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How I Teach ADHD Readers & Writers



 If your child has ADHD, they are a gift to this world. We just need to change our teaching so that their gifts can shine.


How do you keep a kid engaged in reading and writing if they have ADHD?

Back when I was teaching in the classroom, if we had a student with ADHD, we would just figure that ADHD kids can't focus and they need breaks. But since then, I've worked with hundreds of students with ADHD, and I've come up with some great strategies for helping them to thrive as a reader or writer. Once you try these strategies, you'll see that there isn't anything wrong with your child, it's not just that they don't like school - it's that they need a different teaching style. And using a different teaching style can benefit non-ADHD kids as well!


The Brown Model for ADHD

Before we dive into the strategies for teaching ADHD readers and writers, I want to share the Brown Model for ADHD with you. This will help explain why it's important to use a different teaching style for students with ADHD. There are certain executive functioning skills we need to do all kinds of tasks like doing laundry, cooking, and working - and of course, reading and writing. Kids with ADHD often have an imbalance in their executive functioning skills and have trouble regulating them.


So the answer is simple - just adjust your teaching to account for this imbalance. When you work with a child who has ADHD, try to be aware of which specific challenges with executive functioning they are having. Then, you can adjust the way you teach to address those challenges.


If you're a parent teaching your child at home, this is easy to do since you have one-on-one time with them. If you're a teacher, you can adjust your teaching to support kids with executive functioning challenges, and it will also benefit students who don't the same challenges. It will just make learning easier for everyone!


Step 1: Regulate Emotions

The first thing I focus on when I'm in a session with a child who has ADHD is to help them regulate their emotions. We need to make sure that kids feel calm, positive, and proud of themselves.


Adjusting your environment is a great way to help with this. Work on creating an environment that feels calming and peaceful. That means less clutter, more comfortable seating, and maybe even some cozy blankets and pillows. And of course, more color!


Positive reinforcement is another way to help with regulating emotions. Focus on what they're doing right rather than correcting them. And before they start even start working, give them a positive statement to say. Some of my favorites are:


  • I can do this.

  • I am really smart.

  • I'm brilliant.

  • I'm a great writer.


If you make sure that your student is repeating these mantras, and you are giving them compliments, then they will be able to start believing in themselves. When they start believing in themselves, they will start to blossom in your learning space.


Step 2: Slow Down Processing

The second strategy that will help your child with learning is to help them slow down their processing, especially when it comes to reading or spelling. One really cool thing that you may have noticed about kids with ADHD is that their minds can be thinking about multiple things at the same time. However, when it comes to reading, they will need to be able to completely focus. You might notice that your child with ADHD has the tendency to speed through words - but when learning to read and write, they will really need to be able to look at one little word and break it down into smaller letters and sounds. A great tool for this is to use sound balls. In my video, How I Teach Spelling and Reading, I go more in-depth on how to use sound balls to slow down processing when spelling and reading words.


If you don't have Play Doh on hand to create sound balls, you can teach them how to draw the sound balls using dots or circles as they are spelling or reading a word.


Step 3: Help with Memory

Memory is another challenge for kids with ADHD, because they may have challenges with long-term memory or memory retrieval. The strategies for helping these students is centered around helping them to access their memory without overwhelming them. The key is to teach only one rule or one phonics sound at a time.


To help with this task, I've created a free Scope and Sequence that outlines which sounds can be taught together in the same category. If you use this when teaching phonics, then kids with ADHD will be stimulated enough so that they aren't bored, but also slow enough so that they don't get overwhelmed with different sounds.


Within each category, you can teach each individual sound separately. This will help the child isolate that sound and spelling in their mind. For example, the E sound sometimes can be spelled "ea" and other times "ee". For a kid with ADHD, those sounds shouldn't be taught at the same time. It would be very overwhelming and confusing.


Instead, you can focus on just words with the "ee" spelling. Be sure to add visuals and kinesthetics to help them. A great example of a project you can make (and they can help!) is a flip book. Do this for at least a couple of weeks - until they are completely comfortable with that spelling lesson. Only then should you introduce th alternate spelling of "ea". This way, their brains will separate "ee" and "ea" into two different categories instead of one. This will in turn help them access those sounds and rules a lot easier than if we had taught them all at once.


