Using Differentiated Instruction for Elementary Students with ADHD by Joyce Wilson

Using Differentiated Instruction for Elementary Students with ADHD by Joyce Wilson will help teachers do a better job with ADHD kids and everyone else. Here she offers some specifics about how to keep kids busy, engaged, and learning. Thanks Joyce.
Joyce Wilson

Differentiated Instruction Defined

  • Differentiated instruction not only benefits students with ADHD; it is actually quite beneficial for the learning of all students. That’s because digesting new material in multiple ways allows for a deeper understanding.
  • Differentiated instruction calls for using different teaching methods to teach one topic. Changing activities allows for students to remain engaged and gives them the opportunity to process information in different ways. There are many forms of fun curricula out there offering ways for educators to teach old subjects in new, fun, and engaging ways. Here are a few great examples:
  • Discovery Education’s Lesson Plan Library
  • Make a Splash Swimming Curriculum
  • Wow Zone’s Financial Literacy Lessons

The Importance of Learning Styles

  • When you teach based on engaging lessons, such as those mentioned above, there is less likelihood that your students will become distracted due to boredom or lack of understanding. This highly benefits students with ADHD. A very simple way for teachers to apply differentiated instruction to their lessons is to remember the three learning styles: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Using these three learning styles will organically lead to differentiated instruction. Let’s take a look at some examples of lessons that use differentiated instruction while incorporating the three learning styles

ELA: Parts of Speech Lesson (Nouns and Adjectives)

  • 1. Auditory—Give an oral definition of a noun and adjective and provide examples. Speak clearly and give thorough definitions and examples. It is important to note that NO worksheets or other visuals should be used at this time, as visuals would distract from the auditory instruction.
  • 2. Visual—Next, on the board or screen, display the definition of these two parts of speech, along with clearly written out examples of each. Allow time for students to study this visual first. Then, you can read it over to them and even ask questions about it.
  • 3. Kinesthetic—Finally, provide students with a handout that includes 10 nouns and 10 adjectives. Have them cut out each word and place them on their desks. Give them instruction to place the nouns in one column on their desk and the adjectives in another. Allow students to stand at their desks, if they so choose. This is the action/movement portion of instruction and is a part teachers sometimes neglect. This activity also allows for evaluation and application of the lesson.

Social Studies: Branches of Government

  • 1. Auditory—Give a clear definition of the three branches of government and their functions, by lecturing only. Briefly talk about some of the key people in each of these branches.
  • 2. Visual—Display a flip-chart of the three branches, along with their definitions and functions. Allow students to study it quietly so that they have time to read the chart and process the information without distractions. Then, read it out loud and point to each part as you read.
  • 3. Kinesthetic—Hand out a worksheet to students that lists the different functions and definitions of each branch. The functions and definitions should be brief in nature and ideally be kept to phrases or short sentences. Assign a color to each branch and have students color code functions/definitions accordingly. Again, allow students to stand at their desks if they choose.

Science: Planets

  • 1. Auditory—Give an oral presentation about the basics of each planet, focusing on their names and order in relation to the sun.
  • 2. Visual—Reveal a vivid picture (on the overhead or smart-board) of the planets that display their correct order. Allow students to study the picture of the planets, without asking any questions or making any statements. Then, briefly talk about the planets by pointing to them as you talk about them.
  • 3. Kinesthetic—Provide students with circles for each planet. Have them label each planet and color them accordingly. Next, have long tables or put desks together so students can put their planets in the correct order that they orbit the sun. You can also make a scale model that can be as big as a hallway, you school’s property, or the neighborhood your students live in.
  • In order for differentiated learning to be effective for students with ADHD, it is important to always give very clear directions. For instance, during the auditory part of the lessons, tell students to simply listen quietly because you are going to be explaining important information. It’s vital to have engaging graphics, pictures, and videos for visual learners, and every lesson should have a component that gets kids moving.

Joyce Wilson

  • Joyce is a retired teacher with decades of experience. Today, she is a proud grandma and mentor to teachers in her local public school system. She and a fellow retired teacher created to share creative ideas and practical resources for the classroom.
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