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ADHD & Teachers Part 4: How to deal with ADHD in class

In the last part of the interview, Dr Fernández  answers your questions on

How to deal with ADHD students in class

Q. What should teachers never do with these kids?

  • One very important thing. What a teacher should never do with these kids is ignore their problem.
  • You are here reading all these questions and answers: that means that you are particularly interested in your profession. To help these kids you need to love your job as a teacher.

Help them become autonomous learners

Teaching is not about telling stories or transferring knowledge. Teaching is about providing students with tools they need to become autonomous learners and develop as a person. A teacher must do everything at her disposal to ensure that her students find themselves in the best conditions to assimilate those tools and use them efficiently on their own.

Whether there has been a diagnosis or not

Some of the times there is still no diagnosis or the teacher is unaware of there being one. If you have a student in your class who is not doing too well, the first thing you should do is try and find out why when a student in your class is not doing too well, find out why Click To Tweet. It is not easy, but it is essential to leave typical prejudices aside Click To Tweet ( like he’s a weak or a lazy or a bad student, he lacks interest, he is demotivated…)

Other times the kid has been diagnosed, but nothing is being done to help them be in equal conditions to their classmates’…

Q. Can you give us some tips to implement in the classroom?

There is a series of basic simple actions which can be implemented in the classroom to improve these kids’ situation and which do not require much effort on the teacher’s part.

Speak to the student and the family

  • The very first thing you need to do is to speak to the student. Let him know that you are aware of his problem and that the two of you, together, are going to see how to make the most of his abilities and work. You need to talk to him a lot so as to make him feel at ease and secure.
  • All the measures we take need to be agreed on with —or at least explained to— the parents and, if possible, the kid in accordance to his or her cognitive abilities. Thus, the whole family will feel they have contributed to the results achieved and working at home will be encouraged.
  • It is also important to ask the family or even the kid himself about what usually works at home. Many already have their own strategies and this can help to implement good practices at school.

Confidentiality is essential

Another essential aspect is confidentiality. On many occasions, kids do not want others to know about their problem. So, speaking about it in public may be rather upsetting. It may have a negative impact on their self-esteem and on their social integration. They are rather sensitive to bullying and any element which may contribute to their being discriminated against must be avoided.

ADHD in class

Once the above has been done, there are some basic measures which may be of great help:

Location in the classroom

 It is advisable that, in the classroom, they are placed away from doors and windows which may distract them easily (corridors, street, etc.)

 A quiet, comfortable place close to the teacher. This does not mean that they need to be right next to the teacher, but at a distance which allows the teacher to easily keep an eye on them.

Position in the row

The more rows of students in front of him or her the greater the number of distractors and the more likely he is to be distracted. While it is not essential for him/her to be always sitting in the first row, the closer the better. Besides, this way you ensure (s) he is within your scope of vision.

Class environment

There must be a peaceful environment both when sitting and when moving. These kids need to control the stimuli around them so as not to lose control or get distracted. Do not put things in movement or other things which may affect their attention and favour anxiety.


We cannot control the classmates a kid suffering from ADHD has in class but we can control those who are sitting next to him.

  • Do not sit two kids suffering from ADHD together.
  • Nor should they sit next to kids who disturb the class, talk too much or may cause him/her problems.
  • A kid suffering from ADHD will be best placed next to a quiet, good, responsible student who can give him/her a hand when necessary (homework, schedule, order, work pace, etc.)


It is important that they have all the necessary materials close at hand so as not to lose them or have something missing. It is likewise important for him not to have more things than those he needs otherwise he’ll get easily distracted.

Class organisation

  • It is important for all students to have an idea of what they are going to do in the class.
  • A good technique is to explain at the beginning what they will be dealing with in class and what materials they’ll be using.
  • It is also important to check that the student is aware and is getting them ready. If he isn’t, repeat things discretely.
  • If your subject involves lengthy explanations, develop it following an outline to keep the thread and with a clock nearby for them to control the time.
  • (Paloma’s note for English teachers: having an outline and clear, visual explanations of the grammatical points, the structure of the writing, etc. will be very helpful)
  • Before finishing, sum up the key points of what you have covered and write on the board or somewhere visible what they need to do for homework so that they can copy it.

General measures and Guides

There are hundreds of tips but, as you can see, these are general measures which would benefit all the students. The only problem is that a kid with ADHD needs them to function normally.

(Paloma’s note: In the book Inglés Programación Didáctica, to be released soon, there are clear indications on how to deal with this, particularly in the sample syllabus provided there. Also, the courses dealing with syllabus design at Poppies cover this topic)

This brief summary can be expanded with information from the Guides provided by some of the Education Departments and other organisation to help teachers.

Here are some links to download the guides from other articles I have written in this regard. Some of them include measures classified according to the stage the student is at and his main symptom. Have a look at them, I’m sure you’ll find some useful tools.

