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Teaching Teamwork to Students With Special Needs

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/11/2012

Teamwork is as critical in special education as it is in mainstream education. But to teach some students with special needs to work as a team can be a major challenge for a teacher. This articles gives some tips on encouraging teamwork in a special needs secondary setting.

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    What Is Teamwork?

    Teamwork is the ability to work together with others as a member of a group. Sounds easy, doesn't it? But how many of us struggle to really get along over an extended period with others, whether they are co-workers, sports team members, or members of a learning group or association? Teamwork relies on several key factors:

    • The ability to communicate
    • The ability to work cooperatively
    • A leader or leaders with good team-based skills
    • The ability to listen
    • Group members who are willing to do their share of tasks
    • The ability to solve problems and work toward a common goal
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    Strategies to Teach Teamwork in Special Education

    Teamwork activities that work well in mainstream education may not work as well with special needs learners. For some students, there is not the emotional maturity or the higher-order thinking skills necessary to plan, problem solve and communicate effectively in a team situation. That is often the case for students with an intellectual disability, for example. Learn more about working with students with intellectual disabilities in this Bright Hub Education article.

    Strategies such as the following can work well:

    • A teamwork task that has a teacher or support person as a leader, role modeling leadership skills
    • A special needs learner who is involved in a community-based team activity, with sufficient support from others
    • A mini-team of two or three students, with a small, easily achievable goal to work toward over a short timeframe
    • A team with a written or visual task (such as finding some items hidden in a play area or writing a short story) that has set check points as built-in mini-goals along the way
    • Tasks with small rewards or encouragement opportunities taken at regular intervals

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    Activities to Teach Teamwork

    Some useful activities to build teamwork skills in special education include:

    • Writing out and completing the steps needed for a class barbecue or party
    • Arranging artwork on a display board in the class or school
    • Cooking a cake or some muffins in a small group
    • Printing, stapling and delivering class newsletters
    • Cleaning a room or area for the end of the day
    • Helping another student get organized at the start of a day or activity
    • Planting some vegetables or seedlings in a sensory garden
    • Writing a photo book about a class excursion