How to Help Students with Attention Issues

Students in elementary grades often wiggle in their seats, talk during class and share rambling stories about things not at all related to the subject at hand. In short, most kids in the younger grades have trouble paying attention at some point. But what about the students that have chronic difficulty with staying engaged? Whether or not you have students with an attention-deficit diagnosis, it’s usually easy to pinpoint the children that just don’t have the same concentration abilities as most others.

Now, maybe as a teacher you’re thinking that a reward system is a good strategy for motivating a student to concentrate. While positive reinforcement is a good thing, many attention deficit kids just will not be able to “tune in” better even if they’re working toward a prize or privilege.

What if your focus shifted instead to showing these kids how they may be able to help themselves? For example, if a child that has difficulty paying attention has close access to a talking partner or even to doodling materials like crayons and paper, encourage temporary separations from those distractions.

For instance, a favorite friend can become a reading buddy but not a side-by-side seatmate. The same approach can be implemented with items like puzzle books, fidget spinners, etc. Allow these activities now and then but explain that they cannot be in constant use.

When thinking about specific strategies that you can realistically use, consider some of the following ideas. And, make sure you communicate with administrators and/or parents as needed.

  • Pitch the idea of a student becoming his or her own “island.” Many elementary schools set up their classroom with student tables instead of individual desks. Maybe an attention-deficit student would enjoy a space with fewer distractions so close at hand. Consider allowing a student to use half of the table alone. Be sure the child knows this arrangement is not a punishment and make it sound fun.
  • Remember how students often love to tell stories? Instead of feeling frustrated when a kid pipes up with a story that is not related to the current topic, learn to let the student ramble. If it goes on too long, give the student a limit, like “one more minute” or “two more sentences.” Sometimes kid that are constantly thinking of other things (and not concentrating on a particular task) just need to let out their thoughts.
  • Ask the child how he or she wants to learn. If a student can’t seem to focus well and doesn’t finish worksheets, find another way for him or her to do the work. For example, instead of worksheets, allow the student to work out math problems on a white board or via an app on a tablet.

Sometimes kids that have difficulty concentrating may exhibit behavioral or academic struggles as well. Every student is different, but exploring with kids the ways in which they can help themselves may stave off extra problems that can come with attention issues.  Be flexible and demonstrate realistic strategies. These efforts can really pay off as students advance through school.