Effective Teaching Strategies for Special Education

Special Education Updated January 6, 2016

Special-needs children pose a vast range of challenges to educators looking for effective teaching strategies for the special education classroom. These suggestions should come in handy for teachers working with special-needs students.

Working with short attention spans

  • Set clear expectations for all students.
  • Break assignments into smaller pieces to work on in short time periods.
  • Space breaks between assignments so students can refocus on their tasks.
  • Share ideas with parents so they can help with homework.
  • Carry out everyday routines consistently.
  • Develop a reward system for good behavior, completing work on time and participating in class.
  • Use visual and auditory reminders to change from one activity to the next. This may need to be done several times before the change is made. An egg timer is a good auditory tool that indicates a signal to begin or end an activity.

Managing constant change

The science behind teaching special education students is not cut-and-dried. The strategies that teachers develop for their classrooms are not permanent, and must be scalable and flexible so that they can evolve. This strategy enables teachers to teach every student.

  • Design teaching aids and lessons that are flexible.
  • Add creativity to lessons and homework.
  • Develop easy-to-use monitoring tools that are needs-based.
  • Design lesson plans that can be modified to fit each student.
  • Develop a set of resources and interventions that work.

Teaching effectively

Being an effective teacher requires many tools, most of which are chosen through trial and error. Many resources are available to help teachers planning lessons, manage classroom environments, and develop high-quality instruction for students with special needs. Effective teaching strategies include:

  • Use a multiple-scenario approach to developing lesson plans.
  • Monitor and verify student responses to lessons.
  • Evaluate and adapt lessons as necessary.
  • Use peers to review lesson plans and to develop ideas that might be applicable.
  • Develop and maintain a pool of mentors.
  • Keep a list of resources for teaching, lesson plans and professional development
  • Set a professional development plan for yourself and track your goals
  • Develop or implement a system that allows for easy and comprehensive data collection to help monitor and adapt lessons
  • Gather some tricks of the trade from fellow teachers, including those who do not teach special education.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Instruction offers resource materials for all teachers. The special education section features many categories, including practitioner guides, behavior difficulties and standards and assessments.


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This section is dedicated to keeping educators updated with the techniques and solutions available to leaders of Inclusive Classroom and Special Education programs. Articles and resources in this category range from where to find educational websites for children with disabilities to the job outlook for special education teachers. This is the area where special education teachers can find inspiration and continue their professional and leadership development.

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