Q. How can we help them not to feel frustrated in class?

Here the person is much more important than the student. Once ADHD has been detected and treated, results will appear.The problem is that many times detection and treatment come late, when problems are significant and school results bad. To get the problem out may be rather complex. The kids are clever and they are aware of their difficulties.

But above all, we need to make them feel safe. Explain to them that we know they are capable of doing lots of things and that the work they do and the effort they make is much more important than the final outcome.

It is important that both the kid and the family know that they can count on the teacher for help.

Q. What type of support can we, as teachers, give them?

The greatest support is personal: they do not feel self-assured, self-confident and lack self-esteem.

There is not much else I can advise here. It is important to offer the student and family support.

Q. Any advice on class management? Particularly when there are seven students of this type and another with Asperger syndrome in a class of 24 students.

This is a complex yet fascinating situation.

  • Set up a group community in which every one of them has a specific role.
  • Turn disadvantage into virtue. Every one of those 7 kids and the other one with Asperger has different features and different capacities which we need to exploit and bring out.
  • Of course, having so many students with problems in the same class should never have taken place, but if we have to deal with it, let’s do it with the best weapons.
    • It would be very interesting to carry out group activities where, discretely, those kids would be having a prominent position and taking on responsibilities. We would thus be favouring their integration in the group.
    • We can also set up different groups and put each one of them in the group that best suits their needs.
    • There are different options to develop but it is always important to avoid large numbers.

I know this is not easy, but they are an easy target for bullying and we need to avoid it at all costs.

 Q. Obsessive/compulsive…is it similar? Sometimes this type of student keeps disrupting the pace of the class, but the teacher wants to look for ways to deal with the problem without resorting to punishing them. Can you advise us?

Obsessive/Compulsive disorder is not the same as ADHD though they may seem the same or even appear together.

  • When hyperactivity or impulsiveness are very high, ADHD kids may be “square heads” in their habits and routines to avoid dispersion or not getting things right. This may seem like an OCD. There are other times when they cannot control anything at all and they do not even consider it. There may appear certain “obsessions” with food, like not wanting to eat something or always wanting to eat the same thing.
  •  In extreme cases, both problems may appear together and ADHD becomes associated to authentic rituals of various kinds. They may have to do with order, cleanliness, repetition, checking, etc. to the extent that it may be a rather limiting factor, It may be that he cannot stand tight clothes, certain colours, noises, etc.
  • Normalising strategies for these attitudes necessarily involve accepting them whenever possible and encouraging useful activities for them to perform those movements or develop those attitudes. Forbidding, punishing or inhibiting them do not help at all. Besides, if they don’t do them, anxiety levels rise a lot.

Type of tasks and timing

Time Control is another problem  ADHD students face.  Depending on the task, time can fly if they are enjoying what they are doing or unending if they don’t.

(Paloma’s note: In many ways not too different from the rest. That is why we advise designing short, varied activities in every session, as we shall see in the series “Blending Flipping, Mastery & Learning”)

Q. Can ICTs be useful learning tools with this type of disorder?

ICTs can be an authentic revolution for learning with an ADHD kid provided they are well managed.

    • It is important to bear in mind that frequent audiovisual stimuli are highly motivating for these kids.
    • Such stimuli produce a better response in their brain’s reward system and can be used to improve their motivation and learning.
    • But it is also true that by producing those stimuli electronic devices can also produce addiction among these kids. They produce a feeling of wellbeing and relaxation in their brains.

It is very common in my practice to have families telling me that they have noticed that, despite their kids having learning problems they learn how to use the electronic devices without any problem and, not just that, they are capable of using them for a long time without getting tired. Yet, they cannot spend five minutes studying or doing homework. This is easy to understand. So that you can see it clearly, here is a link to the article I have written on this issue.

You may be interested in reading this article on Mobiles in Spanish

In the end, what is important is how these devices are managed.

  • In the classroom, they can be really beneficial if properly used.
  • They have to be used as a stimulus for work and allow their responsible, supervised use.
  • But it is totally useless to have a digital board if we use it just as a conventional one and having a computer or a projector is of no use if we use them like the old slides.
  • We have to implement interactive work tools to allow students to take part in the activities individually and in group, to collaborate, intervene, i.e. take an active part in the work or task which is being carried out.

Q. Any specific type of task which motivates them? Which would you recommend?

Precisely, the type of tasks favoured by ADHD kids are those involving interactive work. As I said before, the learning process of any kid but particularly those with ADHD is based on motivation.

  • Spending a whole hour listening to the teacher may be a hard task to do.

