Modifying Instruction: Teaching Students with ADD


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You will probably find that most of your students with attention deficit disorder tend to benefit from some type of instructional modification, which is the cornerstone of helping students with attention deficit disorder succeed in the classroom. When modification is used, students are not penalized for not knowing how to learn.

There are many ways you can modify your lessons. Target those aspects of the learning setting that can be most troublesome for the student:

  • Lesson presentation
  • Physical arrangement of the classroom
  • Work assignments

Lesson Presentation

Use the principles of effective instruction when delivering lessons. Make sure that students are successful and challenged. Model cognitive strategies such as "think aloud" techniques, which help students verbalize the thought processes they should engage in to complete the task. Cooperative groupings can also be used effectively. Finally, give praise and feedback immediately and consistently.

Suggestions for maintaining student involvement in the lesson include the following:

  • Keep lesson objectives clear
  • Deliver the lesson at a brisk pace
  • Encourage collaboration among students
  • Use meaningful materials and manipulatives
  • Prompt for student answers after allowing at least five seconds of wait time
  • Have the students recite in unison
  • Vary the tone of your voice and model enthusiasm

There are additional ways you can accommodate the student's learning characteristics and needs when designing your lessons. For example, if the student has a short attention span, you might accommodate this learning characteristic by modifying the length of the material. The following are examples of additional accommodations:

  • Break up long presentations by "chunking" content. At the end of each chunk, have the student respond in some way.

  • Provide the student with additional time to finish an assignment or test.

  • Break down assignments into "mini-assignments," and build in reinforcement as the child finishes each part. So as not to overwhelm the student, consider passing out longer assignments in segments.

  • Reduce the number of practice items that the student must complete. For instance, allow the student to stop once he or she has demonstrated mastery.

Holding students' interest and attention is not always an easy task. Don't hesitate to experiment with a variety of approaches – and ask your colleagues for ideas.

Physical Arrangement of the Classroom

To help a student who is easily distracted focus on the task at hand, you may need to reduce competing stimuli in the environment or directly cue the student's attention. The goal here is not to create a dull environment, but rather to find ways to focus the student's attention. The following are examples of things you can do:

  • Seat the student away from high-traffic and noisy areas such as the pencil sharpener, window, hallway, and materials table. Make a study carrel available.

  • Define the work space for the child. For example, when children are to sit on the floor, use carpet squares to help define each child's space.

  • Reduce the amount of materials present during work time by having the student put away unnecessary items. Have a special place for tools, materials, and books.


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Council for Exceptional Children

Provided in partnership with The Council for Exceptional Children.


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