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Instruction Options in Special Education Classrooms

Do you struggle with groupings and organizing instruction that meets the needs of all of your students? We tend to get students with a wide range of needs and levels in special education classrooms. It can be a real challenge to organize groupings and meet everyone's needs. Here are 3 different types of instruction I use in my self-contained classroom.

It can be a challenge to organzie groupings and meet everyone's needs in a special education classroom. Here are 3 different types of instruction to get you started.


Whole Class Groupings

We start our day with two whole class groups. The first 15 minutes of our day is a center that the whole class can enjoy. It is usually a combination of fine motor and play. Examples of our centers include blocks, legos, coloring with markers, etc. This allows the staff to get lunch orders, take students to the bathroom, start sensory diets and motor programs. Afterwards, we have morning meeting which is a whole class activity. Click the picture below to read more about how we organize and run it.

It can be a challenge to organzie groupings and meet everyone's needs in a special education classroom. Here are 3 different types of instruction to get you started.

We also added some activities to work on learning each other's names, letter ID, etc. Read more about it: Morning Meeting Update.

We also do Write The Room or Count The Room activities. Have you tried these before? If not... DO IT!! There is so much research that students learn better when they are moving. Movement helps them organize their brains. Try it!  Both count and write the room activities are included in each of my theme units and come already leveled to meet the needs of ALL of your students. Click HERE for more information. Here is information on how to add movement into your school day: Add Movement For Better Focus.

Small Groups

In my classroom, we use small group instruction the most. I generally have 2 to 3 small groups going at the same time. I split my students up based on the skills the group will be targeting instead of grade level. I then look at the group and decide how many teaching assistants the group will need and if the group will be led by a teaching assistant or me. Here are some examples of our small group instruction.

We do direct instruction during work centers every day. The centers are each 30 minutes long with a 3 minute break in the middle for "cash in" or reinforcement time.  Click the pictures to read more about our work center times:

It can be a challenge to organzie groupings and meet everyone's needs in a special education classroom. Here are 3 different types of instruction to get you started.


We cover a lot of language and reading goals during small groups. I often start a small group with an interactive book.  Click the picture below to see the types of things we do with interactive books. 

It can be a challenge to organzie groupings and meet everyone's needs in a special education classroom. Here are 3 different types of instruction to get you started.



One to One Instruction

The last type of instruction we use is one to one instruction. Hands down, this is the type of instruction my students respond best to. BUT that doesn't mean they don't need the other types. My students have a lot of practice of tuning out peers and wanting constant attention or turns. It is important for our students to learn how to wait, how to take turns, how to sit close to peers and still attend, etc. One to one instruction should be sprinkled throughout the school day. 

During work centers, I pull students to work one on one with them. I target their IEP goals during this time along with preteaching for upcoming small group instruction. Click the picture for a closer look at my one to one instruction:

It can be a challenge to organzie groupings and meet everyone's needs in a special education classroom. Here are 3 different types of instruction to get you started.


I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to implement different instructional groups in your classroom. Do you have another type to add? Please leave a comment!


It can be a challenge to organzie groupings and meet everyone's needs in a special education classroom. Here are 3 different types of instruction to get you started.


Incorporate Movement Into Your Schedule For Student Success

Sprinkling movement throughout the school day will help students maintain focus. There is a lot of good research about the increase of behaviors and ADD as more and more movement is cut out of the school day. Here are 3 ideas for adding it back into your schedule without compromising academic times.

Add movement into your school day for better focus and less off task behavior.

1. Look at your schedule

The first thing I do is look at my schedule. I am looking to see what the students are doing each half hour or time block. Are they sitting, switching tables, getting up and moving, etc. I see less behaviors and better focus in my classroom when my students are only in "sitting" groups for an hour total. For example, my direct teaching work centers (30 minutes each) are back to back which means my students have been sitting and working for 60 minutes with only a 3 minute of reinforcement time in the middle. If I follow this hour up with another activity that requires the class to sit and focus, I am guaranteeing myself that I will be dealing with off task behaviors. No thanks!

