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Adapting Materials and Strategies for Special Needs Students
 
 

by Kathleen L. Bulloch, MA, CCC
Speech/Language Pathologist

 

Teachers are often directed to modify instruction to accommodate special needs students. The following article takes the mystery out of adapting materials and strategies for curriculum areas: receptive language, expressive language, reading, writing, and spelling. All students will benefit from the following "good teaching practices."

If the student has difficulty learning by listening, then try

Before the lesson,

  • pre-teaching difficult vocabulary and concepts;
  • stating the objective-providing a reason for listening;
  • teaching the mental activities involved in listening-mental "note taking," questioning, reviewing;
  • providing study guides/worksheets;
  • providing script of film; and
  • providing lecture outlines.

    During the lesson,

  • providing visuals via the board or overhead;
  • using flash cards;
  • having the student close his eyes and try to visualize the information;
  • having the student take notes and use colored markers to highlight;
  • teaching the use of acronyms to help visualize lists (Roy G. Biv for the colors of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet);
  • giving explanations in small, distinct steps;
  • providing written as well as oral directions;
  • having the student repeat directions;
  • when giving directions to the class, leaving a pause between each step so student can carry out the process in his mind;
  • shortening the listening time required;
  • providing written and manipulative tasks; and
  • being concise with verbal information: "Jane, please sit." instead of "Jane, would you please sit down in your chair."

If the student has difficulty expressing himself verbally, then try

  • accepting an alternate form of information sharing, such as the following: written report,
    artistic creation,
    exhibit or showcase,
    chart, graph, or table,
    photo essay,
    map,
    review of films,
    charade or pantomime,
    demonstration,
    filmstrip or sound filmstrip, or
    taped report;
  • asking questions requiring short answers;
  • providing a prompt, such as beginning the sentence for the student or giving a picture cue;
  • giving the rules for class discussion (e.g., hand raising);
  • giving points for oral contributions and preparing the student individually;
  • teaching the student to ask questions in class;
  • specifically teaching body and language expression;
  • waiting for students to respond-don't call on the first student to raise his hand;
  • first asking questions at the information level-giving facts and asking for facts back; and having the student "break in gradually" by speaking in smaller groups and then in larger groups.

If the student has difficulty reading written material, then try

  • finding a text written at lower level;
  • providing highlighted material;
  • rewriting the student's text;
  • taping the student's text;
  • allowing a peer or parent to read text aloud to student;
  • shortening the amount of required reading;
  • looking for same content in another medium (movie, filmstrip, tape);
  • providing alternative methods for student to contribute to the group, such as role playing or dramatizing (oral reading should be optional);
  • allowing extra time for reading;
  • omitting or shortening the reading required;
  • substituting one-page summaries or study guides which identify key ideas and terms as the reading assignment;
  • motivating the student, interesting him;
  • providing questions before student reads a selection (include page and paragraph numbers);
  • putting the main ideas of the text on index cards which can easily be organized in a file box and divided by chapters; pre-teaching vocabulary;
  • typing material for easier reading;
  • using larger type;
  • being more concrete-using pictures and manipulatives;
  • reducing the amount of new ideas;
  • providing experience before and after reading as a frame of reference for new concepts;
  • stating the objective and relating it to previous experiences; and helping the student visualize what is read.

If the student has difficulty writing legibly, then try

  • using a format requiring little writing: multiple-choice,
    programmed material,
    true/false, or
    matching.
  • using manipulatives such as letters from a Scrabble® game or writing letters on small ceramic tiles;
  • reducing or omitting assignments requiring copying;
  • encouraging shared note-taking;
  • allowing the use of a tape recorder, a typewriter, or a computer;
  • teaching writing directly; tracing letters or writing in clay,
    verbalizing strokes on tape recorder,
    using a marker to space between words,
    taping the alphabet to student's desk or providing a
    wallet-size alphabet card, or
    providing courses in graph analysis
    or calligraphy as a motivator;
  • using graph paper to help space letters and numbers in math; and using manuscript or lined ditto paper as a motivation technique (brainstorm the advantages of legibility with class).

If the student has difficulty expressing himself in writing, then try

  • accepting alternate forms of reports:
    oral reports,
    tape-recorded report,
    tape of an interview,
    collage, cartoon, or other art,
    maps,
    diorama, 3-D materials, showcase exhibits,
    photographic essay,
    panel discussion,
    mock debate, or
    review of films and presentation of an appropriate one to the class;
  • having the student dictate work to someone else (an older student, aide, or friend) and then copy it himself;
  • allowing more time;
  • shortening the written assignment (preparing an outline or summary);
  • providing a sample of what the finished paper should look like to help him organize the parts of the assignment; and providing practice using: story starters,
    open-ended stories, or
    oral responses (try some oral spelling tests).

If the student has difficulty spelling, then try

  • dictating the work and then asking the student to repeat it (saying it in sequence may eliminate errors of omitted syllables);
  • avoiding traditional spelling lists (determine lists from social needs and school area needs);
  • using mnemonic devices ("A is the first capital letter," "The capitol building has a dome");
  • teaching short, easy words in context: on and on,
    right on!, or
    on account of.
  • having students make flashcards and highlight the difficult spots on the word;
  • giving a recognition level spelling test (asking the student to circle correct word from three or four choices);
  • teaching words by spelling patterns (teach "cake," "bake," "take," etc. in one lesson);
  • using the Language Master for drill;
  • avoiding penalizing for spelling errors;
  • hanging words from the ceiling during study time or posting them on the board or wall as constant visual cues; and
  • providing a tactile/kinesthetic aid for spelling (sandpaper letters to trace or a box filled with salt or cereal to write in).
 
 
©2003 Kathleen L. Bulloch
 
 
About the Author: Kathleen L. Bulloch was a Speech/Language Pathologist for the Riverside County Office of Education in Riverside, California and an Educational Consultant/Scriptwriter for a children's television series. Portions of this article were adapted from The Mystery of Modifying: Creative Solutions.
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