Step 4: Help Them to Focus

The struggle with focus is one of the most well-known traits of kids with ADHD. What helps me the most when teaching kids with ADHD is to teach to their interests. You may be excited to teach a specific topic, but if your student isn't, then they will have a hard time focusing on the lesson. If you are able to tailor your lesson to their unique interests instead, then you'll have a much better time helping them to stay focused.


For example, I had a student that I needed to review sounds with. I decided to create a game to help with this. When I found out that they loved poop, I knew I had the perfect subject for a game. Using poop emojis, I made a fun, tactile game called The Poop Game. It turns out that a LOT of kids love the topic of poop, and this game has really taken off among those that I teach!


This is why I think that customizing games to a child's interests is so important, and it's why I shy away from buying games from the store.


Step 5: Consider Graphic Novels

When it comes to reading, a pattern I've learned is that kids with ADHD love feeling stimulated. For a child with ADHD, graphic novels can be much more stimulating than traditional novels. In a graphic novel, instead of just words, there's also facial expressions and graphics. This makes it super engaging to read.


When I was a teacher in the classroom, we always would poop on the idea of graphic novels. We always felt like it wasn't as valuable as reading a chapter book. But I'm here to tell you, I made a mistake with that assumption. If you are someone like me who's always been "team chapter books", and anti graphic novels, I challenge you to read one yourself. Once you do, you might realize that it's not as easy as it seems.


When reading a graphic novel, it's important to read the visuals and notice the actions as well as the words. The right brain and the left brain need to work together to understand the story. Also, not only are graphic novels entertaining, but they also have really great messages. They include themes that are relatable for kids like bullying, friendship, and other life lessons.


Step 6: Alleviate Their Frustrations

If a child is really struggling with writing, what I've had the best success with is getting rid of notebooks and worksheets. I ask the simple question, "What do you want to write about? What topic do you love?"


I have one student who loves hedgehogs. She decided she wanted to write a story about hedgehogs who create an underwater vehicle out of a big melon. The story is called Super Melon and she is now a published author! She went from "I'm really struggling with writing" to "I'm a published author".


That can be every child that has ADHD. We just need to change the way we teach so that it supports the way they learn.


Step 7: Break Up Tasks

It's also important to break up big projects into smaller tasks. A person with ADHD might see one task and feel very overwhelmed, because they are really seeing all the different little steps it takes to complete it.


For example, if you were to ask a grown up with ADHD to do laundry, they might not see it as simply doing laundry. They see each separate task: sorting, washing, drying, folding, and putting away. That's a lot of steps! This is the same thing that a child with ADHD feels when you tell them to read a book or write a story.


How do you solve this problem for reading? It's simple - break up reading into smaller tasks. You can take turns reading parts of the book. For example, you can read a page, and then they can read a page. Or you can read a speech bubble and then they read a speech bubble. This way, they don't feel like they are responsible for reading every single page. You can also make it fun by talking about the pictures, and maybe talking about how you relate to a scenario in the book. When they start feeling like reading is enjoyable, and that it's something they can do, then slowly they will feel comfortable reading all of the pages on their own.


How do you solve this problem for writing? When writing, I find that kids with ADHD might have a very elaborate story with a lot of words and a lot of plot lines, but their muscles are still growing and they're still trying to learn how to write. Their hand might get tired when they're writing, or they're still learning how to spell and sound out words. All of this is in addition to the fact that they see writing a story as a huge overwhelming task with a lot of steps, rather than just "writing a story".


So instead I just give them ONE simple task - just be the writer. This allows them to focus on coming up with the story. Meanwhile, I act as their "secretary", and type or write it out for them. As soon as I do that, I find that the student can finally blossom into an amazing writer.


In Conclusion

My hope is that you are able to take some of these strategies and apply them to your own student. I also hope that in the future, the world will be able to stop seeing ADHD as a disability and a problem in school. Instead, we just need to change the way that we are teaching so that the kids with ADHD can thrive. I've talked about this on my podcast - in the real world, people with ADHD are often the ones who are CEOs, inventors, and world leaders.


If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send me an email at allthewritecolors@gmail.com. You can also follow my YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook pages for updates, listen to my podcast, and join my mailing list for upcoming events and workshops!


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