Every classroom has one –  maybe it’s the homework that never gets turned in, the desk that resembles a waste paper basket, blurting out inappropriate remarks, constant tapping of the pencil even when you have asked them  a million times to stop!
We have all taught the easily distracted. For some it is just forgetfulness, day dreaming – but many of the easily distracted students may have ADD/ADHD. This is one of the most commonly studied and diagnosed disorders in children affecting approximately 3-7% of all children globally. Symptoms typically present before the age of 7 years, with boys being 2 to 4 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed.

Students are typically easily distracted, forgetful, have trouble with organizing and completing a task, become bored easily, struggle to follow directions, have difficulty focusing on one thing, daydream and/or have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments. They may display symptoms such as talking nonstop, fidgeting and squirming in their seats, having difficulty doing quiet tasks, are very impatient, blurt out inappropriate comments and act without regard for consequences. Students may also have symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsive and inattention.

So easily distracted or ADD/ADHD – but how do we cope with this in the classroom every day? Please find below some tips they may help you:

  • Get to know the individual student and be mindful of his or her uniqueness.
  • Seat the student away from doors and windows that may distract him or her. The student may work best closest to the teacher.
  • Allow physical activity breaks such as stretching and incorporate movement activities into a lesson.
  • When possible, provide the heaviest academic instruction to these students in the morning. Evidence suggests that on-task behaviors of a student worsen over the course of a day.
  • Write important information down where the student can easily reference it, most likely at their desk.
  • Divide large assignments into small segments. Write these segments down. Have the student cross the items off.
  • Provide frequent breaks for the student to get a drink or walk around the room.
  • Allow the student to run errands for you (e.g. take a note to the office) or have they be in charge of sharpening the classroom pencils!
  • Provide the student with a stress ball or other object for them to play with discreetly at their seat, especially when they need a break but can’t have one just yet.
  • Write the schedule of the day on the student’s desk and allow him or her to cross off each item as it is completed.
  • Recognize and praise aloud all good behaviors. Be specific in what the student is doing correctly so they know what gets praise.
  • Provide an assignment book for the student to keep track of homework and daily work. Encourage this book to be signed by parents so parents know what is going on in the classroom. Communicate with the parent as much as possible.
  • Form small groups for students with similar needs to work in so as not to get distracted and lost in a large group.
  • Allow the student to work in a quiet zone within the classroom. This should be a place in the room that is quiet and free from visual stimulation.
  • Establish a secret signal with the student to use as a reminder when he or she is off task.
  • When giving directions, make eye contact with the student and be as brief as possible.
  • Use visuals. Highlight words in colours. Underline and circle important things to remember.
  • Use auditory cues. Set a timer and encourage the student to work uninterrupted until the timer goes off. Allow the student a break following the work period as a reward and to recharge them for the next task.
  • Provide specific, well-defined rules to the student. Write these rules down and tape them to the student’s desk. These rules should have clear consequences, consistently and fairly applied.
  • Most importantly, students need guidance, compassion and understanding from their parents and teachers as they navigate the path of dealing with their needs.
  • Easily distracted students tend to be “concrete” thinkers. They often like to hold, touch, or take part in an experience in order to learn something new. By using games and objects to demonstrate concepts, you can show the child that learning can be meaningful—and fun. Be sure to cater for all learning styles in your planning.

Troubleshooting specific issues


Seat the child away from doors and windows to avoid distractions. Alternate seated activities with those that allow the child to move his or her body around the room. Whenever possible, incorporate physical movement into lessons. Write important information down where the child can easily read and reference it. Remind the student where the information can be found. Divide big assignments into smaller ones and allow children frequent breaks.


Some students struggle with controlling their impulses, so they often speak out of turn. They call out or comment while others are speaking. Their outbursts may come across as aggressive or even rude, creating social problems as well. Develop a “secret language” with the student. You can use discreet gestures or words you have previously agreed upon to let them know they are interrupting. Praise them for interruption-free conversations.


Students can act before thinking, creating difficult social situations in addition to problems in the classroom. Students who have trouble with impulse control may come off as aggressive or unruly. Methods for managing impulsive include behaviour plans, immediate discipline for infractions, and ways to give students a sense of control over their day.

  • Make sure a written behaviour plan is near the student.
  • Give consequences immediately following misbehaviour. Be specific in your explanation, making sure the child knows how they misbehaved.
  • Recognize good behavior out loud. Be specific in your praise, making sure the child knows what they did right.
  • Write the schedule for the day on the board or on a piece of paper and cross off each item as it is completed. Children with impulse problems may gain a sense of control and feel calmer when they know what to expect.

Fidgeting and hyperactivity

Many students seem to need to be in constant physical motion. It may seem like a struggle for these children to stay in their seats. They may jump, kick, twist, fidget and otherwise move in ways that make them difficult to teach. Strategies for combating hyperactivity consist of creative ways to allow the student to move in appropriate ways at appropriate times. Releasing energy this way may make it easier for the child to keep his or her body calmer during work time.

  • Ask children to run an errand or do a task for you, even if it just means walking across the room to sharpen pencils or put dishes away. Agree with a colleague to send “an important note “ in a sealed envelope at key times of the day
  • Encourage the child to play a sport—or at least run around before and after school.
  • Provide a stress ball, small toy, or other object for the child to squeeze or play with discreetly at his or her seat.
  • Make sure a child who fidgets never misses recess or P.E. It will just make the situation worse! 

Trouble following directions

Difficulty following directions can be a problem for many children. They may look like they understand and might even write down directions, but then aren’t able to do what has been asked. Sometimes these students miss steps and turn in incomplete work, or misunderstand an assignment altogether and wind up doing something else entirely.
Helping children follow directions means taking measures to break down and reinforce the steps involved in your instructions, and redirecting when necessary. Do you best to be brief when giving directions, allowing the child to do one step and then come back to find out what they should do next. If the child gets off track, give a calm reminder, redirecting in a calm but firm voice. Whenever possible, write directions down in a bold marker or in colored pen.

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