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    Wednesday, November 1, 2023

    The Science of Reading in the Special Education Classroom

    Last year I read a book that changed my entire outlook on teaching teaching to my students with significant disabilities and complex needs. Comprehensive Literacy for All: Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write by Karen Erickson Ph.D and David Koppenhaver Ph.D. is a MUST-READ for teachers in the self-contained classroom! It provides Science of Reading research specific to our students with significant disabilities and provides some practical guidance. 

    However, when I was finished reading, I struggled with knowing what literacy materials would work best for applying what I had learned. 

    So I got to work creating some! And that is how my Differentiated Phonological Awareness Visual Supports for Elementary or SpEd and Letter of the Day Science of Reading Lessons and Visual Supports for Special Ed were born! 

    Differentiated Phonological Awareness Visual Supports for Elementary

    Phonological Awareness activities are often very auditory-focused. For my learners, this is often the most challenging learning modality. Therefore, I wanted to create visual supports for each skill that could be easily differentiated across a variety of learners.  

    The skills I addressed included: 

    It was also important to me to make visual supports that could be modified to be used across a variety of learning activities to increase engagement and build student independence. This was also key to differentiation. 

    Task Cards

    Cut and Paste Worksheets


    File Folders

    Letter Tile Cards

    Paper-Pencil Worksheets

    Dry Erase Mats

    Letter of the Day Science of Reading Lessons and Visual Supports for Special Ed

    Comprehensive Literacy for All taught me the importance of daily alphabet instruction. I wanted to create materials for this instruction that had a similar format for daily instruction each day so that students could focus on learning the content (and not concurrently trying to learn the activity expectations!). 

    Based on the research from the book, I developed a daily lesson framework and lesson plans to accompany my materials:

    1. Alphabet Song

    • Provide students with the alphabet song visual support.
    • Play or sing the Alphabet Song while students track each letter with their finger.

    2. Enhanced Alphabet Knowledge
    • Provide each student with the EAK worksheet.
    • Follow the included EAK script adapted from Comprehensive Literacy for All

    3. Letter Matching
    • Provide student with letter sheet and manipulatives based on their level:
      • Identical capital letter matching
      • Lowercase letter matching
      • Match pictures with beginning sound

    4. Letter Picture Book
    • Read aloud the book from the provided picture book list.

    5. Letter Book Worksheet

    • During or after reading, give students the letter worksheet to color or draw.

    Ready to get started with the Science of Reading in your special education classroom? Check out the resources I created in my TPT store!

    Monday, October 30, 2023

    Celebrating Thanksgiving in the Special Education Classroom

    The holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year outside and inside of the classroom! My students and I always have so much fun celebrating the holidays. And the first holiday to kick things off will be here before we know it! Keep reading to learn more about how I celebrate Thanksgiving in my special education classroom.

    ELA Ideas

    • Each November, I introduce our Thanksgiving vocabulary words which we will use throughout the month during various activities and stories. 

    • A big vocabulary concept we focus on at this time is the idea of past and present we typically do the accompanying unit from Unique Learning System and supplement with other fun stories and activities including this sorting activity.

    After we read the story together several times throughout the week, we like to watch it on YouTube as well. This can be a great independent activity for students during centers time. I will set them up on their Chromebook (or an iPad with guided access 😉) and also provide the picture-based communication board from when we read as a group. 

    Social Group Ideas

    • The absolute highlight of our Thanksgiving unit is our classroom Thanksgiving Feast. It is such a fun tradition and we love to invite staff throughout the school to stop by during their lunch period to join the fun. 
    • During the Thanksgiving feast, each student practices asking peers or staff to pass the different foods using this picture-supported script. 

    • After the feast, all of the students fill out a taste test rating each of the foods they tried. We send it home that evening and my parents have really appreciated having this little "cheatsheet" for their family Thanksgiving dinner, especially for our picky eaters who sometimes surprise us by trying new things after participating in the preparation and getting excited about their peers trying new things too. 

    Math Ideas

    • Before the feast, we talk a lot about buying the foods we will need. Some years we have checked ads and on one rare occasion we actually took a class field trip to the grocery store to buy our feast foods! It was kinda stressful but kind of great at the same time... as many things can be in our classroom!
    • To go along with the idea of shopping for our feast foods, I have a fun menu math activity that I made for students. 

    • What better tool for teaching fractions than a pie?! I admit it can be messy but messy is memorable! Some years we baked a pie during cooking and then used it to talk about fractions. In other years we bought mini-pies. And one year a VERY sweet para baked mini-pies for every student so they could each have their own. 

    • I created another follow-up activity to assess their fraction knowledge.

    Cooking & Craft Ideas

    • We try to make as much of our Thanksgiving feast as possible at school. Aside from the turkey. We tend to outsource for that! 
    • The kids have a blast making these turkey cupcakes for dessert!

    • They also have so much fun when we make "Pilgrim ink" with charcoal during our concept study about the past. They think writing with feathers is the funniest thing ever. 

