Teaching Writing to Developmentally Disabled Students Using Scribes, Technology, and Co-Writing

Page content

Using a Scribe

One method of teaching writing to developmentally disabled students is to use a “scribe.” The scribe can be a student in their class who does not have developmental delays, a parent, a teacher, or a paraprofessional. A scribe works for students who can communicate orally their ideas but have difficulty physically writing their ideas down.

For example, if you are working on writing a simple paragraph with a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a conclusion with a student who is 10 years old and developmentally disabled, he understands what needs to go in the paragraph. He can pick a topic he is interested in, and he can create the sentences in his head. He can speak them to the scribe, and the scribe can write them down. The student can either read the sentences out loud then to revise and edit or the scribe can. The student has “written” a solid paragraph in spite of any developmental delays.

Two modifications of this idea are for students to use a computer if they are able to type but can’t hold a pencil OR for students to use a tape recorder for their ideas. Some school districts may be able to afford voice-activated software, which will also work.

Co-writing with Students

Another method for teaching writing to developmentally disabled students is to work as a co-writer with students. This method would work for students who have trouble stringing together ideas to form a complete sentence or a cohesive paragraph. Depending on the ability of your students, you could co-write in the following ways. All of these ways are teaching students about writing a complete paragraph on one topic with a topic sentence, supporting details, and a conclusion sentence. You can modify the idea to work for your writing unit.

  • The student picks the topic such as garter snakes. The teacher creates the topic and the conclusion sentence of the paragraph. The student supplies the three supporting sentences.
  • The teacher writes the entire paragraph but leaves out keywords here or there such as leaving out the words garter snakes in the first paragraph. So, the first sentences might look like this to the student: ______________ _______________ are beneficial for your garden. They eat _________________, _____________________, and _________________________. With this example, the sentence structures are set for the student, and the student can fill in the blanks.
  • The student writes a paragraph almost exactly like the teacher’s sample paragraph but changes words to fit his or her subject. For example, the teacher writes a paragraph about receiving gifts at Christmas, and the student writes a paragraph about receiving gifts on his birthday. His paragraph would be similar to the teacher’s but would have some substitutions for his subject.

An important point to remember when teaching writing to developmentally disabled students is to allow them to come up with their own ideas for topics if possible and to supply plenty of modeling for support. It is also not as important for students to physically write down their ideas as it is for them to understand writing structures and be able to communicate ideas.