TIES Lessons for All: 5-15-45

Inclusive Strategies


Inclusive strategies support all students to engage in robust, meaningful learning in the same setting. They support us to reduce barriers in the design of our lessons so that all students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities, can be included in a lesson from the start.

This site provides strategies to spark ideas to design your lesson. To select strategies:

  • Clarify the goal of your standards based lesson.
  • Brainstorm barriers in the environment, instruction, or materials that might prevent a student from fully engaging, understanding, or participating in the lesson. You can use the UDL Guidelines as a tool to help.
  • Incorporate one or more of these inclusive strategies into the lesson to support students to achieve the goal.
  • Gather feedback from students on how the tools and resources support their learning.

Table of Contents

Spark student engagement

Support student interest, effort, and motivation in learning.

Recruit interest in the lesson

For example,

  • Connect the content to areas of high interest for students. To learn more about students, try peer interviews or KWL charts (External site) or create student profiles
  • Incorporate multiple cultural backgrounds and diverse representations of role models in the media, materials, and classroom resources.
  • Make connections across disciplines and lessons.
  • Provide opportunities for students to connect with family or community members about what they are learning. For example, try fostering a literacy rich environment
  • Use technology or tools students are interested in using, such as smartphone apps, raps, music, drama, art, etc.

Provide choice to get to the learning goal

For example,

  • Provide goal-directed choices for students to select. For example, try choice boards, such as this Braille code board . If a choice isn’t working, provide opportunities for students to change to another choice.
  • Offer open-ended choices for students to select books, topics, or ideas they are interested in learning about.
  • Celebrate the different pathways students use to achieve their learning goals.
  • Recognizing choice can be overwhelming, so provide ways to limit the choice or to help students make decisions .
  • Encourage students to take risks and try new ways to learn.
  • Offer opportunities for students to reflect on their learning choices. For example, try exit tickets, journaling, experience books (External site) , turn and talk, or one-on-one conversations.

Invite ownership over the learning process

For example,

  • Encourage students to set their own learning goals and pathways so they become more autonomous in their learning. Celebrate different pathways to achieve success and be sure there is not a “hidden right” choice.
  • Empower students to make a plan and check progress. Try the Self-determined learning model of instruction (External site) .
  • Work with students to understand rubrics or checklists to help monitor what they need to work on next.
  • Develop a resource area where supplies and tools are available that students can choose to use, such as calculators, assistive technologies, graphic organizers, and digital recorders.
  • Model how to abandon plans that may not be working and find a new way to productively learn.

Support motivation and persistence through challenges

For example,

  • Provide frequent, formative feedback that provides students with clear suggestions of what they did well and what they could improve.
  • Offer resources to meet the demands of the task. For example, try sharing worked examples, think alouds, or models to explain complex ideas.
  • Foster student collaboration so students can help each other through the learning process.
  • Incorporate opportunities for active participation, exploration, and experimentation. For example, try manipulatives or hands-on opportunities.
  • Teach how to take mindfulness or movement breaks. Offer opportunities to take these breaks as needed.
  • Highlight clear success criteria so students can provide peers with feedback and track progress as they work.

Offer flexibility in the social demands

For example,

  • Provide opportunities to work independently or collaboratively - when the lesson goal is not to build collaboration skills.
  • Tap into peer relationships to motivate and engage students. For example, try using peer support plans, clock buddies, reciprocal teaching, turn and talks, or think pair share.
  • Explicitly teach peer collaboration skills. For example, try co-constructing group norms and group roles. Include templates and sentence starters to support collaboration.
  • Use social stories to help students understand the roles in groups, including cues, responses, and descriptions of what to do.
  • Let students know if you are going to share their work publicly and get permission from them to do so. Have the option for the work to be displayed anonymously.
  • Include ways for students to share anonymously how they are feeling valued, safe, and included in the learning community, or if there are ways these need to be adjusted.

Develop strategies for self-regulation

For example,

  • Discuss and model options for personal coping skills. Try having quiet spaces in the room, low-light areas, and options to use headphones to reduce noise at times. Try having spaces for students who want more active options, such as standing desks, fidgets, or collaboration.
  • Provide tips to help students get started working, such as a worked example, sentence starter, template, or a suggested first step.
  • Develop an “I need help” signal or way for students to communicate about their needs or frustrations (i.e., yellow cup on a desk means stuck).
  • Teach and model strategies for what to do when a task feels overwhelming or when getting frustrated. For example, model how to name emotions using a vetted tool (for example, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence RULER ).

