Strategies for Attention Difficulties

This week, we are focusing on how to help kids with attention difficulties. I know you all see them in your classrooms because I see them too!! 🙂

UntitledFirst, what are attention difficulties really? 

A common myth about children with attention problems is that they aren’t paying attention at all. But children who struggle with attention may actually pay attention to everything; their difficulty is deciding what to focus on and maintaining that focus.

The following characteristics are most common:

    • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
    • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
    • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
    • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
    • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
    • Is often easily distracted
    • Is often forgetful in daily activities

What can we do about it?

This article from the website “Reading Rockets” has some great ideas… I’ve shared them here: 

1. Take the Mystery Awayschoolkids

The first and perhaps most important management strategy is to insure that all students understand how attention works and identify their particular profiles of attention strengths and weaknesses. Then, students should be taught attention management strategies.

2. Understand Consistent Inconsistency

Teachers and parents should understand that the inconsistency of children with attention problems is not evidence of a poor attitude or lack of motivation. It is a part of their biologically based attention dysfunction, and is beyond their easy control.

3. Explore the Option of Medication

For many children and adolescents, medication can be helpful in dealing with attentional difficulties. Medication can improve mental alertness and the intensity and duration of concentration. In addition, it may diminish impulsivity and hyperactivity. The student and his parents may wish to explore this option with his physician.

HipHop4. Allow for Movement and Breaks

It is helpful for students who have problems with inconsistent alertness and mental effort to be provided with opportunities to move around. For example, at school, teachers could ask the student to erase the board, collect papers or take a message to the office. At home, parents and/or the student could schedule regular breaks and change work sites. That is, the student could work several minutes at the kitchen table and several minutes on the living room floor. Each time the location is changed, the student may experience a burst of mental energy. Additionally, students may need to be doing something with their hands while seated. They may doodle, roll a piece of clay or perform some other manual tasks that enhance their alertness and arousal.

5. Vary Instructional Strategiestechnology-kids

Teachers should use a variety of instructional strategies and these should be changed approximately every 15 to 20 minutes. For example, they could deliver information for 15 minutes via lecture. This strategy could be followed by small group work or cooperative learning for 20 minutes. Next, students could engage in individual seatwork or watch a video.

6. Use Signals

teacher-with-studentsThe teacher and parents should have a private way of signaling students when they are tuned out. For example, a gentle tap on the shoulder may be effective. Also, the student’s teachers and parents may need to signal him when something important is about to be stated. Looking right at him, his teacher or parent could say, “Now listen very carefully. I am about to give you important instructions about tomorrow’s test.”

7. Leverage Interests

Attention is enhanced when interest is heightened. Thus, students should be encouraged studentsto read, write and talk about subjects in which they are interested. Additionally, students’ attention is enhanced when information is personally relevant to them. For example, if students need to learn a chronological timetable, the teacher could begin with having the students develop a chronological timetable of the important events in their own lives.

8. Minimize Noise and Other Distractionsgirl_studying

Students who are easily distracted should benefit from a structured auditory environment. They may need preferential seating near the front of the classroom so that noise and distractions from other students are minimized.

9. Develop Previewing and Planning Skills

black-man-teachingTeachers and parents can help students develop previewing and planning skills by requiring them to formulate plans for writing reports and completing projects. For example, when completing a book report, the students could submit plans for how they are going to accomplish this task. They will likely need specific instruction, followed by modeling, then guided practice, and finally feedback on performance. The concept of previewing should be explained to the students and they should be aware of the fact that the activities they are engaging in will help them develop previewing/ planning skills. It is helpful if they are first given practical examples of planning, such as planning for a party.

10. Use Behavior Modification and Self-Assessment

uat-geekGen1The use of behavior modification and self-assessment strategies can be helpful in increasing desired behaviors (e.g., task completion) and/or decreasing behavior problems (e.g., impulsive blurting out during class). The specific behaviors that need to be changed should be identified (e.g., completes reading classwork; raises hand before answering questions; brushes teeth before going to bed; puts dirty clothes in laundry). The specific consequences for behavior change should also be identified. The consequence for positive behaviors must be more rewarding to the student than failure to complete the positive behavior. For example, if the child is allowed to stay up an extra 15 minutes in the evenings, this behavior must be more rewarding than leaving his/her dirty clothes on the bathroom floor.

