by Sandra Rief

Excerpted from Sandra’s books, published by Jossey-Bass/Wiley:  The ADD/ADHD Checklist, 2nd edition (2008), How to Reach & Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, 2nd edition (2005), and The ADHD Book of Lists (2003).

Students with ADHD typically have the greatest behavioral difficulties during transitional times of the day in the classroom, as well as the school settings outside of the classroom that are less structured and supervised (e.g., playground, cafeteria, hallways, bathrooms).  The following transition strategies and supports are helpful for the classroom and other school environments:

Classroom transitions

  • Communicate clearly when activities will begin and when they will end.
  • Maintain a visual schedule that is reviewed and referred to frequently.  When changes are to occur in the schedule, point them out in advance.
  • Give specific instructions about how students are to switch from one activity to the next.
  • Clearly teach, model, and have students practice and rehearse all procedures that will occur during changes of activities.  This includes such things as the students’ quick and quiet movement from their desks to the carpet area, putting away/taking out materials, and so forth.
  • Use signals for transitions (e.g. chimes, xylophone, playing a recording of a specific song or part of a song, flashing lights, a clapping pattern, prompts such as “1,2,3…eyes on me”).
  • A signal indicates that an activity is coming to an end and children need to finish whatever they are doing.
  • Some teachers signal and tell students they will have a brief amount of time (3-5 minutes) to finish what they are working on before the next activity, or to clean up.  They then set a timer for that amount of time.
  • Primary grade teachers typically use songs or chants for transitions (e.g., for cleaning up, moving to the rug).
  • Provide direct teacher guidance and prompting to those students who need it during transitions.
  • Reward smooth transitions.  Many teachers use individual points or table points to reward students or rows/table clusters of students who are ready for the next activity.  The reward is typically something simple like being the first row or table to line up for recess.
  • Be organized in advance with prepared materials for the next activity.


Transitioning from out-of-classroom activities back to the classroom

  • It is helpful for teachers to meet their students after lunch, PE, recess, and other activities outside of the classroom – and walk them quietly into the classroom.
  • Set a goal for the class (e.g., everyone enters class after lunch/recess and is quiet and ready to work by a certain time).  On successful days of meeting that goal, the class earns a small reward.
  • Use relaxation and imagery activities or exercises for calming after recess, lunch, and P.E.  Playing music, singing, and/or reading to students at these times is also often effective.

Out-of-classroom school settings

  • Teach, model, and practice appropriate behaviors and expectations for out-of-classroom activities (e.g., in the cafeteria, passing in hallways, during assemblies).
  • Assign a buddy or peer helper to assist during these transitional periods and out-of-classroom times.
  • It is important to have school-wide rules/behavioral expectations so that all staff members calmly and consistently enforce through positive and negative consequences.
  • School-wide incentives and positive reinforcers (e.g., “caught being good tickets” redeemable for school prizes) are helpful in teaching and motivating appropriate behaviors outside of the classroom.
  • For students who have behavioral difficulty on the bus, an individual contract or including the bus behavior on a Daily Report Card should be arranged (with the cooperative efforts of the school, bus driver, and parent).
  • Special contracts or some type of individualized behavior plan with incentives for appropriate behavior may need to be arranged for the playground, cafeteria, or other such times of the day.  
  • If using a Daily Report Card or monitoring form of some type), no reports of behavioral referrals or incidents in out-of-classroom settings for the day can result in bonus points on the report card.
  • Increase supervision outside of the classroom, and provide more choices of activities that children can engage in (e.g., hula hoops, jump rope, board games, library/computer, supervised games).
  • It is important that all staff are aware of the struggles children with ADHD have in non-structured environments.  Awareness training of ADHD should be provided for personnel involved with supervision outside of the classroom
  • Staff members should identify and positively target those students in need of extra support, assistance, and careful monitoring outside of the classroom.
  • Increase supervision during passing periods, lunch, recess, and school arrival/dismissal.
  • It is helpful to have organized clubs and choices for students before and after school, and during the break before/after lunch.

One of the biggest transitions students face is the move from one grade level to the next – particularly the change from elementary to middle school, and middle school to high school.
It is very helpful to prepare students (especially those with ADHD) by visiting the new school, meeting with counselors and/or teachers, practicing the locker combination, receiving the schedule of classes in advance, and practicing the walk from class to class.

©2012, Sandra Rief