Hold high expectations for all students

For example,

  • Express confidence in the skills and abilities of every student to achieve the goals. Try WISE feedback .
  • Integrate the least dangerous assumption (External site).
  • Offer feedback that focuses on the process. Try mastery-oriented feedback.
  • Model how mistakes are a valuable part of learning. Try highlighting works in progress, not just the end product.
  • Develop positive relationships with students and treat all students with respect when talking to or about them.

Spark student understanding

Reduce barriers to ensure all students can gain access and understanding in a lesson.

Offer multiple ways for students to perceive the information

For example,

  • Share information in more than one format. For example, offer alternatives to text such as visuals, objects, partial objects, tactual representations, Braille options. Explicitly describe images in text and video.
  • Offer flexible formats so the size, contrast, font, speed, or volume can be adjusted by the learner. Show learners how to use these technology tools and provide time and multiple opportunities to build fluency using these tools.
  • Present auditory information in more than one way. Try closed captioning, sign language, contact signing, text, and tactile representations. Teach how to use captions or automated speech-to-text or text-to-speech software. Record what you are saying on the board or in a recording.
  • Follow accessibility standards (External site) when creating digital text. Reference sites such as NIMAS , DAISY , or CAST’s AEM Center to learn more.
  • Use accessibility checkers such as accessScan to check your documents or slides. For example, use correct heading structures, make sure images have alt text, and use color contrast checks.

Support relevant vocabulary

For example,

  • Pre-teach and contextualize vocabulary in ways that students can relate and connect to. Have students interact with and use the language that is new or of interest to them, such as constructing word walls or having vocabulary journals with their own word lists. You could use picture walks or experience books with objects or tactual representations.
  • Use examples and nonexamples to highlight critical aspects of a concept. Provide examples using kinesthetic, visual, auditory, tactile, or multi-media.
  • Check the reading levels of your content so it is accessible to your audience. Try the Hemingway app .
  • Teach concepts and vocabulary by pairing objects with words. Incorporate vocabulary into daily conversations and use real-world examples. Make key vocabulary available on students’ preferred communication system, such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) (External site).
  • Teach and use language categories to help organize thoughts and ideas; such as using Mad Libs ©, sentence frames, graphic organizers, grouping objects, and word banks. activate background knowledge.

Support building background knowledge and skills

For example,

  • Provide opportunities for students to gain the foundational skills or background - even if the expectation is that students should already know it. For example, provide videos, bulleted summaries, or concept maps of key ideas.
  • Conduct baseline pre-assessments to understand what students already know. Ask previous teachers or family members about the student’s background knowledge and interests. Use formative assessments to adjust the next instructional moves based on students’ understanding.
  • Bridge concepts with relevant analogies and metaphors. Use mnemonics or rhyme to make complex material manageable.
  • Annotate readings or provide key questions to look for in an article or video. Organize information or to show commonalities and differences, such as story webs, outlining tools, concept mapping tools, mind maps, Venn diagrams, or T charts.
  • Ensure modifications to assignments are as minimal as it needs to be. Examples

Encourage transfer of learning to novel contexts

For example,

  • Build from students’ experiences and interests to develop complex concepts and skills.
  • Apply learning to real world challenges and situations that are of interest to your students.
  • Bring in members from the community or connect to local resources.
  • Offer opportunities to extend learning, so students with sufficient background or interest can continue to be challenged.
  • Infuse habits of mind (i.e., to think like a scientist, historian, artist, etc.) into instruction using think alouds.
  • Balance questioning techniques that include both low cognitive demand (such as yes/no or rote understanding) and high cognitive demand questions (such as open questions that have a variety of possible answers and encourage elaboration).

Teach how to use tools or technology supports

For example,

  • Teach how to use text-to-speech, speech-to-text, spelling, and grammar checks. Make those options consistently available for all students to use as they need.
  • Collaborate with other specialists to ensure the technology tools and software are accessible and perceptible to learners with sensory impairments. Remember what is good for some can benefit others!
  • Use online collaboration tools such as shared writing, slide, and video editing tools. Consider using collaborative scheduling and task management tools.
  • Have switches, eye gaze options, or other assistive technology regularly available.
  • Provide opportunities for peers to model and share the use of technology. Develop a library of student tutorials using different technologies and tools.
  • Use peer and adult aided-language modeling for AAC.

Empower Student Participation

Reduce barriers to ensure all students can show what they know in a lesson and participate in the discussions and activities.

