Teaching Methods for Students with Special Needs

Listed below are a few strategies that have been known to work with learners.


All students are unique in their ability to receive and process information. It would be fair to state that, with regard to teaching methodologies; there is no ‘one size fits all’. This is particularly true for children with unique learning needs.

A variety of strategies helps to channel the flow of the class in a constructive direction. Students battle various challenges on a daily basis – not all of them being academic in nature. The first step to learning is creating readiness to receive information. Listed below are a few strategies that have been known to work with learners.

Rapport building: If teaching were equated with a body, this would constitute the heart. In my experience, there have been numerous instances where teachers created the fanciest teaching – learning aids, the most elaborate lesson plans, but nothing seemed to entice the learners. The problem? Not enough time was dedicated to developing a bond of trust and unconditional acceptance between teacher and pupil. This is a vital step that educators often undermine, when it forms the fundamental basis of any learning. Once students feel heard and understood, not judged and criticized, they will be unafraid of information and even go on to surprise us with the vast bank of knowledge they possess.


Thematic linking: Here, a single theme is tied into multiple subject areas, so that they are no longer regarded as discrete subjects. This method of teaching is very effective in special education classrooms. Anything could constitute a “theme”. For example, in our school, one of the themes we use is ‘World Studies’, where poems by international poets are included in English, Science includes adaptation in plants found in certain countries; while Social Studies covers the climate and natural resources found in those very places. This helps to tie together the matter and allows room for application across subjects.

Multi – sensorial approach: Whether it is the language arts, social sciences or mathematics, engaging all the senses activates learners with diverse modalities. A visual learner would switch off mentally after a certain amount of lecturing, whereas an auditory learner would require more than just text or diagrams. There are also students with low vision, hearing impairment, ADHD, etc. Therefore, relying on one sensory approach to teaching would deprive them of capitalizing on their preferred modality. Teaching about soil? Have them pot a plant or bring in samples or various kinds of soil. Is ‘directions’ a part of the unit? Concretize it by having them create a map of a place they are familiar with, for instance, their homes or school, and relate the various elements (the kitchen is to the ____ of the bedroom). This could be followed up with an actual walk to weave in the kinaesthetic element. The more sensory modalities involved, the higher the chances of retention.

Mnemonics and graphic organizers: Students with learning difficulties struggle with memory. Mnemonic devices such as acronyms and acrostics help aid retention of multiple points, particularly where sequence matters. 

An acronym is a word(s) formed by using the first letter(s) of the items you want to remember. For example, a popular acronym for the colours of the rainbow— violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red —is VIBGYOR

An acrostic is a mnemonic device that takes the first letter of each item you want to remember and uses them to make a new, memorable sentence or phrase. E.g. an acrostic to remember the planets is: My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Noodles

Similarly, graphic organizers such as web diagrams present the matter in a visually appealing form, reducing the pressure of content and helping students to sift out relevant details, often by colour coding or highlighting. 

Project – based teaching: This method has often proven effective as it allows students to move beyond the borders of the books and conduct research and present the same in a medium of their choice. For students with dyslexia and dysgraphia, there is often a disconnect between the content they know and written output. These students, who often have more sound oral expression, are provided with the opportunity to express themselves in a way they are comfortable with. Other students are invited to pose questions, which then proceeds to more in-depth discussion and consequent learning. 

Lastly, it is vital for us as educators to seek feedback of our methods of content delivery. This dialogue shows the students that they have the power to suggest what methodologies work for them and what could be done to enhance the quality of teaching and learning. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

Tags assigned to this article:

Around The World

Our Publications