Tips for Managing ADHD in the Classroom: Completing Assignments

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Getting assignments completed during the school day is challenging for all kids with ADHD. Unfinished classwork is a frustrating problem for teachers, who struggle to find ways to motivate kids with ADHD to complete work at the same pace as other students in the classroom. It’s also a frustrating problem for students, who often feel like they are failing when they see their peers staying on task and completing assignments easily. Often unfinished work is sent home and added to the day’s regular homework assignments. This extends the frustration to parents who see their children struggling to complete the typical homework load, let alone added work at the end of the day.

Typical strategies for “motivating” students with ADHD to finish assignments quickly and accurately, like having them miss out on fun activities like recess or Choice Time when work is incomplete, or using a typical reward system to reinforce assignment completion, are rarely effective unless they are paired with targeted classroom accommodations. Effective accommodations help compensate for the executive functioning deficits (like slow processing speed or poor working memory) that make it difficult for students with ADHD to complete assignments at the same pace and with the same level of accuracy as their peers without ADHD.

Every student with ADHD is different, and the accommodations that will be most helpful will depend on each student’s individual profile of strengths and weaknesses.

Here are 5 of the most helpful strategies for improving work completion in the classroom, which can be tailored to meet the needs of each student:

  1. Break large assignments down into smaller chunks. Students with ADHD often struggle to complete assignments simply because they find the assignment overwhelming. The executive functioning deficits that accompany ADHD can make it difficult to mentally process and organize large amounts of information and muster up the motivation needed to stay focused on a mentally painful task for an extended period of time. Helping students break assignments down into smaller chunks, either by assigning only a few questions at a time or by helping them prioritize and focus on individual components of a larger project will go a long way in helping them complete the assignment piece by piece.
  2. Beat the clock.  Time limits for assignments (or a smaller portion of an assignment) that are coupled with “beat the clock” goals can motivate students with ADHD and bolster assignment completion. Setting reasonable, yet challenging “beat the clock” goals will help make assignments more fun and engaging and will help boost confidence and self-esteem.
  3. Pair “Beat the clock” goals with praise and/or rewards. Some students with ADHD will find it so incredibly motivating and satisfying to meet their “beat the clock” goals that they won’t need any additional incentives. Other students with ADHD will need a bit more of a boost before you see real improvements in their classroom performance. For these students, pair verbal praise and/or rewards with the beat the clock targets. These rewards don’t need to be large, sometimes a simple sticker or a small privilege is all a student needs as long as it’s paired with genuine praise.
  4. Match assignments to ability.  Many kids with ADHD have weaknesses in the areas of math and reading, even if they don’t have a diagnosable learning disorder. Sometimes the weakness is subtle, but impairing enough that when coupled with ADHD it becomes impossible for those students to complete the same amount of work as their non-ADHD peers in the time allotted. In these cases, it is often best to either have the student complete a different assignment altogether or shorten the assignment so that it’s feasible for him or her to complete it in the time allowed. When it comes to working with students who have ADHD it often takes a bit of trial and error to find that sweet spot between making sure an assignment is challenging enough but not so difficult that it is beyond their reach.
  5. Minimize distractions. Distractions are a big factor underlying poor productivity among students with ADHD. Have a conversation with your student about things that he or she may find distracting in the classroom. You may be surprised to find that it’s often not the obvious distractors that bother the student the most. Sometimes it’s the sound of a dripping faucet that makes it hard to focus, or the clutter in a desk or in the cubby along the wall. Helping the student find creative ways to minimize the things that distract him or her the most can go a long way in helping the student stay focused and get his or her work done.

Incomplete assignments are a frustrating problem for teachers, students, and their parents. Fortunately, with a combination of tailored classroom accommodations and praise or rewards, students with ADHD are capable of completing more work than they (or their teacher!) ever thought was possible during the school day.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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