    These recipes can be found in my Thanksgiving Thematic Unit or my Visual Recipes for the Entire Year resource. 

    Interested in these activities and more? Grab my Thanksgiving Thematic Unit in my TPT store!

    In addition to cross-curricular, interactive lesson materials, each of my thematic units include:
    • Set-Up Instructions
    • Implementation Tips for Whole/Small Group, 1:1, and independent work times for each activity
    • Differentiation Tips for Accommodating and Extending each activity to meet student needs

    Sunday, October 8, 2023

    Top 5 Tips for Carving a Pumpkin in the Special Education Classroom

    Pumpkin carving is one of my favorite Halloween activities in my classroom but it definitely takes some planning! Here are my Top 5 Tips for Carving a Pumpkin in the Special Education Classroom. 

    Tip #1: Consider Sensory Needs
    Sometimes a student may not be comfortable touching the pumpkin guts so you can allow them to use gloves or even put some in a ziploc baggy to let them explore in a less overwhelming way. Sometimes I had students who would absolutely gag at the sight of the pumpkin guts. I allowed them to do something else during that time like painting pumpkins or using stickers. This activity is not worth that much distress! 

    Tip #2: Use Visual Supports
    We started by watching a video or reading a story about carving a pumpkin to preview the activity. Then, students completed this sequencing activity from my Halloween Thematic Unit to provide us with a visual step-by-step guides with clear pictures and text to help students understand the carving process. 

    Tip #3: Allow Students to Design The Pumpkin
    Give students the opportunity to express their creativity by designing their own pumpkin faces or patterns. My students with strong fine motor or drawing skills would draw their own pumpkin faces while my students who needed more support would use the Pick A Pumpkin activity from

    After all of the designs were completed, we would take a class vote on which one we wanted to use. We definitely had some unique (and adorable) finished products over the years!

    Tip #4: Make Clean Up Easier
    Use newspaper or a vinyl tablecloth to project your table (and maybe your floor!) from the pumpkin guts. They can stick and stain! 

    We also use sharpie to draw the face on the pumpkin and can easily remove any extra residue after carving with some acetone or hand sanitizer! 

    Tip #5: Take a class picture!
    These are some of my most treasured classroom pictures because of all the memories they hold!

    For more fun Halloween and fall activities for your special education classroom, check out my previous blog post:

    Sunday, October 1, 2023

    Picture Book Communication and Comprehension Supports in the Special Education Classroom

    In my classroom, I used Unique Learning System for a majority of my curriculum. However, I found that I often wanted to supplement the stories with rich, authentic picture books. So my Picture Book Communication and Comprehension Supports units were born! 

    Not familiar with my picture book supports? They include:

    Communication Supports

    • Vocabulary Cards: to teach and assess targeted vocabulary (can also be used to create interactive games!)

    • Communication Board: to generate sentences about the story verbally or through velcro manipulatives
    • GoTalk 9+ AAC Board: formatted for use with GoTalk 9+

    Comprehension Supports

    • Differentiated Wh-Question Assessments: 3 leveled assessments (multiple choice pictures, multiple choice words/phrases, fill-in) for answering who, what, where, when, and why questions about the story.

    • Fill-in-the-Blank Sentences Worksheet: Cut-and-paste cloze sentences with picture choice options

    • Sequencing Worksheet: Picture-based cut-and-paste sequencing of story events

    IEP Supports

      • IEP Goal Ideas
        • Communication IEP Goal Ideas: for vocabulary and sentence-building goals
        • Comprehension Goal Ideas: for wh-questions, writing, sequencing, and higher-order thinking

      • Progress Monitoring:
        • Higher-Order Thinking Progress Monitoring: for recalling story elements (characters, setting, and events) and answering inferential and evaluative questions about the story 
        • Vocabulary Progress Monitoring Sheet: for receptive and expressive identification of story vocabulary and generalization
        • Sentence Building Progress Monitoring Sheet: for assessing sentence generation
        • Unit Report Card: Convenient data collection sheet for all unit activities to be used for grading and sharing with families

      • Implementation and Differentiation Tips: Do you have a diverse group of students this year? Don't worry! I have that covered too. Every activity in each of my picture book units includes ideas for accommodating and extending to meet your students' needs.

      Interested in implementing these Picture Book Communication and Comprehension Supports in your preschool, elementary, or special education classroom? Grab my BUNDLE and save 20%!

      The bundle includes 14 popular classroom favorites which integrate perfectly into thematic instruction. Don't have all of these books? No worries! You can use versions on YouTube, check them out from your school library, or head to your local library to see if they have a teacher program. In some locations the librarians will even gather the books for you! 

      The bundle also includes lesson plans that map out the year at a glance and provide guidance on monthly and/or weekly implementation of each unit. 

      What is your favorite picture book to read in your classroom? Don't see it on this list? Send me an email and I can add it to my list of future units!