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Language Arts Rotations in Special Education

When I first started teaching, I used a lot of Direct Instruction reading programs and they just weren't designed for the population I was teaching so I didn't see a lot of results. I needed something more, more hands on, more engaging, with more results. I also wanted to be the one providing the main instruction, instead of my paras or peer tutors, and when everyone was doing one on one D.I. programs for the whole class period, there was no way I could do that. Over the past few years, I've continually added and changed how language arts/reading instruction in my classroom looks and it's been an amazing change!

I use Language Arts rotations to teach reading, writing and spelling in my classroom. To do rotations like this, you will need a large chunk of time. I teach middle school and our class periods are 55 minutes. I do 2 class periods of language arts in order to fit in all of my rotations, 6 rotations at about 20 minutes each. There have been years where I've had less time, and if that's the situation you're in, I would recommend alternating days for rotations so that your students are not doing all 6 rotations on a day instead of cutting the time of your rotations. Here's what my rotations look like.

1. Reading Instruction- teacher led
2. Spelling Instruction- para led
3. Writing Instruction- teacher led
4. Word Work- independent/peer tutor support
5. Writing Center- independent/para/peer tutor support
6. Silent Reading- independent
Here's an idea of what our schedule looks like. You can see that Student 5 & 6 are one-on-one throughout the whole language arts block. I run the reading and writing instruction rotations and my paras run spelling instruction and support during work work and writing centers. Some trimesters, I've split up the Silent Reading block so I could fit in more reading groups, but I prefer to have all students doing Silent Reading at the same time, if possible. Obviously, the more students you have, the more complicated scheduling gets. I like to use post it notes to move everyone around when I'm trying to figure it out!

Let me go into detail about what each rotation looks like.

Reading Instruction: My reading instruction rotation varies depending on the student, their level, and their IEP goals. I like to use a guided reading model as much as possible. I highly recommend this book by Jan Richardson (affiliate link). I group students whenever possible for reading instruction. For curriculum, I use a combination of Reading A to Z, Corrective Reading, and novel studies/reading passages. Again, the program I'm using depends on the student's needs and their IEP goals.

During reading instruction rotations, I also take data on reading goals. For example, if a student has a reading comprehension goal, like determining main idea or answering wh- questions, I'll set aside 1-2 days a week to take a quick probe on their current objective. I use the reading rotation to actually teach the skill needed for the goal. So if I'm using Reading A to Z with a student who has a wh- question IEP goal, part of my instruction will include a review on how to answer each type of wh- question and I will also teach text comprehension strategies during this time.

For my emerging readers, I use lots of adapted books. For student's who are using AAC, I also like to use this time to model language on their system. Sometimes I have students who are working on reading sight words so I use the reading instruction block for sight word instruction. I love using Reading in Real Life for this! Check it out here.
Reading in Real Life Mini Books

Reading in Real Life Units

Spelling Instruction: 
My spelling instruction rotation is almost always run by my paraprofessionals. This is another rotation that I will group students whenever possible. For spelling instruction, I use the program Signs for Sounds. I love this program and highly recommend it! It teaches spelling patterns and rules and doesn't make students memorize a list each week. In addition, it includes a sight word for each week and students take a dictation test for each lesson where they write the words that fit the spelling pattern in sentences. I love this because the generalization is already built in. Signs for Sounds has a great assessment that I give at the beginning of the year. For my students who may not be learning to spell or ready for phonics based instruction, I use a functional spelling program from School Bells n Whistles.

Functional Spelling by School Bells n' Whistles

Signs for Sounds Spelling

Writing Instruction:
Writing instruction is one of the only times I do whole class instruction in my classroom. We do writing in a week long format. It usually starts with a mini lesson & group brainstorming on Day 1, modeling on Day 2, students actually writing on Day 3, editing and expanding on Day 4 and sharing our writing on Day 5. I have a blog post coming soon with more details about how I incorporate writing instruction into my classroom!

Word Work: Working independently is one of my main goals for all of my students. A word work rotation is a great time to practice independent work skills. I have a shoe box bin for each student and this is their designated word work bin. They are responsible for going and getting it off the shelf and completing the activities inside of it. Each student's bin has enough work for the whole week and every Friday, one of my para's reset the boxes and put in new work for the next week. In each word work bin, I include activities that align with the student's previously mastered skills. Over the years I have collected tons of center & work task activities so it's super easy to pull different things and throw them in. I like to include a phonics task, a sight words task and a reading comprehension task.
Word Work Storage

Here are some of my favorites from TpT:
The Designer Teacher Phonics Centers by Design 
Miss Lulu Work Tasks for Secondary Students: Alphabet & Phonics
Tara West Literacy & Math Centers
Tara West Endless Mega Bundles
Especially Education Hands on CVC Bundle
Jodi Sutherland Comprehension Notebook
Language Arts Morning Work
Mrs. D's Corner Adapted Books

Writing Center: The writing center rotation is another time that student's work on independent task completion. They each have a writing folder and during the writing center rotation, they complete a writing activity or prompt. This is a time to practice writing, not teach new skills.