Encourage flexible forms of communication

For example,

  • Include a range of media options for students to share what they know, such as writing, speaking, drawing, animation, comics, storyboards, video, music, or movement.
  • Allow students to participate in collaborative learning through texts or instant messaging, not just through verbal talking.
  • Use scribing resources, such as text-to-speech software and voice recognition, word prediction software, human dictation, or recording devices.
  • Integrate options to share or participate via social media or interactive web tools, such as discussion forums or chats.
  • Ensure consistent access to communication systems, such as communication boards or Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
  • Provide choices to respond. For example, you could use stamps, stickers, bingo dotters, markers, and other options to show numbers, write, and represent concepts and ideas.
  • Build on student responses to extend their thinking and vocabulary.

Scaffold students to monitor their progress

For example,

  • Use clear criteria and rubrics so students can self-assess their progress. For example, try single point rubrics or checklists.
  • Develop joint classroom norms and explicit behavior expectations for students to monitor their social and behavioral progress.
  • Provide timely feedback that is specific and related to the goal. Stay away from comparative or competitive feedback.
  • Break long step processes or projects into shorter pieces. Offer opportunities for feedback and self-reflection along the way.
  • Ensure all students have access to the vocabulary to communicate about their progress, such as through word walls, dictionaries, AAC, checklists, or more.
  • Provide student or teacher models of how to effectively self-assess or monitor progress.

Provide options for manipulation

For example,

  • Have options for tool use for fine and gross motor skills. For example, consider slant boards, tabs to turn pages, pencil grips, and accessibility options on keyboards. Consider turning off sticky keys or other keyboard adaptations, or provide tools that are easy to grip and offer high or low resistance.
  • Provide access to materials in easy to reach places and formats. For example, ensure technology is placed in the easiest place for reach (e.g., not crossing midline or on a side a student prefers).
  • Have physical manipulatives or tactile options to show understanding, such as paper or graphs with raised lines or Braille options.
  • Have seating with movement options, such as rocking chairs, yoga balls, and cushions. Consider the classroom layout to ensure students can maneuver to join groups and access materials.
  • Offer flexible options for sitting or positioning throughout the room. Provide options to support body stability using furniture or tools such that feet can touch the ground when sitting, the upper body is stable enough to maneuver to participate, and the head is supported for eye gaze, head pointers, or switch activation.

Support goal-setting strategies and plans to reach that goal

For example,

  • Make sure objectives are clearly stated on activities, worksheets, and during lessons so students know what they need to achieve.
  • Encourage students to set challenging and meaningful goals. For example, SMART goals or Self-Determination Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) .
  • Support students to develop a plan and monitor their progress to reach their goals so they become more independent and self-motivated in their learning. Use smartphones, computers, graphic organizers, color coding, or other schedule tools, to help track goals and progress. Check out self-determined schedule making and time management strategies.
  • Chunk long term goals and projects into smaller, manageable sub-goals.

Support attention and reduce demands on working memory

For example,

  • Encourage the use of templates or journals to record information so students do not have to try to hold it in mind. For example, try graphic organizers, scratch paper, digital notes during discussions, or object schedules.
  • Minimize distractions in the room or on websites. Simplify graphics or reduce unnecessary text on handouts so they focus only on the essential information to learn.
  • Reduce visual and auditory clutter or complexity when learning demands are high.
  • Offer opportunities for students to organize their workspace for productive learning. Encourage students to take steps to reduce their distractions.
  • Provide worked examples that show how to complete assignments or problem sets.
  • Highlight tools students can use as they work, such as calculators, number lines, graphing calculators, geometric sketchpads, word banks, formulas, or pre-formatted graph paper.
  • Use acoustic or visual highlighting to emphasize key concepts. Provide high contrast backgrounds and boards.

Support time management

For example,

  • Recognize students will work at different paces - and that is okay. Have extension opportunities for students who finish quickly and opportunities in the school day for students to continue to work as needed.
  • Use timers, stopwatches, smartphones, or other resources to help track time - if it is not distracting. For example, use visual, auditory, object, word, or picture options. Use schedules to check progress and to monitor time left.
  • Provide explicit instruction in more than one way so students can review it at their own pace (i.e., in a video or recording that they can rewatch, rewind, fast forward, or pause as needed). Create video libraries for skills or concepts that need to be re-taught.
  • Advocate for flex time, study hall, or other school-wide intervention times for students to have additional time to work. You can pre-teach or re-teach concepts, use embedded instruction, or allow students to check and extend work time.
  • Have predictable schedules and routines. Break down processes or routines using task analysis.
  • If work is not tied to the learning goal, omit it in order to keep the focus on the most relevant components.

Selected References