How Peer Work & Partnering Up Can Help ADHD Students

parenting kids with adhd

Students with ADHD face challenges when they go into the classroom. Using deliberately structured peer work and partnering activities can help ADHD children overcome their challenges, and find academic success.

Challenges of ADHD

Children with ADHD walk into the classroom with special challenges. They may be easily distracted by lighting conditions or noises that would be the background to other children. Staying on task can be challenging for them, especially at certain times of the day when they haven't had a break for physical activity or their medication is wearing off. ADHD children can even struggle with social skills and how to interact with their peers appropriately. However, structured peer work can help students overcome these challenges.

Children with ADHD are born with some traits from attention deficiency to poor decision-making skills that can make forming relationships with peers a challenge. If gone unchecked, this can result in self-esteem problems that can plague a child with ADHD for life. So while it is important for all children, it is even more important for children with ADHD to form relationships with their peers. Partnering ADHD students to do peer work is a good way to help students learn how to work with others in a team.

Teaching Communication

Pair work is a great opportunity to teach communication skills, which is an area ADHD children often struggle with. That is because communication requires sustained attention, which is something ADHD children struggle with on a daily basis. Pair work offers an opportunity for students to practice those communication skills.

While eventually, pair work should build to more complex assignments, it can start out pretty simply. The idea is to create a situation where the ADHD child works with another student and has to practice active listening and communicating. A good pair activity to start with is having students build Lego structures. Start by giving each child an identical set of Legos, and using a folder or a binder to create a barrier in between them. They take turns giving instructions to their partner about how to build their Lego object, but they can't see what their partner built. Instead, they have to focus on listening and asking questions to help them through the process. While ADHD students need writing directions to help them in class, creating short low-stress opportunities to practice listening skills is good for them. That is because when they work in pairs, they need to be able to listen to their partner, process what is being said, and give a response.

team work

Using Team Contracts to Help Peer Relationships

When pairing students with others to work, for it to be successful and help the ADHD student build relationships, it needs to be structured. According to ADDitude Magazine, establishing structure means helping the groups work for a common goal. In the classroom; teachers need to emphasize that each student on the team is working towards the same goal, and if everyone on the team is successful, they will earn the same reward. Depending on the age of the children you are working with, they may need to clearly lay out their goal using a team contract.

The contract should include their agreed upon goal, but it may need to include other factors as well to teach your children how to work in a team. It also provides some structure for your ADHD student to work with, even if they only have one partner. Clearly delineated roles and an agreed upon procedure for mediating differences help build those social skills an ADHD student needs to be able to work with others. It also provides the visual reinforcement they may need. Over time, practicing these skills with a partner will help them hone the social skills they need to have positive interactions with their peers.


Improved Academic Performance

Another research based peer strategy that has proven successful with students with ADHD is classwide peer tutoring (CWPT). In this strategy, students in the class work together in pairs where one student is the tutor, and the other is the student. The skills the partners are working on have been previously taught by the teacher. However, the teacher will still provide scaffolding during the CWPT work.

Scaffolding can look different based on the age of the students in the classroom. The teacher may be the one providing appropriate teaching materials for the pairs to use depending on the age of the students, and the nature of the content. Providing prompts for the tutor to use in work to help engage their tutee works well. Another technique is establishing clear ground rules or a procedure for how the tutoring plays out, often in a scripted manner. That way the student is engaged using a specific strategy that the teacher has deemed appropriate.

For an ADHD student, there are several benefits to using the CWPT strategy as part of their classroom lessons. First, ADHD students tend to work well in smaller class sizes. So the use of peer tutoring creates a smaller class within the scope of a larger classroom. This strategy increases their time on task. The one-on-one attention helps keep the student focused on the content in the tutoring session, rather than everything that might be going on in a busy classroom. More time on task in class leads to high academic achievement for the ADHD student.

Sometimes the peer work may be about a specific skill, but other times it may be working on a specific assignment in class. It gives the opportunity to talk through the assignment at the optimum pace for them, not too fast or too slow. The peer tutoring also gives them a chance to ask as many questions as they need, without the possible embarrassment of asking them in front of the whole class.

By Rachel Tustin
January 2017

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