For Teachers Updated April 6, 2018

Advice on Making Elementary Special Education Lesson Plans

By The Room 241 Team March 6, 2013

This post has been updated as of December 2017.

Creating a plan for a year in an elementary school classroom for special-needs children requires flexibility and, in many cases, unique activities for each child depending on their situation. This classroom environment can be very rewarding for teachers who have created a solid base in classroom and curriculum design—and because you’re here reading this, you’re no doubt determined to establish exactly that—or perhaps you’re considering getting into special education teaching. Either way, good for you; we’re happy to help.

Below are four tips for making elementary school lesson plans for special education classrooms.

Create a multi-sensory environment

Children in a special education class may have trouble learning or communicating, or be behind developmentally for their age. As a result, they could struggle with processing lessons and expressing their emotions, and most learn best in a slightly different way.

By setting up the classroom with different objects and displays for students to see, manipulate, and hear, teachers can increase the chances that students will find a learning tool they connect with. For example, to teach the seasons, you might use a large visual display, boxes filled with items associated with each season, and a hot-cold station. Students can listen to birds chirp and waves crash as they learn about each season to incorporate new senses into the learning experience.

Understand the IEP

Parents of special needs children develop an individualized education plan, or IEP, with the teachers and schools. Special education teachers should be familiar with both the requirements for an IEP and their role—and the parents’ expectations. Children with a speech delay, for example, will have different requirements than students with physical disabilities.

An IEP will go over a student’s learning style and offer suggestions to accommodate it. ADHD students may need to be told instructions individually, while maintaining eye contact, to be sure they understand. Teachers should meet with parents and administrators at least twice a year to go over the success of an IEP and suggest changes based on the child’s development.

Work with peer tutors

Since the late 1980s, studies have shown that working briefly in a general education setting helps special education students comprehend language and new information. Today, we call this inclusive education—and at Concordia, we strongly believe in its benefits. Besides the academic advantages, peer tutors are an excellent way to give special needs students practice interacting with others in a controlled setting.

Bringing students of the same grade level in daily can also give a special education classroom structure, and students are likely to most feel comfortable in their own classroom when meeting new people. This practice also benefits the general education class, who will learn kindness, acceptance, and patience. Reviewing information by explaining it will give students a deeper understanding, while presenting special needs students with a different way of thinking about the lesson.

Adapt assessments

When developing a special education curriculum, you may want to place more weight on the process and daily improvements than on a final quiz. However, when test time comes around, an alternative assessment may give students the opportunity to show off their knowledge and express themselves.

By creating a collage, acting it out, or explaining something verbally, students who find getting their ideas on paper challenging can prove their understanding. Remember to be flexible and creative. Even students who are comfortable with a more traditional test may need more time or a quiet (or louder!) environment.

You’ve got this

Creating a strong special education lesson plan for elementary students is imperative for a successful year. Like all students, children in special-needs classrooms want structure and consistency. To come up with new ideas, many teachers collaborate with partners or other educators. Even social-sharing sites like Pinterest have dozens of boards devoted to special-needs activities, strategies, and printable worksheets. By over-preparing and adopting non-traditional strategies, you can ensure that your students have a fun and productive year. You can do this!

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