Teaching Strategies for Distracted Students

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

As teachers, we tend to think our lessons and content are important and engaging, but the student perspective may be quite different. In this lesson, we will learn about general techniques for teachers to utilize in the classroom to keep all students engaged.

Who is the Distracted Student?

When we think of the term 'distracted student,' we most often think of the label ADHD. But many students, with or without ADHD, suffer from distraction-related emotional or educational learning issues. This lesson will focus on strategies to help all students who suffer from distractions, whether from a learning disability or otherwise, to succeed in the classroom.

Teaching Distracted Students

When you hear the term 'scaffolding,' what do you think of? If you're new to teaching, you may think of a wooden structure that construction workers use to paint, fix, or build structures. While that structure is not helpful in regards to teaching, the figurative interpretation is. A construction scaffold literally takes layers of materials and is built up to help workers do their jobs, and, figuratively, the same is true when we talk about scaffolding in teaching.

Scaffolding is support given to students to help them fully understand the content or skill at hand. When a teacher scaffolds instruction, he or she breaks down the material into smaller parts and layers them accordingly so that the students are not overwhelmed and have more time to practice and build skill sets or content bases.

Why is Scaffolding Important?

When it comes to distracted students, scaffolding is important because these students are more often disengaged than engaged in content. Scaffolding units, lessons and daily instruction helps students take in small chunks of instruction, content and expectations, completing them with a greater level of success.

Read on to learn about scaffolding in the classroom and strategies we can use to better help all of our students.

Scaffolding Strategies

When we talk about scaffolding, we are talking about breaking down everything we do in our classrooms into smaller parts. Let's look at different ways we can break down instruction and assignments to keep our distracted students engaged and focused.


To scaffold our timing, meaning the time we have in front of our students from bell to bell, we need to ask ourselves, 'What will keep students engaged?' We can't necessarily change the content, but we can change the way we present new material.

Think of it this way: Instead of lecturing students for 30 minutes straight and then letting students work independently for the remainder of class time, break up that long period of time into mini lectures/instructions so students aren't overwhelmed and/or lose interest.

For example, you might lecture and provide instruction or modeling for no more than 15 minutes, then let students work for the next 10-15 minutes, checking in on students regularly. We are more likely to have students listen for 10-15 minutes and work for 10-15 minutes two times in a row than lecturing for 30 minutes and working for 30 minutes.

Whether it be a lecture, presentation of instructions/projects, group work, or independent work, stick to the 15-minute rule. Don't let yourself go beyond that amount of time without giving students some kind of break or change of task.


When thinking of student engagement, we also need to think about how we present the information. Because we have all different types of learners in our classrooms, it's important to present the same information in multiple ways. If you're modeling a new concept, you can use a visual on a projector or Smart Board and also give students a handout that they can take notes on. If applicable, videos, images, graphs and diagrams can help clarify material. The more ways we can engage a student, especially with music, film or images, the better.

For example, say you are teaching a new literary device in English class--say, irony. An excellent way to promote engagement would be to put notes on the board with types of irony, their definitions and examples, then give students a guided fill-in note sheet with prompts of when and where to fill in applicable information.

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