Working with Students of All Abilities

Addressing the individual needs of all students in a classroom can be challenging. However, here are some tips and techniques for to ensure all students follow along with the lesson.  

In this blog post you will find the following:

  • Case studies from community partners
  • Tips for teaching students with disabilities
  • Tips for teaching blind and low vision students


Case Studies

Between Friends

Between Friends is a nonprofit agency dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence and building a community free of abuse. Between Friends offers a number of multi-session programs focused on preventing dating violence and promoting healthy relationships.

Preparing and working with this specific population wasn’t much different than how we approach other classrooms. Having the support of teachers and staff who have built a relationship with the youth given their regular interactions was an immense help.

Assessing need

The needs and challenges varied from student to student. So we had to take the time to asses needs. One method was by observing the students during their warm up activities with their teachers. How did their teachers give instructions, express expectations, and make announcements? How many times would they repeat key information? How were the students responding or promoted to respond? And most importantly, how did that change from student to student? These things are important to mirror, while still incorporating our personalities and facilitation style.

Teaching techniques: Exercises and role playing

A lot of our program calls for students to imagine situations we have experienced or could potentially experience. Because of this, we would do improvisation exercises and roleplaying, rather than simply asking students to imagine it, this helped them grasps the concepts and practice important relationship skills. 

We used check ins/ice breakers to gauge how the various students engaged. These observations would inform how we shaped activities, delivered instructions, checked for understanding, and planned for upcoming sessions. We often would either pose a question, or present the take away of new learning, then have students discuss in smaller groups. 

Checking for understanding

For scripted role plays, we broke the (information) into chunks and paused to check for understanding. “What’s happened so far? What’s the conflict? What was that comment so and so made” as opposed to asking what happened after the entire script.

[Overall, we use] things like clear and simple instructions, checking for understanding, engaging different learning styles (large group discussions, pair sharing, written responses, role playing). We took advantage of the number of adults in the room (facilitators, teachers, aids) to help facilitate small group conversations.

Imagination Theater

Imagination Theater provides diverse audiences with original, dynamic, participatory theatrical programming that enhances well-being and creates a more civil, safe society. No Secrets is Imagination Theater’s performance that teaches personal body safety and sexual abuse prevention. The show is a safe, fun, and interactive way to help children distinguish between a safe touch and an unsafe touch, and teaches them what to do if they ever get the “uh-oh” feeling.

All of Imagination Theater’s assemblies are highly interactive, bringing students up on stage to replace actors and role-play positive responses to difficult situations.

When working with students with special needs it is important first and foremost to recognize that the needs of one student are not necessarily the needs of another. There isn’t a formula that can be applied en mass. A successful program requires preparation, patience, and flexibility.

Assessing need

Prior to bringing one of our programs to a school, we work with school contacts to discuss the needs of the students as well as the potential challenges of a performance. Sometimes conversations result in a customized script, but more often it results in modifications to the facilitation of specific scenes.

Teaching techniques

Some of the adjustments facilitators often make include the following:

  • Incorporating multiple forms of communication (ie: combining clear body language with verbal language or the use of signs or pictures)
  • Providing volunteers with structured responses (ie:  “I feel ____ when you tease me”) and then coaching them through each portion.
  • Repetition (we will regularly emphasize key points multiple times, not just during the most applicable scenes but also at the top and bottom of a program.)
  • Example (our actors might show the volunteers what they can do, prior to bringing them up on stage to try it themselves.)

Tips for Teaching Students with Disabilities

Students with Disabilities1

Tips for Teaching Blind and Low Vision Students 

Provided by the Blind Service Association

Helpful Tips for Teaching Blind Students

  1. Always introduce yourself to the student. Do not assume they can recognize your voice.
  2. Prepare written materials, i.e. assignments, reading material, notes from the board, in an accessible format. This includes Braille, audio recording, or a digital document compatible with a screen reader.
  3. Blind students rely on aural learning skills, but it is important to provide a variety of learning techniques. For example, a student can perform simple mathematics with blocks.
  4. Orient the student with the classroom by walking them around and allowing for independent exploration.

Helpful Tips for Teaching Low Vision Students

  1. Provide large print text for the student. In addition, bold text with high contrast can make it easy to read.
  2. Make sure the student has adequate lighting.
  3. Allow the student extra time on tests.
  4. Provide the student a seat at the front of the room and permission to freely go up to the board to copy any material.
  5. Allow student to record class discussion/lectures. Give the student the option to record their own assignments as an alternative to writing them out. (This can be beneficial to blind students, too.)
  6. Encourage the student to use adaptive equipment, i.e. white cane, closed circuit TV, magnifier, etc., around school and in the classroom.

Testing Accommodations

It is the time of year when many students will be taking the ACT, SAT, and other standardized tests. Blind Service Association wants to remind you to take advantage of all the testing accommodations available for blind and visually impaired students. The ADA allows for the below accommodations, but always ask for any additional accessibility you need.

  1. Braille or large-print exam booklets;
  2. Screen reading technology
  3. Scribes to transfer answers to Scantron bubble sheets or record dictated notes and essays
  4. Extended time
  5. Wheelchair-accessible testing stations
  6. Distraction-free rooms
  7. Physical prompts (such as for individuals with hearing impairments)
  8. Permission to bring and take medications during the exam (for example, for individuals with diabetes who must monitor their blood sugar and administer insulin)
  9. In addition, be sure the testing room has adequate light and the testing booklet and answer sheet have a high contrast.

Here is a link for more information from the ADA on testing accommodations:


Thank you to Between Friends and Imagination Theater for their contributions to this blog post.


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