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Adapting and Differentiating Classroom Instruction for Students with ADHD

Generally speaking, a student’s academic success can be facilitated by their teacher’s ability to adapt and differentiate their teaching methodologies to facilitate the learning needs of their students. Because students with ADHD attend both mainstream and special schools, teachers need to carefully differentiate and adapt their instruction to enable these students to engage in learning across the curriculum. In Ireland, because the education system is very much exam focused, the importance of adapting lessons for all students, particularly those identified as having ADHD cannot be emphasised enough. Because all students are different in so many ways, it makes perfect sense to use a differentiated approach to teaching.

What is Differenciation?

Differentiated instruction involves providing learning tasks and activities that are tailored to the individual needs and abilities of all students. While is it important to understand the limitations that a student may have, it is more helpful to focus on the student’s abilities. Often, when you adapt lesson materials for one student, many other students benefit as well.

How Can Teacher’s Differenciate?

Teachers can adapt and differentiate their lessons in the following ways:

  • Content being learned by a student. For example, some students might learn four aspects of a lesson while others learn six. This approach can be used when assigning school-based work or indeed homework. By using this approach, it is hoped that eventually certain students will be able to manage the same workload as their non-ADHD peers.
  • Process or way in which a student accesses lesson material - for example, by using the internet or IPAD/textbook. A good idea for teachers is to find out from their students what their preferred learning sytle actually is. This can be achieved by drawing up a simple table which requires students to illustrate their preferred learning style as illustrated below. Some students prefer to learn using visual resources such as pictures, videos and objects that can help them understand a difficult concept. Others might opt for other avenues which enable them to learn.

Student Name




Michael Phelps



Greg LeMond



Justin Timberlake



  • Outcome or way in which a student shows that he/she has learned something. Given that ADHD can co-exist with other learning difficulties, it is essential that students are allowed to present their work in a variety of ways. For example, a student might write a paragraph or two or draw a diagram, or make a PowerPoint presentation.