    • Whereas if the activity consists of something interactive and involving participation, that’s a much easier task.
      • This involves setting up stories, joint activities, interactive games, in short, new ways of doing things in the classroom and which are common nowadays.
      • Despite this, not many teachers favour it. And it is a big mistake because those strategies benefit everybody, including the teacher.
  • Cognitive tasks

  • Another type of activity we can recommend for kids with ADHD is online cognitive training programmes. Always supervised by adults, these programmes are really useful to improve the kids’ capabilities because they meet all the requirements we have been talking about.
    • They are adapted to age, level of studies, can be used in the computer, the mobile, the tablet, etc.
    • Although they have been developed as games they have been designed to improve attention, self-control, memory, etc.
    • and so they are beneficial for kids with ADHD while they are “playing” and using the devices they wish. We can thus kill two birds with one stone.

(Paloma’s Note:

Here is a link to an article Dr. Fernández wrote about the platform they use at his consultancy  Unobrain

Also, a few years ago I was using a similar platform with games in English. At the moment, I have only been able to access the Spanish version. I have contacted them to include the link to the platform in English. It is real fun, I can assure you, and an excellent way to increase vocabulary if you chose the Bubble or some similar games. I’ll include the link as soon as they reply and give me permission to do so)

Q. How long should we expect them to keep their attention on a given task? (This can help teachers sequence the sessions into shorter blocks)

  • Divide each session into short periods to make learning easier. The length of every kid’s attention span will vary depending on the problem. (In any case,as Paloma has often pointed out, the activity should not be longer that 10 minutes, unless it involves several tasks or you can see they are really engrossed in it. If a task is longer it can always be broken down into several “minor” tasks. This will favour every single student).
  • Adapt to every student’s needs.
  • Remember that to get far you need to set achievable goals.
  • It will also depend on the day and on the time of day.

Q. When they are working in small groups (3 students) how can we control their contribution to the group and make sure that the other students accept them in the group? There are times when the other students do not want to work with them because they know they are not to be “trusted” since they forget the material, to take notes, etc.

  • Yes, it is true that often their classmates try to avoid working with them for several reasons. When they are little this is not an important problem but as they grow up their classmates know them and, if we are not careful, some prejudices will arise which will be damaging for their socialisation with their peers.
  • Ideally, one should try and prevent these situations. But it is often impossible to do so. You come across the situation in class, and that’s the way it is, you have to handle it. But being aware of it is important. Many times, teachers are not aware and they leave the kid free to do what he wants, and he ends up being ostracised by his classmates.
  •  If we have to carry out activities in small groups we need to clearly define each member’s responsibility (Paloma’s note: In our classes, we usually stress the importance of working as a team rather than in a team, i.e. every member of the team has a role to perform and is responsible for it)
  • A key step in every developmental process with ADHD kids is to avoid social imbalance. This is the only and best way to ensure proper integration in all education stages and in future.

Q. These students tend to be very collaborative when reading or speaking, but how can we engage them in listening or writing tasks? They disconnect easily and leave tasks half way through

  • To achieve this we need to seek other participation alternatives which, even if they may include this type of activity, they also include others which allow for interaction. We can also establish goals, challenges, rewarded objectives, etc.
  • We need to bear in mind for these kids to maintain attention and make an effort to work they need a much higher stimulus than the rest. This is why when they lack enough motivation, they cannot carry on and give up on their work.
  • It is the teachers’ duty to use all the means and strategies at their disposal to try and maintain a high level of motivation. This should always go hand in hand with a well-established pharmacological treatment which reduces the difficulties they face so that they are similar to those faced by any other kid. We are fully aware, nevertheless, that this is not always possible and that pharmacological treatment is not always 100% effective.
  • Even then, it is important to be aware of the level of difficulty to be able to inform the parents and doctors. The better informed we all are, the better we’ll all be able to carry out our individual work and so contribute to the kid’s global development.

    Summing up

  • Teachers are essential for the academic and social success of all kids. Much more for those with ADHD
  • You, as a teacher, can do a lot to help.
  • Teachers and ADHD make up a significant binomial in education.
  • Just a little bit of knowledge of the subject and very little effort will help you to help these students a lot.

And thanks

I would like to thank the following English teachers for sending me the questions:

Ana Álvarez, Lydia Berrocoso, Eva Caravaca, Laura Díez, Andrea Fábrega, Natalia Fernández, Laura González, Esther Mansilla, Bego Pérez, Loli Quintero, Ángela Ruiz, Anabel Sánchez, Carmen Sánchez, Marta Sánchez, Beatriz Serrano, Adelaida Sirgado.

And, of course, Dr. Fernández for his answers!

I hope it helps teachers understand their students better and design better classes so that they enable their students to become critical thinkers and autonomous learners. Our society needs you!

This post is the 4th and last part of:

If you have found the articles useful, please spread the word and share them. Other teachers and other students will be thankful for that… And, of course, Paloma as well!


Desde sus orígenes, el objetivo de PoppieS es ayudarte en la preparación de la oposición a profesores de inglés y contribuir a que la escuela pública ofrezca la enseñanza de calidad –de y en lengua inglesa– que tus alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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