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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

17 Ways to Help Students With ADHD Concentrate

17 Ways to Help Students With ADHD Concentrate

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Research shows that students with ADHD can concentrate better when they’re allowed to fidget

Research shows that students with ADHD can concentrate better when they’re allowed to fidget (here's a link to the study). But what if this becomes a distraction for the rest of the class? We received hundreds of Facebook comments from teachers, parents, and students with great ideas for letting students quietly fidget, and here are some of our favorites:

1. Squeeze Balls

Squishy balls, stress balls, koosh balls, hand exercisers… there are dozens of objects that can be squeezed quietly. Teacher tip: make sure that kids use them under their desks for minimal distractions to others. Fun activity idea: fill balloons up with different items (seeds, playdough, flour, etc.) to squish.

2. Fidgets

Fidgets are small objects that help keep students’ hands occupied. You can buy these on Amazon.com or use objects like beaded bracelets, Rubik’s Cubes, or slinkies.

3. Silly Putty

Silly putty, playdough, or sticky tack can also keep students' hands occupied.

4. Velcro

Tape a strip of the hard side of velcro under the student’s desk. It gives them something to touch. Many types of objects can work, such as emery boards or straws.

5. Gum or Chewable Necklaces

Chewing gum can help keep some ADHD students focused. In no-gum classrooms, necklaces with chewable pieces can also work. You can also wrap airline tubing or rubber bands at the ends of pencils for students to chew.

6. Doodling

Doodling can help many students focus, not just ones with ADHD (here's the research if you're interested). Some students also benefit if they can draw during storytime or a lesson.

(Click on image to enlarge)

7. Background Noise/Music

A fan in the back of the room can help some students focus. Letting them listen to music on headphones (as long as it doesn’t interfere with what’s happening in class) can also help. One teacher had success with an aquarium in the back of the room -- the students liked hearing the calming swish of the water.

8. Chair Leg Bands

Tie a large rubber band (or yoga band) across both front legs of the chair for students to push or pull against with their legs.

9. Bouncy Balls

AKA yoga balls, stability balls, or exercise balls. These are potentially great for all students, not just ones with ADHD.

10. Swivel Chairs

Kids can twist a little bit from side to side. A rocking chair also works.

11. Wobble Chairs

Similar to swivel chairs or disk seats, these chairs let students rock within their seats. Teacher tip: don’t let students wobble too much, or they may fall off!

12. Disk Seats

These sit on a chair and allow students to rock in their seats (without being as dangerous as rocking the entire chair). Cushions can also work.

13. Standing Desks

Great for all students, not just ones that need to fidget. Learn how students brought standing desks into their classroom in this Edutopia community post: Using Stand Up Tables in the Classroom. If it’s within your budget, you can also use treadmill desks.

14. Desks with Swinging Footrests

A built-in footrest can help reduce the noise that would otherwise happen with foot tapping.

15. Stationary Bikes

Putting a stationary bicycle at the back of the classroom is a great way to help students be active, with the added benefit of exercise!

16. Classroom Space for Moving Around

Clear an area in the side or back of the room to let students stand, stretch, dance, pace, or twirl. If you’re brave, you can set up small trampolines for students to jump on.

17. Flexible Work Locations

Students don’t have to do their learning at their desk. One student did his work at the windowsill, while another moved from one desk to another. Having different learning stations can benefit all types of students. For ideas on setting up your classroom, check out this post: 7 Learning Zones Every Classroom Must Have.

What has worked for you?


Many thanks to our Facebook commenters who contributed to this list:

Amanda Becker, Amanda Nagy Magee, Angela L. García, Angela Peery, Barbara Linkus, Beverly Becker Wood, Bonnie Reeves, Brian Gagnon, Cherish A Eagen, Crissy Fleetwood, Debbi Allred, Don Myers, Dot McGee, Fin Scott, Helen Zukauskas, Holly Zuidema, Hollyann Moriarty Pierce, Jana Colvin, Jane Reed, Jennifer Preuss Schmidt, Jim Hansen, John N Kelly Sefcik, Judith Anderson, Katharine Healey Dalton, Laura Maslin Bradley, Laura Miranda, Laurie Baumbach Krivitz, Lindsay Russell Hyland, Lissa L. Rapoport, MaLinda Luker, Mandy Eller, MaryAnne Finch, Matt Winkler, Moe Margetts, Olivia Christine, Pat Melvin, Risa Blum Mendelson, Robyn Gunther, Sandra Churchwell Voss O'Brien, Sarah Holmes, Shannon Costella, Sylvia Morales Lopez, Tana Williamson, Tricia Musson Wright, Valerie Wilmot, and Virgil Miller.

