by Sandra Rief


  • Arouse students’ curiosity and anticipation. Ask an interesting, speculative question, show a picture, tell a little story, or read a related poem to generate discussion and interest in the upcoming lesson.
  • Try playfulness, silliness, humor, use of props, and a bit of theatrics to get attention and peek interest.
  • Use storytelling, real-life examples, and anecdotes. Students of all ages love to hear stories (particularly personalones, such as something that happened to the teacher when he or she was a child). 
  • Capture their attention at the emotional level if possible.
  • Add a bit of mystery. Bring in an object relevant to the upcoming lesson in a box, bag, pillowcase. This is a wonderful way to generate predictions and can lead to excellent discussions or writing activities.
  • Signal students auditorilly through the use of sound/music (chimes, rainstick, xylophone, playing a bar or chord on a keyboard, or a few seconds of a recorded song).
  • Try using various toys that make a novel sound, clap patterns, and clear verbal signals (e.g., “1,2,3…eyes on me”) also work well.
  • Vary the tone of your voice: loud, soft, whispering. Try making a louder command: “Listen! Freeze! Ready!” followed by a few seconds of silence before proceeding in a normal voice to give directions.
  • Use visual signals: flash the lights, raise your hand which signals the students to raise their hands and close their mouths until everyone is silent.
  • Write key words or pictures on the board or projector while presenting.
  • Frame the visual material you want students to be focused on with your hands or with a colored box around it.
  • Project an object on the screen  when using a projector (e.g. little toy car or plastic figure) to get attention.
  • Cover or remove visual distractions. Erase unnecessay information from the board and remove clutter in the environment.
  • COLOR is very effective in getting attention. Color highlight key words, phrases, steps to computation problems, spelling patterns, and so forth.
  • Eye contact. Students should be facing you when you are speaking, especially while instructions are being given. If students are seated in clusters, have those students not directly facing you turn their chairs and bodies around when signaled to do so.







  • Employ multisensory strategies when directions are given and a lesson is presented.
  • Maintain your visibility.
  • Project your voice and make sure you can be heard clearly by all students.
  • Be aware of competing sounds in your room environment (e.g., noisy heaters or air conditioning units).
  • Call students up front and close to you for direct instruction (e.g., seated on the carpet by the board.)
  • Position all students so that they can see the board and/or screen. Always allow students to readjust their seating and signal you if their visibility is blocked.
  • Explain the purpose and relevance to hook students in to your lesson.
  • Incorporate demonstrations and hand-on presentations into your teaching whenever possible.
  • Use a flashlight or laser pointer. Turn off the lights and get students to focus by illuminating objects or individuals with the light.
  • Use study guides/sheets that are partial outlines. While you are presenting a lesson or giving a lecture, students fill in the missing words based on what you are saying and/or writing on the board or document camera/overhead.
  • Use visuals. Write key words or pictures while presenting. Use pictures, diagrams, gestures, manipulatives, and high-interest material.
  • Illustrate, Illustrate, Illustrate. It doesn’t matter if you don’t draw well to illustrate throughout your presentation. (Stick figures work well.) Give yourself and students permission & encouragement to DRAW even if you lack the skill or talent. Drawings don’t have to be sophisticated or accurate. In fact, often the sillier – the better. Have fun with it. These silly illustrations get and maintain attention and help students understand and remember the material (sequence of events, key points, abstract information, vocabulary, concepts, etc.)
  • Point to written material you want students to focus on with a dowel, a stick/pointer, or laser pointer. If you can find a pointer/dowel with a little hand/finger on it… even better.
  • Have students write down brief notes or illustrate key points during instruction.






  • Keep students actively engaged.  Provide many hands-on and kinesthetic learning opportunities.
  • Move around in the classroom – maintaining your visibility.
  • Teach thematically whenever possible – allowing for integration of ideas/concepts and connections to be made.
  • Present at a snappy, brisk pace.
  • Be prepared and avoid lag time in instruction.
  • Use higher-level questioning techniques. Ask questions that are open-ended, require reasoning and stimulate critical thinking and discussion.
  • Decrease the amount of time teacher is doing the talking. Make all efforts to greatly increase student responses (saying and doing something with the information being taught.
  • Use direct instruction techniques and other methods of questioning that allow for high response opportunities (e.g.,  partner/buddy responses, unison responses).
  • Structure the lesson so that it can be done in pairs or small groups for maximum student involvement and attention.
  • Alter the way students are called on to avoid calling on students one at a time. Instead have students respond by ‘telling their partner’, writing down or drawing their response, or other alternative ways.
  • Make frequent use of group or unison responses when there is one correct and short answer. While presenting, stop frequently and have students repeat back a word or two.
  • Use the proper structure of cooperative learning groups (e.g.,  assignment of roles, accountability). It is NOT just group work. Students with ADHD do not typically function well in groups without clearly defined structure and expectations.
  • Allowing students to use individual white boards throughout the lesson is motivating to students, and helps maintain attention. If used properly it is also effective in checking for students’ understanding and determining who needs extra help and practice.
  • There are also electronic response systems such as 2Know! from Renaissance Learning, iRespond, and Clicker.  There classroom response systems are highly engaging and motivating.
  • Use motivating computer programs for specific skill building and practice (programs that provide for frequent feedback and self-correction).
  • Document cameras, interactive white boards, iPads, and other tools of technology are wonderful for engaging and maintaining students’ attention and active participation in the classroom.







  • Check for clarity and that directions were clearly understood before sending students back to their seats to work independently.
  • Make sure necessary supplies are available.
  • Give a manageable amount of work that students are capable of doing independently.
  • Give other ‘failproof’ work that a student can do in the meantime if he or she is stumped on an assignment and needs to wait for teacher attention or assistance.
  • Study buddies or partners may be assigned for any clarification purposes during seat work, especially when the teacher is instructing another group of students while the rest of the class is working at their seats.
  • Establish a system for students to signal to the teacher  “I need help!” Some teachers use a sign like a colored card that students prop up on their desk that alerts any adult scanning the room that he or she needs assistance. This is instead of having the student raise his or her hand and wait for help.
  • Scan classroom frequently. All students need positive reinforcement. Give positive comments with high frequency, praising students specifically whom you observe to be on-task. This serves as a reminder to students who tend to have difficulty.
  • Consider using a timer for some students who work well with a ‘beat the clock’ system for work completion.
  • Use contracts, charts, and behavior modification systems for on-task behavior.
  • Reward for certain number of completed items that are done with accuracy.
  • Provide desk examples for reference.
  • Teach students to self-monitor their own on-task behavior. Students can be provided a 2-column chart (+/-, smile/frown) and play an audio recording of intermittent beeps or other auditory signal when students are supposed to be working at their desks.  If when the beep is sounded the student is on-task, he gives himself the + or smile.  If not, he marks – or frown face in the opposite column.  Such self-monitoring strategies are beneficial for students with AD/HD.

This article is excerpted from Sandra’s books published by Jossey-Bass/Wiley: The ADD/ADHD Checklist: An Easy Reference for Parents & Teachers, 2nd edition (2008), How to Reach & Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, 2nd edition (2005), and The ADHD Book of Lists (2003).  Also found in other writings by Sandra, including a chapter authored for Understanding & Managing Children’s Classroom Behavior (2007, Goldstein, S. & Brooks, R.)

© 2012, Sandra Rief