Classroom Modifications for ADD and ADHD

Nearly all the children referred for evaluations for ADD are experiencing some difficulties at school. It is not uncommon for very bright children with ADD to be achieving at their expected level academically when tested with standardized tests, but making poor grades at school because of organizational and attentional problems.

The following suggestions may be helpful for children with ADD in the classroom. However, the individual child’s needs must be considered before implementing any modifications.

Recommendations for School-based ADD Management

Classroom modifications

Seat students in rows. Having children sit in groups increases distractions for the ADHD child. Seat ADD student near teacher’s desk, up front with her back to the rest of the class, but include as part of regular class seating. It may be possible to provide tables for special group projects while retaining rows for regular classroom seating and independent work. Some teachers report that arranging desks in a horseshoe shape promotes appropriate discussion while permitting independent work. Whatever arrangement is selected, it is important for the teacher to be able to move about the entire room and have access to all students. Surround ADD student with “good role models,” preferably students that the ADD child views as “significant others.” Encourage peer tutoring and cooperative collaborative teaching.

Do not place the ADD student near: Air conditioners, heaters, high traffic areas, doors or windows. Keep the classroom door closed. Keep the room free of clutter. Distracting posters, signs, and hanging pictures should relate to the lesson being presented.

ADD children do not handle change very well so avoid: transitions, changes in schedule, physical relocation, disruptions.

Lesson presentation modifications

Maintain eye contact with the ADD student during verbal instruction. Make directions clear and concise. Simplify complex directions. Avoid multiple commands.

Make sure ADD student comprehends directions before beginning a task. Repeat instructions in a calm, positive manner, if needed. Help ADD child feel comfortable with seeking assistance.

All children will benefit from receiving an outline of the day’s lesson prior to beginning the lesson. In addition, children may benefit from the use of colored chalk to emphasize important words or ideas in the lesson.

Anything that spices up the lesson will be beneficial for children with ADD, helping them to pay attention. Students could be allowed to make frequent responses to teacher questions by holding up hand signals or written signals or by answering in unison. Groups of students could make up games to teach each other concepts or do role-playing activities to teach history or social studies topics. Role playing in mathematics could even be fun.

ADD children often benefit from a required daily assignment notebook. The teacher can check to make sure the student correctly writes down all assignments. Then the parents and teachers sign notebook daily to signify completion of homework assignments. Parents and teachers can also use the notebook for daily communication.

Worksheet, workbook, and test layout may need to be modified for children with ADD or visual perceptual problems. It may help to use large type on clean paper without distracting pictures or excessive ink. Underlining, highlighting, or drawing boxes around parts of the ADD child’s worksheets may also help. During tests or quizzes, make sure you are testing knowledge learned and not attention span. Allow the ADD child to demonstrate mastery of the curriculum by answering oral questions or demonstrating concepts learned if writing for extended periods of time is too difficult. ADD children may also benefit from being given extra time for certain tasks. The ADD student may work more slowly. Don’t penalize for needed extra time.

Behavior management recommendations

Have the class make up the class rules, then post them clearly in the room. Review the rules frequently early in the year so the children know them well. It may be fun to have the class act out rule breaking and rule following to make sure they understand. Try not to leave any room for interpretation, or the ADD child may try to debate his or her way out of trouble.

When children break posted classroom rules, remain calm, state infraction of rule, and don’t debate. It is important to have pre-established consequences for misbehavior. Administer consequences immediately and monitor proper behavior frequently. Praise specific behaviors. Avoid non-specific praise statements. Enforce the rules of the classroom consistently. Avoid “getting personal” with the ADD child after poor behavior. Avoid ridicule and criticism. Remember, ADD children have difficulty staying in control. Teach the child to reward him/herself. Encourage positive “self-talk,” i.e., “You did very well remaining in your seat today. Don’t you feel proud!” This encourages the child to think positively about him/herself.

Implement a behavior management system. Select up to three specific behaviors which present problems for the ADD student and define alternative behaviors to be learned. Then develop a system of monitoring the behaviors and charting improvement. Include the entire class in your plan. When necessary, sign contracts with ADD children and their parents to reinforce one to three specific behaviors. It may be helpful to reward children for improvements. (Example: Goal-Remain working quietly during independent work for 10 minutes at a time. Primary behavior-continuing working. Prior to the beginning of independent work time, the teacher reminds the class to try to be quiet and work hard during the period of time defined by the teacher. The teacher looks at ADD child to insure that he/she is listening, then the teacher praises quiet children throughout the period. The teacher might split the class into two groups and have a contest to see which group works quietly.)

What is ADD?
Classroom Modifications for ADD and ADHD
Counseling and Education for Children with ADD or ADHD
What Conditions Might Be Confused With ADD?
What Conditions Commonly Co-Exist With ADD?
How can you tell if a child is having trouble because of problems such as stress or family problems or if it’s really ADD?
How can you tell if a child with learning disabilities also has ADD?
National Resources for ADD and ADHD Information
Recommended Reading

Referring to this article:
“Attention Deficit Disorder: What is ADD?” was written by C. J. Newton, MA, Learning Specialist and published in the Find (formerly Mental Health Journal in July, 1997. Parts of the article were published at the ADD/LD Resource Center web site (, owned and operated by the Institute for ADD and Learning, in 1995. C. J. Newton was the co-founder of the Institute for ADD and Learning, along with Sandra Scheinbaum, Ph.D. That web site no longer exists.

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