Instead, I make the next activity something that incorporate movement AND learning. For example, we might work on reading, labeling and spelling with a write the room activity. We do at least 1 write the room activity with every theme throughout the school year.

Practice reading, spelling and labeling with write the room activities.


Another example is when we practice math and gross motor skills. In this picture, students had to get the materials for one side of the room and then put it all together on the other side of the room.

Combine movement and academics for improved focus and decrease off task behavior.

You could do this with almost anything: puzzles, matching, coloring, etc.


2. Add movement into lessons

Once you have looked at your schedule overall, it is time to look for lessons that you could sprinkle in movement. For example, during morning meeting my students have many chances to get up and take turns. Get more details on what this looks like: Morning Meeting In Action and Morning Meeting Update.

Morning meeting is the perfect time to add movement!

Movement can be added in as gross motor (ex: write the room) or as fine motor (playdoh, building, etc.) If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, seek out the OT and PT. They are great resources!!


3. Structured movement times

Another option is to set aside certain times in your schedule for movement. This is time on top of recess. For our class, we have a "walking club" time. During this time the students clip on a pedometer and walk as a group. When we walk outside, we are working on walking fast and going for distance. When we walk inside (due to weather), we are working on walking in a line, hallway behavior, etc. At the end of walking club, the steps or distances are recorded. You can incorporate math by having students graph their steps and try and get more and more. Another class is adding up their steps to get to a destination (Disney). Once they have gotten all of the steps it would take to get to Disney they get a class party. 

I have had teachers tell me that they are worried that movement will cause chaos or rev their students up. Please, please, please don't let this stop you!! I would encourage you to try it out and see how it goes in your class. I have seen movement have HUGE POSITIVE EFFECTS on students' ability to focus, attend and self-regulate. If you are worried about a certain student because of sensory issues, then talk to your OT and see if anything needs to be modified. Try it and let me know how it goes!


Add movement into your school day for better focus and less off task behavior.

Setting Up Your Special Education Classroom

The correct classroom set-up can help your year go smoother.  Make your furniture work for you by arranging it in a way to improve student focus. Here are some ideas on how to arrange your classroom in a way that promotes student focus while reducing behaviors.

The correct classroom set-up can help your year go smoother.  Make your furniture work for you by arranging it in a way to improve student focus. These ideas are especially helpful for special education classrooms, self-contained classrooms and early elementary classrooms.

The first thing I do when thinking of my classroom layout is to make a list of the areas I am going to need. For example, for the way I run my work centers I am going to need 3 separate work spaces. I want my students to be on task and focused during these centers, so I need to arrange the room in a way that limits distractions. To achieve this, I use classroom furniture to separate the work areas.

Use classroom furniture to create barriers between work spaces.


In the above picture, you can see that we used classroom furniture to create a "wall" between the 2 work spaces. For my wall, I used 2 metal cabinets (standing back to back) and 2 filing cabinets. When you create your wall or barrier, it is important to make sure that it can't be pushed over. In special education, we need to account for the possibility that our students could become aggressive.

Position students so they are facing away from the rest of the classroom.

Positioning students so they are facing away from the rest of the classroom is helpful in keeping students on task. Pictured above is the space I use for direct instruction with my students. When students are working with me, they are facing the wall. Better yet.... I am facing the rest of the classroom! This allows the teacher to still monitor the classroom during direct instruction.

Have a way to create temporary walls and limit distractions.

Let's face it, behaviors pop up and can be very distracting to the rest of the class. We need to be ready with a way to cut off attention and get students back on task. I recommend having a temporary divider handy. We made the one pictured above out of a refrigerator box and white duct tape. I like to use boxes because it can be folded up and easily stored behind a cabinet or the door. I also recommend choosing a solid color to cover the cardboard with so your divider isn't visually distracting.


Set up your classroom in a way that promotes on task behavior


Why You Should Be Using Thematic Units

Do your students need a lot of repetition and practice to master skills? Do you have students who need direct instruction in order to generalize their skills? Want to make lesson planning easier? If you answered yes, then thematic units are for you!!

Thematic units are excellent for teaching students to master and generalize skills. They are perfect for immersing students in the vocabulary and concepts.
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