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Teaching Reading and Writing to Children with ADHD

written by: Dr. Anne Zachry • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/17/2013

Children with ADHD often have difficulty focusing on academic subjects such as reading and writing, particularly when school assignments are lengthy or complicated. Teachers can help these students with reading and writing by dividing assignments into smaller segments and providing modifications.

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    Reading & Writing for Children with ADHD Common symptoms of ADHD, which include hyperactivity, inattentiveness and an impaired ability to complete certain tasks, can produce negative consequences for school-aged children who are developing reading and writing skills. Because children with ADHD often respond well to teaching strategies that maximize their learning potential, school instructors may need to make adjustments to the standard curriculum when teaching students with ADHD to read and write.

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    Helping Children with ADHD to Improve Their Reading Skills

    Teachers can assist students with ADHD in improving their reading accuracy and comprehension by implementing the following strategies:

    • Encourage a student with ADHD to choose library or classroom books that reflect his or her personal interests. Children will often respond well to reading about topics that they enjoy and will be more willing to work with a teacher on developing literacy skills if they are interested in the reading material.
    • Explain ahead of time what skills and knowledge you expect the child to learn from the reading assignment. It is often helpful to make a list of “learning objectives” for a particular lesson and review those with the student prior to beginning a lesson. These objectives can include definitions of vocabulary words, the meaning of the story, etc.
    • Communicate verbally with the student in regard to a book's characters and plot. Ask questions about what is happening throughout the course of the story, why the characters are behaving or acting a certain way, how the student thinks the characters are feeling, and whether or not the student recognizes the main themes of the book.
    • Take a brief break after each chapter or section and request that the student summarize what has just been read.
    • Assign a classroom partner to take turns with an ADHD student in reading a story. When working in small groups, students are motivated by their peers and can more effectively stay on task. These are often called “peer tutors” and the teacher can have these pairs quiz each other about story content and meaning.
    • Allow a student with ADHD to underline or highlight the most relevant portions of a written assignment or story. Use color-coding for highlighting. For example, have the child highlight all of the vocabulary words in yellow, information about the setting in green, and character descriptions in blue.
    • Separate longer reading assignments into smaller sections, and offer the student breaks in between. Children diagnosed with ADHD respond well to positive reinforcement, so offer praise freely when he or she reads a passage correctly.
    • Computer programs can provide wonderful opportunities for students to drill with particular skills, such as phonics or grammar.
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    Strategies for Teaching Writing

    These exercises and adaptations are useful for children with ADHD who struggle to complete written assignments and who have difficulty in mastering writing skills:

    • Always allow the student the opportunity to sit near the teacher or at the front of the class.
    • When possible, have the student read the instructions out loud to the class or to the teacher.
    • Modify classroom assignments and homework assignments for ADHD students so that less writing is required. For instance, if most students are asked to write 12 spelling words and five sentences, a child with ADHD can be asked to write eight spelling words and three sentences.
    • Extend completion deadlines when giving an ADHD student written assignments. Offer extra time in the classroom for finishing written work and give the student an extra day or two to turn in a written homework assignment.
    • When possible, assign short creative writing assignments that allow a child with ADHD to express his or her interests through words.
    • If available, give the student the option of using a word processing device for writing exercises. This lessens the motor control demands if a child has difficulty with writing, and allows the student to focus more on the content and writing techniques.
    • Have the student keep a current list of frequently misspelled words available at all times to use as a reference.
    • Use movement activities when teaching spelling, especially with words that are particularly challenging. For example, take the students outdoors and write the words on the pavement in sidewalk chalk. Have the students “hop” from letter to letter while spelling the word out loud.
    • Provide manipulatives such as letter tiles so that the student can use them to spell out challenging vocabulary words.
    • Give students the opportunity to proofread their own work. Have them identify and correct their own mistakes. At first, it can be helpful if you tell the child what the mistake is related to, for example a capitalization or punctuation error. It is also beneficial to inform the student on which line the error occurs.
    • Use visual cues, such as gestures, to remind the student to stay on task. This can be as simple as touching the child on the shoulder, or tapping the student’s desk when you notice off task behavior. Be sure to explain the meaning of these cues to the student prior to using them.
    • If necessary, a teacher's assistant or occupational therapist can work one on one with an ADHD student who needs help with letter and number formation.
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    Though teaching students with ADHD to read and write requires a great deal of persistence and patience on the part of the instructor, children who actively participate in the development of these abilities will have an increased chance of academic success.

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