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 word work and writing centers. For 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 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 students 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! 
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 shoebox 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 paras 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 students 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 afterward. They just read. And guess what, reading for leisure is a life skill! Many of my students prefer audiobooks 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 Kids+ before, which is a very inexpensive option that has tons of books & audiobooks, and I also love Kindle Unlimited. 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!

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