in orange, social events in yellow (birthday parties, play dates), and family events in green.

Make Learning Visual with Graphic Organizers

I’ve seen students who bring home study guides for exams that comprised long lists of facts and content. One student’s fact list was about the 13 colonies, with no visual component. To make sense of it, we first divided the colonies information into categories — religion, farming, and economy. Then we separated the colonies themselves into three regions —Southern, Middle, and New England. Next, we made a simple chart, and divided the glut of information into distinct boxes. This helped the student make sense of it all, comparing the different regions and their qualities. It also made it easier for him to memorize key facts.

Here are some examples of graphic organizers: cause and effect chart; Venn diagram; story map; main idea and details chart. These tools compartmentalize information into visual frames that help students see how concepts relate to each other.

Use Projectors or Document Cameras to Blast Information

Projecting big, bright digital images or text helps students sustain focus and retain information. Being able to project the Internet for your class offers opportunities to present content in ways conducive to different learning styles, by using videos, songs, charts, infographics, and so on.

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Using a document camera, like an Elmo (#CommissionsEarned), allows you to project worksheets, textbooks, novels, and visual aids. The teacher can stand at the white board and use expo markers to write on the projections.

Young people like to look at high-definition video screens. Let’s make sure our teaching uses HD as well.

The Power of Images to Boost Long-Term Memory

There’s a reason Emojis became integrated with texting: People respond emotionally and intellectually to pictures. When we try to get our students to take in and store complex information in long-term memory, an image can support that process.

I once worked with a student who needed support in setting goals and lowering anxiety about his academic workload. He was a fan of the NFL, so I took a graphic of a football field, cut out the picture of a football, and used this to track his progress in completing assignments as he took the “football” to the end zone. The image kept the student focused on the goal.

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