I use these activities from TpT for Writing Centers:
Miss Lulu Errorless Sentence Helpers
Breezy Special Ed Differentiated Journals
Tara West Writing Centers
You Aut-A Know Paragraph Writing Journals

Writing Center Area

Silent Reading:
 This is one of the best things I've ever implemented in my classroom, no joke. I wish I had started it my first year. During this rotation, students just read. They can read whatever they want, where ever they want, and they have no assignment or expectation afterwards. They just read. And guess what, reading for leisure is a life skill! Many of my students prefer audio books so they will listen to a book during this time. Some students read chapter books, some students read picture books, sometimes students grab adapted books. I don't care what or how they read as long as they are reading something. My paraprofessionals support my students who are non-readers during this time. We also love to use Epic, which is a free app that has tons of books. I've also paid for Amazon Free Time before, which is a very inexpensive option that has tons of books & audio books. For 20 minutes each day, students are engaged in reading something that is interesting to them. Another important part of this rotation is that the teachers are also reading. It's important to model to students so whatever adults in the room that are not supporting students are reading their own book.

Starting up a system like this can seem overwhelming, and it definitely can be at first. It takes time to teach students how to rotate and what to do during each rotation. I've done 2 back to back class periods for this before but I've also made it work by using one class period in the morning and one in the afternoon. Another important thing to remember is that each student doesn't have to go to the rotations in the same order or at the same time. Arrange the schedule so that it works for you. Change it if you need to. Use visual schedules for your students to help them understand where to be and what to be doing. Questions? I'd love to help! Leave a comment or shoot me an email!




Rainbow Classroom Theme: Inspiration & Decor

Bright & colorful, a rainbow theme is always a fun way to decorate your classroom, especially if you're a primary or early elementary teacher. If you're thinking about setting up & decorating your classroom in a rainbow theme, here are some of my favorite accents & decor items, available on Amazon! This post contains affiliate links.
rainbow classroom theme items for elementary teachers, including rainbow drawer cart, rainbow sticky notes, rainbow classroom doormat, rainbow supply caddies and rainbow clock

Work Tasks for Secondary Students

Hi friends! I'm excited to share my newest bundle with you- Work Tasks for Secondary Students. This new line has been a work in progress for the last year and I've finally finished the first 5 sets! Here's a close up of what's included and some tips to put it to use it in your classroom. 

Functional Writing in the Life Skills Classroom

Writing is one of my favorite subjects to teach! Our students need to be able to write to function independently. Functional writing is something that we work on throughout the entire school year. Here are some of the skills I work on with my middle school students.


Varying Instructional Tasks & Activities

When I first started teaching, I used a lot of boring and repetitive instructional methods. They worked fine, but my students really struggled to generalize the skill that they had learned. Over the past few years, I’ve really worked on increasing the types of tasks and activities that I use to teach my students a given skill. By varying my instructional methods, not only are my students doing so much better with generalization but it’s so much more fun. They are more motivated to learn. And with middle schoolers, I need all the help I can get to get students excited about learning! Here are some of my favorite ways to vary instruction in the classroom.

1. Task cards. I love task cards and you can find task cards for pretty much any subject area on TpT. There’s just something students love about using a dry erase marker or clothespins to do their work! I don’t generally use recording sheets in my classroom because I have a small number of students and enough staff to check answers as they work, but you can easily have students record their answers if you are using task cards for independent work. I especially love using task cards for math centers. You can check out the task card sets available in my store here.

2. File folders are another thing that you can easily find on TpT. I use lots of matching and sorting file folders in my classroom for students who are working on these skills. They are a quick task. The take more time upfront to prep, but you can use them for years and years.

3. Write the Room is another fun activity that we’ve been using for math review this year. You just tape numbered flash cards up around your room and your students walk around and write the answer on their record sheet. If you have enough assistance in your classroom, your non writers could walk around and verbally state their answers to a para or peer tutor. Great way to incorporate some movement into your instruction.
 

4. Games are my favorite. Everybody responds better to a game than a worksheet! You can easily make board games like Sorry or Trouble academic by requiring that students answer a question or complete a task before moving their piece. For example, if your students are working on addition facts, they have to solve an equation before they can roll and move their piece. It's an easy activity that requires no prep from you- just grab a stack of flash cards and a board game that you already have in your classroom. I also use these Uno type card games quite often with my students. They love them! We also have a blast turning instruction into a game show! Grab a buzzer and a whiteboard to keep track of points and you’ve got an easy and fun review activity.
5. Another fun way to switch up instruction is to allow your students to to teach the skill or be the teacher. You should obviously only do this once the student is close to Mastery s they aren’t teaching it incorrectly. We love to do this for spelling. The student calls out the word and students practice writing it correctly on their whiteboard. Then the student “teacher” checks everyone’s answers and corrects any mistakes.

6. Interactive methods. With technology becoming more and more available in our schools, it’s fun to incorporate it into your instruction and it’s super motivating. I love using my Click It books or having my students read on the free app, Epic. There’s lots of digital activities available on TpT. You can grab a free counting activity from my store by clicking here. If you have iPads, there are so many apps out there that help reinforce a variety of skills. Technology is a great way to keep your students engaged!

I think it’s so important that we think outside of the box when we are coming up with ways to reach our students. Learning needs to be fun and skills that are presented in a variety of ways will help build in generalization from the beginning. What are your favorite ways to provide variety in your instruction?



Reading Comprehension for Students with Severe Disabilities

Reading is one of the most functional skills we can teach our students. The world is a print rich environment and we need our students to be able to function in it. The ultimate end-goal for reading is comprehension. I love this quote from The Center for Literacy and Disability Studies-

Creating a Pacing Guide & Curriculum Map

Let's talk about yearly planning. These days, most special education teachers have required standards that they must teach from. If you must teach from standards, then you absolutely have to be intentional in planning how and when to teach each standard. Creating a pacing guide/curriculum map will help you plan out your year and ensure that you are covering the standards. It gives you a sequence and a clear outline for what you will be teaching. It's not in stone, so of course, you can change and adapt as needed. Here are the steps I follow when creating my pacing guide.

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