6 classroom organization tips to help kids with ADHD

December 9, 2012

in classroom management ideas, tips and tricks

I love a colorful, well-decorated classroom! But students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) don’t always share that enthusiasm. Some kids with attention challenges are easily distracted by a cluttered, crowded learning environment, so it’s necessary to organize your classroom carefully.

These tips are designed to help you create a cozy classroom in which students feel comfortable and welcomed, while still being mindful of kids who need a less distracting learning environment. I wrote the ideas with the challenges of students with ADD and ADHD in mind, but I think you’ll find that most (if not all) of your students will benefit from them.

6 classroom organization tips to help kids with ADHD

Posting a list of when assignments are due and upcoming schedule changes can help students keep track of their responsibilities without being overwhelmed.

1) Keep the front wall of the classroom as bare as possible. Lots of decorations can make it difficult for children with ADD and ADHD to stay focused. Try to hang the majority of your teaching aids on the side and back walls so that students have little to focus on in the front of the room except your instruction. Even colorful rugs with maps or shapes on them can break children’s concentration, so you may need to keep brightly patterned carpets at the back or sides of the classroom.

2) Arrange classroom furniture to minimize distractions. Have students face away from windows and your classroom door if possible. If your students take turns using the computers throughout the day, turn the computer monitors so that students cannot view the screens from their desks. Keep your small group instructional area at the side or rear of the room so that students working independently are not distracted by your teaching. It can be difficult to accommodate all of these distractors, but make every effort to keep students’ desks clustered near the main teaching area and all other classroom features behind them.

6 classroom organization tips to help kids with ADHD

Here’s a picture of how my classroom looked one year. Students sat at tables instead of desks: one of the many benefits is that they had fewer materials in front of them as a distraction. My small group teaching area is on the far wall: students who couldn’t concentrate on independent work while I was teaching reading groups were able to sit at the other end of the room where it was quieter.

3) Turn students’ desks around so they aren’t tempted to play with things inside. Children with ADD and ADHD can easily become distracted by school supplies in their desks, so it can be helpful to turn the desks around backwards so that the contents cannot be accessed while children are sitting. If you can replace desks with tables, even better.

4) Minimize the number of materials students keep in their desks. Utilize cubbies and other storage areas for items less-commonly used so that only essential items are within arm’s reach. This will not only limit distractions, but will make it easier for students to stay organized.

6 classroom organization tips to help kids with ADHD

Try not to store too many items in students’ desks; keep the rest on shelves around the rooms. Posting magnetized signs like this reminds students of which materials they need to keep in their desks and which should be out of their way in cubbies or on shelves.

5) Post visual aides of the materials students should have out. This can be done by writing the names of the materials needed on the board (e.g., math book, red notebook, pencil, eraser). For young or very visual children, take photographs of the school supplies, print out, laminate, and stick magnets on the back so you can display photos of the needed items. Dedicate a special area of your chalkboard or whiteboard for ‘Materials Needed’ so that students always know where to look for this information.

6) Structure lessons so that only a few materials are needed at a given time. When children with ADD or ADHD have numerous items in front of them, they tend to either play around with the materials or become overwhelmed by trying to manage them. Plan your instruction so that children are not constantly moving things around or keeping extra items on their desks. If you use a textbook for only a few problems, try writing the problems on the board so that students need only paper and a pencil in front of them. Limit how many papers students have by completing practice activities on the back of worksheets instead of on a separate sheet. Pre-make materials that need to be cut and glued if children have difficulty managing multiple materials at a time.

More Resources:

Classroom seating arrangement ideas
Helping students keep track of papers and when assignments are due
Teaching students to always write their names on their papers
Transition activities and tips

What are your classroom organization tips for supporting students with ADD and ADHD?

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nicole December 11, 2012 at 1:45 am

Great ideas! I’m going to make that cubby/desk sign for my classroom. Love it!

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2 Paul December 11, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I will eliminate pretty much everything from the top of a student’s desk. My students are very used to hear me saying, “The only thing I want to see on your desk is a pencil and a piece of paper.”

I can have them get other materials out when needed but limiting the number of things available on the desk really helps to eliminate distractions.

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3 Angela Watson December 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

I agree, Paul. The less kids have in front of them, the less distractions they’ll have.

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4 Laurel December 12, 2012 at 1:02 am

I found long, narrow pencil boxes at Walmart. These stay inside the students’ desks and only hold crayons, pencil and an eraser. On a table at the back of the room, we have our larger and more typically sized pencil boxes which we call our art boxes. This is where students store their scissors and glue as well as any art supplies from home (like markers or colored pencils). This has helped eliminate so much of the clutter in and on their desks. Plus they can quickly grab all their art materials for a more elaborate art project.

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5 Angela Watson December 14, 2012 at 11:45 am

Great idea, Laurel! Thanks for sharing.

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6 Autumn May 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I love these suggestions. I am a special ed teacher and I have found space dividers very useful to me, especially when one child is on the iPad and another is using pencil and paper. I also keep all pencils with me at the table and the children’s materials stay in their work box, which stays on a certain shelf. This greatly reduces the amount of distraction but sometimes my more extreme ADHD students will still struggle. I give these kids the opportunity to leave the table and go to a spot on the carpet that is very sparsely decorated and quieter. It won’t work for every classroom but they really helped me.

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