Additionally, performance of the targeted behavior must be the only way that the student Great jobis able to obtain the reward. In the previous example, the child is only able to stay up the extra 15 minutes at night if he puts his dirty laundry in the designated place. School-home notes can be used to communicate back and forth between home and school. In both settings, charts and graphs can be used to monitor progress toward the goal. Students should be encouraged to assess their own behavior in addition to being assessed by the adult. They could be given an additional reward for accurate self-assessment.

Classic-Christmas-Clock-PNG-0164511. Discourage Frenetic Work Patterns

To help students refrain from rushing through their work, teachers and parents could avoid making statements such as, “You can go out to recess as soon as you finish your assignment” or “You can watch television when you finish your homework.” Offers such as these may inadvertently encourage students to work too quickly and carelessly.

12. Get Organizedat-Thesis-Writing

A notebook with three sections labeled “Work to be Completed,” “Work Completed” and “Work to be Saved” may be used to help students organize their assignments. Color-coding notebooks for different subjects may also be helpful for organizing work.

13. Use Daily Planners

A student should use a structured daily planner to help him organize his assignments and activities. A planner that is broken down by subject within the day and has sufficient room to write all the information he needs would be preferred. ELAN Publishing offers a number of good student organizers (available from CDL’s A+ Store). Alternately, he may benefit from using a personal digital assistant (PDA).

14. Set Up a Home Office

At home, parents should guide their child/adolescent with setting up his/her own well-organized “office.” Parents should schedule a weekly time that their child/adolescent will dedicate to straightening up the office and making sure all office supplies are well-stocked (e.g., post-its, pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, paper clips, stapler). The student should find his/her best time(s) for studying (his/her most alert times of day), and post these times as his/her “Office Hours.” The student should also experiment with different kinds of background noise levels that work best for him/her when doing homework of studying. Some children/adolescents actually concentrate better in a noisy environment or while listening to music while others may need to use ear plugs.

15. Allow Time to Wind Down

Many students with attention problems have trouble falling asleep at night. It is helpful for them to have an established routine for going to bed at night. For example, they could read a book or have a book read to them. They can engage in stretching exercises before getting in bed. They could drink a glass of milk or hot chocolate prior to going to bed. They might also listen to quiet, easy music while falling asleep. “White noise,” such as a fan, may also be helpful in facilitating sleep.


Another great article found on the website “LDonline” revealed these strategies: 

