5 Ideas to Help Students with Short Attention Spans

I don’t recall growing up hearing so much about children with ADD or ADHD. Perhaps it was around, but I just didn’t notice. I do recall my parents repeatedly asking me if I had “ants in my pants.” The frequency of children being diagnosed with attention issues has increased dramatically over the years, and medication is a thing we can hardly avoid, it seems. But what can we do as teachers in the classroom to help students who have short attention spans?

I know you have students with short attention spans in your class, so how are you supporting them? Our students with ADD or ADHD need special support to help them succeed, so this post outlines five ways that you can help meet the needs of your students who have short attention spans.

Being a parent of a child with ADHD and having ADD myself, I can tell you it’s not something done intentionally. It’s often difficult to focus, and the struggle is real. I can find myself getting frustrated because I can head down a rabbit’s hole over something very little and spend hours there before I realize the detour I have taken. Even with medication, I have had to learn some cognitive strategies to help me focus and become better equipped for daily life. With that said students could also use your assistance to help them learn to cope and to keep them from hopping off into la-la land. 🙂

Strategies for Helping Students with Short Attention Spans

Here are my suggestions (though I’m sure there are many more – and feel free to leave them in the comments if you have more ideas) for helping students with short attention spans.

1.)  Change up your lessons and activities in the classroom frequently.  Definitely, don’t just have the students sit and read or listen to you talk. One day I was talking to the kindergarten teacher at the copier and noticed that she was printing her sub plans. I was amazed at how many pages it was just for a half day’s plans. She informed me that they had to switch activities approximately every seven minutes or so, or the children became too antsy. It’s really the same thing with children with short attention spans. Of course, the older they are, the longer they can pay attention – but not by much – so switch it up. Consider creating activities with physical movement or manipulatives. The more hands-on, the better!

2.)  I know this will sound bizarre, but keep the temperature of the room just right.  If the temperature of the room is too cold, then it’s hard to focus on work because you are so cold (and who likes cold hands?), and if it’s too warm, guess what? You want to fall asleep and feel pretty drowsy. This is for all students, of course, but even more so for students who struggle with focusing.

3.)  Say only what needs to be said.  I have a tendency to ramble on and on. I know, my regular blog readers are saying, “No, really?!?” But yeah. I guess I like to talk. So, when I find myself standing before someone who has a short attention span, and I’m taking the long route to my point, suddenly their mind is wandering over here and over there, and before you know it, you even see their head turn in another direction. That is never a good sign. It’s best to just get straight to the point – keeping it short and sweet.

4.)  With that said, oftentimes a student with a short attention span is also a high learner and absorbs the material fast. Therefore, once they learn it, they get bored. What else can they do but either daydream or bug others? I wasn’t either of those, but instead, I was the student who felt there was no point to doing the work because I already knew it. So, be prepared to have early finishing work or enrichment. Or, even better, work on their individual level.

5.)  Some students just need a little reminder or push. I know when I was in college, I worked best when I had my best friend assisting me with studying and due dates. That accountability and motivation really helps when your attention is all over. Try partnering up your students with highly motivated students. 

Again, I know there are probably many more strategies that you can implement in your classroom to help your ADD or ADHD student focus, but these are the ones that come to mind right away for me. Feel free to leave some of your ideas below in the comments. I look forward to reading them!

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