Four Tips for Teaching Special Needs Children in the Mainstream Classroom

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Team Players

There are many different kinds of learners even in the regular education classrooms in our education system. We as educators are always searching for that “just right way” to teach all our students.

Teaching special needs students just takes a little more imagination and a lot more collaboration between teachers, aides and specialists. It is very helpful to make the time to meet together and discuss the student to see what’s working and what isn’t, and that may change from week to week or day to day. So staying on the same page is important.

Breaking Things Down and Checklists

One of the easiest strategies for helping our children is checklists. One of the most stressful times of the day is first thing in the morning. There are coats and hats and mittens to put away and that’s before you even get to the notes for the teachers and the chairs that have to come down.

So the easiest thing for a special needs student is a checklist. You can tape it to their desk and have them check each thing off as they do it. Sometimes this might seem like just another thing for them to remember to do but after they use it for a while it really makes them feel successful and they eventually won’t need it.

It has to be as simple as possible.

1. Take down chair

2. Get notes out for Teacher

3. Put boots by the heater

4. Hang Coat and backpack in your cubby

5. Put hat and gloves on the heater

6. Sit down and put your shoes on and start working for the day.

Try the checklist on its own first. If it doesn’t seem to be working, then there should be a reward system . Maybe 5 minutes on the computer if a student gets all of his/her checks for the week.It might even have to be broken down further.

Just keep at it until the student can complete the tasks without the reward and then without the list.


Timers are a great help for special needs students. Some of the very non-compliant students respond to the visual timers because they can see if the work isn’t finished when the red is gone they lose their recess.These are not as big of a distraction as a regular timer.

One of the ways to help a child with special needs get the work done is to make sure you cut the writing tasks into small parts. You may want to have the student dictate the answers to you and you can write them down if they get stressed by too much writing. If reading is the stress then you might read a page and they read a page. Just the suggestion of not having to read the whole assignment will help.

Sometimes it’s the double task of forming a thought and writing it down that is so overwhelming. The key is always to cut tasks down into smaller pieces. If what you try doesn’t work break it down again.

Take Nothing For Granted

One of the most humbling parts of this job is realizing that we know and understand so much just by our life experience. Our students sometimes can’t read body language, don’t understand literal expressions and don’t have a firm understanding of language in general.

We really can’t take for granted that the special needs child understands what we think they should understand. When they are working in the classroom, have the student repeat the directions and then ask if she understands the directions. Never take for granted that because the language is age appropriate for the regular education students that our students also understand.

Cutting and Pasting

One way to accommodate a special needs child in an inclusion setting is to take the material the other students are learning and modify it. Say the fifth grade has to learn about the planets. They have to know all the planets, the layers of the earth, different landforms, and quite a lot of other information that would be quite overwhelming for our students.

Make a very plain picture of the planets in order of placement in the universe. Then print out the planet names on the computer and have the students cut and paste.

The Beauty Of Inclusion

The greatest aides you have at your disposal are your other students. Most of them are more then happy to include special needs students and to help them in the classroom. This is the wonderful thing about inclusion. It teaches the regular education students kindness and sharing and helps our students feel “included.”