  • Provide a structured, predictable environment.
  • Give simple single-step instructions.
  • Simultaneously provide verbal and visual input (e.g., dictate instructions as you write them on the board).
  • Provide modified testing and assessment procedures.
  • Offer the child positive reinforcement, praise, and encouragement.
  • Teach note taking, outlining, and other useful study skills.
  • Assign the child a seat within close proximity of the teacher but away from high-traffic areas.
  • Clearly outline rules, limits, and expectations. Post them.
  • Avoid overloading the child with information, data, or instructions that he is unable to process.
  • Allow for occasional breaks to let the child relax and reenergize.
  • Institute a “study buddy” or “good neighbor” system wherein a classmate may assist the child with organization and preparation.
  • Utilize a cue or a private signal that you can send to the child if her behavior or attention is beginning to deteriorate.
  • Divide large, complex tasks into smaller, manageable segments. For example, if the child is assigned twenty math problems, give them to him five at a time. As he completes one set, give him the next five. This will be less intimidating and overwhelming. Gradually, increase the length of the segments.
  • “Legitimize” the child’s need for movement and activity by designing classroom activities that allow and encourage movement.
  • Require that the child maintain an assignment notebook, and assist her with this task.
  • Assist the child in getting started on a task and then encourage him to complete it independently.
  • Give the child as much notice as possible if a major change or transition is coming.
  • Establish a daily checklist communication system to ensure ongoing contact between home and school.
  • Provide the child with a basic course syllabus to assist her in organization and planning.
  • Provide him with two sets of textbooks. One set remains at home to facilitate homework, while the second set stays in school. This strategy ensures that he has the necessary materials in both settings.
  • Make organization of books, desk, locker, and book bag a regular routinized part of her day. She should be assigned to spend a few minutes organizing at the beginning, middle, and end of the school day. Be aware that she may need assistance with this. Merely telling her to “straighten out your book bag” will not be effective.
  • Be sure that you have the child’s attention before giving him a direction or instruction. This can be done by calling his name or using a hand signal. After the instruction has been given, ask him to repeat it back to you prior to carrying it out. Many ADD children are adept at appearing to understand when, in fact, they do not.
  • Remain mindful of the three levels of instructional material:
    • Independent Level: Child can read the material at 97% accuracy and comprehend at 90% accuracy.
    • Instructional Level: Child can read the material at 90 to 96% accuracy and comprehend at 75% accuracy.
    • Frustration Level: 90% or below in reading accuracy and below 75% accuracy in comprehension. Reading is halting, slow, and laborious.
  • Independent Level work should be assigned for homework and seat work. Material at a child’s Instructional Level should be teacher-directed or monitored. Material at the Frustration Level should not be assigned.
  • Never take good behavior for granted. Praise and reinforce the child for not interrupting, for working patiently, remaining in his seat, staying on task, cooperating.
  • Remember that hyperactive behaviors during seat work (e.g., drumming fingers, pencil tapping, squirming in seat, fidgeting) are actually a release for the child’s hyperactivity. Unless the movements are distracting or disruptive for others, ignore them. If it doesn’t make a difference, what difference does it make?
  • Do not emphasize quality and quantity simultaneously. Lengthy, complex assignments are exceedingly difficult for the child with attentional problems. It is better to assign five math problems and emphasize/expect accuracy than to assign twenty problems that will overwhelm the child and result in twenty inaccurate responses.
  • Provide the child with a study carrel or a quiet section of the classroom where she can go when she needs a distraction-free area to study or memorize. Allow other students to have access to this area so it is not viewed as punitive or negative by the class.
  • Remember that the child with ADD can become easily frustrated and this frustration greatly impacts his motivation. Stress, pressure, and fatigue can initiate and increase these feelings of frustration. Be aware of the child’s tendency to become frustrated, and take proactive steps to avoid or diminish anxiety-producing situations.
  • Provide this child with several (e.g., ten to fifteen) seconds to respond to verbal questions. It may well take him that long to process and comprehend the question. Whenever possible, supplement verbal questions with visual input.
  • Try alternative methods of assessment, such as oral testing or demonstration testing. Written tests and assessments will present particular difficulty for children with attentional problems because of the children’s language and organizational weaknesses.
  • Be certain that the child has the materials she needs before she begins a task.
  • Carefully observe the child in order to determine when the child is particularly focused and attentive (e.g., early in the day, after recess, before lunch). Schedule his most difficult and challenging assignments and activities at these times.
  • Follow difficult activities with more interesting or rewarding activities. (“Joseph, when you finish the math work sheet, you can feed the gerbil.”)
  • Avoid attributing moral or judgmental reasons for the child’s inconsistency and impulsivity. Remember that these behaviors occur through no fault or choice of the child’s. Accusatory feedback is counterproductive. Don’t blame the victim.
  • Provide the ADD child with ample opportunities to show divergent, creative, and imaginative thinking and to receive recognition for originality.
  • Allow the child to doodle or squeeze a soft ball. Some children with ADD are better able to focus and attend when they are doing something with their hands during quiet activities (lectures, discussions, story time, videos).
  • When giving instructions, be sure that you have the child’s focused attention and ask her to paraphrase the instruction before beginning the task. Many children with ADD may also have difficulty with auditory processing. This disorder makes it exceedingly difficult to understand and follow oral directions. These students will also have difficulty taking notes from lectures, so it may be useful to provide her with class notes.
  • Encourage the child to focus his attention on the task at hand, and reinforce appropriate behavior when it occurs. These students have significant difficulty working independently and have a tendency to procrastinate and dawdle. These behaviors can be disruptive for the class and frustrating for the teacher.


Hopefully these ideas are helpful and can be useful in your classrooms and homes!  Enjoy!





Some other great websites to check out: 






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