Classroom Strategies


Promoting an Optimal State of Alertness in the Classroom


We all require a certain amount and type of activity and sensation to be at our most alert. Incorporating specific environmental modifications and activities into the classroom routine can help to maintain an optimal state of alertness for an individual student or an entire classroom of students. A sampling of ideas for environmental modifications and alerting and calming activities are listed here.


Simply handing a list such as this one to a classroom teacher is not recommended. The teacher and the occupational therapist should collaborate to select the most meaningful and potentially useful strategies to try in each situation, monitor the effectiveness and gradually add or modify strategies based on their effectiveness.


Environmental Modifications


  • Establish a predictable routine
  • Use 5-minute warnings for transitions to help children prepare
  • Provide a quiet area in the classroom
  • Be alert to your environment: level of visual and auditory distractions
  • Use natural light when available
  • Decrease classroom noise via carpeting or placing tennis balls on chair legs
  • Busy environments with lots of clutter, bright lights, and busy walls may disorganize students
  • Pay attention to your own voice volume and quality
  • Alternate sedentary and movement activities
  • Set up a “power station” or “sensory corner” for use throughout the day. Equip a corner of the room with heavy work activities such as hand weights, a jogging trampoline, a medicine ball, a clay station, vibrating toys, a poster illustrating exercises such as wall or floor push ups, sit ups, etc.
  • Have a basket of (quiet) fidget objects available for student use when needed – set up rules around how these objects may be used
  • Avoid perfumes, scented cleaners, room air fresheners


Activities for Self Regulation - Whole Class Activities & Individual Activities


  • Incorporate Heavy Work (proprioceptive) activities regularly and frequently to keep students focused and organized during the day
  • Use heavy work activities at transition times
  • Provide opportunities for heavy work during choice/free play time
  • Vary work/play positions – encourage a variety of positions standing at easel or board, lying on floor (younger grades), standing at table, kneeling, etc.
  • Consciously incorporate sensory activities into the day
  • An inflatable seat cushion may improve focusing for fidgety or lethargic students
  • Provide squeeze toys for student who need help focusing
  • Fidget toys with moveable parts that can be manipulated without disrupting others in the class can help with focusing and attaining attention to task
  • Place stretchy bands such as Theraband around chair or desk legs to provide a resistive surface to push against while seated
  • Use of stretching and simple movement between activities can help transitions to go more smoothly, prepare students for the next activity, and promote strengthening and flexibility
  • Ask parents to send ‘heavy work’ foods for snack and lunch. Snacks that make the jaw muscles work (i.e. chewy, crunchy foods) can help students be calm and focus on their schoolwork. Foods such as carrot sticks, bagels, raisins, dried fruit, gummy bears, fruit roll ups, gum, beef jerky, pretzels, etc.
  • Some students chew or suck on non-food items (hair, shirt sleeves, pencil, thumb or fingers) as a method of keeping themselves calm and focused. Allowing use of a water bottle with straw or pop up valve may provide the input the child is looking for


Suggestions for Calming Activities


  • Use dim lights and soft music
  • Use resistive fidget toys such as a squeeze ball, a piece of clay, or a balloon buddy during circle time
  • Allow the child to spend time in a quiet area (bean bag chair sheltered by a bookcase, tent, large box, table draped with a blanket) away from others and task demands
  • Allow child to sit in beanbag chair or lay on stomach during story time
  • Use slow to and fro rocking movement such as swinging, rocking, gliding
  • Blue and green are calming colors
  • Keep visual distractions to a minimum – look at how many inches of wall are covered with artwork, posters, etc.
  • Use head phone or white noise CD
  • Give frequent sensory input rather than waiting until child becomes upset
  • Limit amount and variety of stimulus
  • Cut down on distractions in the environment
  • Rhythmical, controlled, predictable gross motor activity is best
  • Plan an after lunch/recess activity that calms the whole class
    • Have the class march around the room and pretend they are trees waving in the wind. As they march, the breeze slowly dies down and the trees stop waving
    • Have the class pretend they are balloons that are being blown up. Start on the floor, blow. Blow, blow until they are standing and fully blown up. Slowly let air out until they are lying on the floor


Suggestions for Alerting Activities


  • Assign classroom jobs that involve movement
  • Provide regular times for movement activities, large motor play, recess
  • Play loud, fast music
  • Fast movement, calisthenics or Simon Says activity type activity can be especially helpful prior to sedentary activity
  • Sit on therapy ball or rocking chair for more movement input to the body during seated tasks
  • Use heavy work activity to the body or jaw muscles
  • Do a power walk (walk vigorously, swinging arms and stomping feet)
  • Use toys or learning materials that make noise, talk or light up
  • Bright, shiny, colored, moving objects
  • Yellow and red are alerting colors
  • Loud, arrhythmic, frequent sounds
  • Variable and unpredictable movement with high intensity
  • Varies tastes and smells; sour and spicy


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The voting for this poll has ended on: November 17, 2013

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