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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Hyperactive Students


A hyperactive student isn't hard to recognize. She's the student who's constantly on the move, bouncing from one task to another and rarely completing any. Even sitting in her seat, she's anything but still, as she fidgets, wiggles, twists, and turns. She's a "mover and shaker" in the literal sense of the words.

It would be nice if teachers could simply turn off a switch with hyperactive students to calm their behavior, but there are no easy answers with these children. Indeed, teaching a hyperactive student can be one of the most challenging management problems teachers face. It also can be one of the most exasperating, especially if she's disrupting your ability to teach and other students' ability to learn.

The challenge in working with hyperactive children is to balance their needs with the needs of your other students. You want to create an optimal learning environment for the hyperactive student, mindful of the issues of peer rejection and low self-esteem. At the same time, you want to minimize the disruption to your other students. That requires considerable structure, support, and consistency. It also demands patience and restraint in the face of often difficult and frustrating behavior.


Identify the source of the student's high activity level. Although hyperactivity might stem from an attention deficit disorder that has a physiological basis, it also might result from other causes. It might be, for example, that the work is too hard for the student, causing her to feel frustrated, or too easy, causing her to become bored. Also, you need to determine whether the student is confused about the directions or lacks the materials needed to complete the task. In addition, consider whether her high activity level reflects agitation or distress.

Adjust your classroom standards. You might have to rethink your assumption that all students must be seated at their desks, facing forward, feet on the floor, and backs straight. For example, you might allow a hyperactive student to stand up near her desk, walk around with a clipboard, or read while standing as long as she doesn't disrupt other students. Some teachers even allow their more active students to work in the hall (under a watchful eye), so they can walk around when they're feeling antsy.

Give the student a break. A hyperactive student tends to get restless sooner than other students. If so, give her a breather. For example, you might have her work for 20 minutes on a math assignment, then take a break for five minutes, and then begin work on a reading task. Have the student engage in some movement during the break, going to the bathroom or getting a drink of water, for example.

Provide opportunities for the student to release excess energy. Allow her to redirect her seemingly boundless energy by engaging in constructive activities rather than moving around aimlessly. In that way, she learns to be responsible and contribute to the class while releasing energy that might otherwise disturb other students. Feeling a sense of belonging is especially important to the hyperactive student. The following are some examples of activities you might ask her to do: decorate a bulletin board, collect or distribute papers, feed the classroom pets, or deliver a message to another teacher.

Allow the student to manipulate objects at her desk. Some hyperactive students are able to play with small items and still stay on task and remain in their seats. Indeed, doing so might help them pay attention. Consider letting an active student play with such items as a paper clip or a pipe cleaner as long as she can remain on task. Or you might let her squeeze a stress ball to release tension while sitting in her seat. Another stress reliever is to have her place an elastic exercise band under her desk and press her legs against it while sitting at her desk.

Set up a workspace for the student. Establish physical parameters for her by placing masking tape around her desk to make a square or rectangle, putting the tape about a foot or so beyond the desk on all four sides. Tell her that this is her "office." Explain that she can stand up or move around as long as she stays within the boundaries of her workspace, but that she can't leave the space without your permission. This will give her a feeling of freedom, but also help her learn some self-control. With time, you might want to make the space smaller by bringing the tape closer to her desk.

Establish a signal to cue a student that she is out of her seat. Just as you might with a student with an attention problem, arrange a subtle signal with a hyperactive student to alert her that she needs to return to her seat. That might be a wink of your eye, a touch on your shoulder, or a pull on your ear. You might need to quietly say her name to get her attention. If necessary, follow up the signal with a verbal reminder to the student to return to her seat.

Ticket, please. If the student gets out of her seat often to do such things as sharpen her pencil or ask a question, you might give her a limited number of tickets and require that she give you one when she wants to leave her seat. When she runs out of tickets, she is not allowed to leave her seat. If she does, take away three minutes of her recess. That will help teach her self-control while lessening her out-of-seat behavior.

Arrange for the student to wear a weighted vest. This is a vest with extra weight that has been used to help distractible or hyperactive students calm down and relax. Some teachers also have used moist neck rolls with hyperactive children. When worn around the neck, they can provide weight, heat, and tactile stimulation that might lessen stress and calm the student. If your school has an occupational therapist, ask her if those items are appropriate and available for your student.

About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist who has worked in various public schools for more than 25 years. He has authored six books and produced a book and video series on bullying for schools and parent organizations called The ABCs of Bullying Prevention. Click to read a complete bio.


Article by Dr. Ken Shore
Education World®
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