For Teachers

9 Ways to Get a Student to Follow Instructions

Students with ADHD can have a hard time listening, following directions, and paying attention. Learn to minimize classroom distractions and give instructions effectively with this helpful teacher’s guide.

Teacher working with ADHD student in front of white board, enthusiastically explaining lesson plans
Teacher working with ADHD student in front of white board, enthusiastically explaining lesson plans

Getting kids to stop, listen, and comply in the classroom is a challenge for teachers.

While some instructors interpret inattention as defiance, the truth is that children with ADHD have legitimate reasons for not hearing directions: the inability to stop and disengage from what they’re doing and/or working-memory weaknesses.

Here are strategies to help students with ADHD follow instructions in the classroom.

1. Wait until it is quiet, and you have students’ attention, before giving instructions.

Do not talk over students’ voices. Always face the class and speak up when you give directions.

2. Read written directions to the class…

…and have students color, highlight, circle, or underline key words.

3. Focus on the behavior you want to encourage in students…

…not on what they are doing wrong. State the directive or command in the form of what you want your students to do. For instance, “Look at the chart” or “Turn to your assignment calendar.”

4. Give complete directions…

including what you expect them to do (a) if they have any questions and (b) when they are finished with the task or assignment.

5. State the direction, remain silent, and wait…

…10 seconds for the child to comply.
If a child still doesn’t begin the task, address him by name and repeat the command, preceded by “You need to….” For instance, “Michael, you need to sit down at your desk right now.”

6. Be specific when issuing a command.

Instead of saying “behave appropriately” or “do careful work,” say, “bottoms in your chairs,” “book open to page 21,” and “desks cleared.”

7. Provide multi-sensory directions…

such as visual cues and graphics, along with verbal explanations. Demonstrate exactly what you want the kids to do. Place visual reminders, like the class schedule or a rules-and-routines chart, in plain view in the classroom.

8. Assign a classmate to clarify directions.

Ask one student to “tell your partner what we are going to be doing on page 247.”

9. Avoid multiple-step instructions—a chain of directions.

Whenever possible, give one instruction at a time. If multiple-step directions must be used, outline the steps and their sequence (1, 2, 3) in writing.

Adapted with permission from and How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, Second Edition, Copyright 2005 by Sandra F. Rief.