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Youki Terada's picture
Youki Terada
Senior Associate, Research Curation

Glad the ideas helped, Jessica Ann! Thanks for adding your own great ideas -- love the "break card" one.

Susan's picture

Youki,
I love the zone ideas. I really never realized that I was in-fact making zones in my classroom, but I guess I do. I don't really call them the same thing, but I have most of those. I have my space, and the kids have the supplies space. We just call it there pockets. I use a shoe organizer that is glued to the wall that has their suppies in it. Then I have the quiet think space, we have the library space, computers space, and I have centers around the room that they work at independently. They love it.

Susan's picture

Jessica Ann, I like the ideas for the break cards. We use something similar. We have an envelope that we give to a child and they bring it to the office. all it has in it is a letter that tells the secretary that he needed a break and please think him for delivering that envelope to you. Please put it in my mailbox after he leaves. The child has no idea what is in the envelope, but it gives him a chance for praise and a chance to get oout of the classroom.

alextobin's picture

While I definitely agree with all of your regarding the importance of brain breaks and allowing students to take breaks, I do have the same question as some of the others....how do you manage "fidget" items if they are distracting to other students? I know a big part of it is explaining to them that every student has different needs and everyone learns differently. I am thinking of one student in particular who uses a stress ball. At the beginning of the year, we went over expectations for the stress ball. However, I am constantly asking him to put it away because it ends up rolling across the floor or he is throwing it up in the air, etc. Regardless of how many times I reteach or model the expectations, he ends up playing with it!

(1)
Youki Terada's picture
Youki Terada
Senior Associate, Research Curation

Hi Alex,

We have a great section on classroom management: https://www.edutopia.org/blogs/tag/classroom-management

These posts may be of particular interest to you:
Classroom Management: The Intervention Two-Step
https://www.edutopia.org/blog/classroom-management-intervention-two-step...

New Teachers: Classroom-Management Fundamentals
https://www.edutopia.org/article/new-teachers-classroom-management-resou...

Whether these help or not, I hope you find a good solution!

akjacks2's picture

I love all of these ideas and use a lot of them in my classroom currently. Finding the right fidget for each student is the tricky part. It is important to find the right one because otherwise they can become a distraction. Most of my students have their go to fidget. I like the idea of a stand up desk. I had not throughout about that prior to this article and I will be trying it.

dmedrano's picture

Thank you for your short and sweet, yet tangible ideas on how to help students with ADHD learn more effectively by creating a comfortable classroom environment. As someone who struggle with my own learning disabilities, I find #6: doodling to be sometimes the only thing that helps me focus. I just had a question in how this translates into helping parents see how they can best help their student learn as well? Especially for parents who deny their child has any kind of learning disability? Providing them a good environment at school is great and necessary! But how do you help them have a similar experience at home if their parents don't understand their needs?

Youki Terada's picture
Youki Terada
Senior Associate, Research Curation

This article has good ideas for helping parents understand their child's learning disability:
http://www.ldonline.org/article/Helping_Parents_Deal_with_the_Fact_That_...

Here's how schools can help:
"Because schools accept students with disabilities, they have a responsibility to provide support or see that appropriate support is available to parents as they pass through these various stages. The school may provide parent-to-parent support groups, which are divided by disability and facilitated by school personnel such as a school psychologist, counselor, or teacher. Should a parent need individual counseling, the school should provide a list of counselors with whom the parent could meet."

Hope this helps!

(1)
Kareema Abdul-Khabir's picture

I have used some fidgets, but other students want to use them and it gets to be too distracting. Maybe I will have a Fidget minute every 30 so students can refocus.

Maui Linker's picture
Maui Linker
Title 1 Resource Teacher

Another suggestion for #1, #2 or #3 is 'kneaded rubber". Straight out of the package, it is a little gray rectangle, half the size of a match box. It is an artist's eraser, intended for use with graphite/pencil drawing. It is 'kneadable" and stretchable like silly putty or playdough, (although a bit stiffer); it is not messy, and is also practical in that it can be used to erase pencil. I learned of it in an art class and found the kneaded rubber eraser to be a great way to keep my hands occupied while my brain processed. It has the added advantage of being very affordable AND something that everyone in a class could have access to.

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