Organizational Strategies for Students with ADHD

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, you'll learn strategies to help your students with ADHD stay organized. By the end of the lesson, you'll be familiar with some practical ways that can improve student learning goals for some of your most disorganized students.

Understanding ADHD

Imagine being a student in math class. You're trying to focus on what Ms. Cooke is saying but it's so hard. There's a bird outside the classroom window, and you can't stop playing with your pencil. Before you know it, you're out of your chair talking to your friend while everyone else is still seated listening to the teacher.

When asked to return to your seat, you try to sit still too, which is nearly impossible. You can't stop jiggling your legs. When everyone else hands in their homework, you're bag is too much of a mess to even find it. You wish you weren't like this, but it seems like it's been this way in school for as long as you can remember.

If you're a teacher, this scenario is probably all too familiar to you. This student exhibits symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), characterized by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. This imbalance results in decreased executive functioning, like planning, impulse control, organization and inattention. Since these are all key skills necessary for academic success, students with ADHD often struggle in school.

Today, we're going to focus on how to help your students with one skill in particular: organization.

Organizational Strategies

As a teacher, you're probably quite organized yourself. Color-coded class papers clipped together and labeled bins are pretty typical in a school classroom. If you can't keep track of your work, you won't be able to get it done. Let's look at some strategies that are especially helpful for getting students with ADHD organized, although they can be used to help any disorganized student.

Checklists

Before you left school today, did you check your to-do list? Although you thought you were done, was there one more piece of paperwork that needed completing? It's due tomorrow, so it's a good thing you wrote it down! This situation has probably happened to all of us; given our busy schedules, tasks easily slip our minds. Having a checklist acts as extra storage for our brains - students can benefit from this technique too.

If your students are disorganized, chances are they might not even know how to use a checklist. You can help by giving them a copy of a template that includes check boxes, a space for the name of the assignment and date it's due. This provides scaffolding, or a structure to help students get started.

Scaffolding idea for student checklist
checklist

For students with ADHD, papers can easily get lost. It might be a good idea to help your students find a particular place to put their checklists, like a specific folder or the inside of their locker.

Planners

Picture being a tutor for a private company. Everyday, you travel around the city to meet with different clients about different courses. How will you know whom you're meeting with and when or what you need to do for them? Chances are, you're thinking about some sort of planner, an organizational strategy for blocking out schedules and tasks; students can also benefit from using them. As high school students especially are glued to their phones, syncing a digital calendar and checklist is a great way to ensure they always have it with them. Students can even set alarms to alert them about where they are supposed to be and when.

However, some students prefer the look and feel of paper, or are too young to have a phone; a bound planner may work here. You'll probably need to help your students set it up. Choose one with a monthly calendar and weekly space. Color code each class to keep information further organized.

Planners are great because they provide students with a visual approach to time, a hard concept to picture when you have ADHD. Chunks of time are blocked off in color in the planner, allowing students to visualize how much time is actually remaining for them to work.

Planners help students visualize their time.
planner

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