TIES TIPS Foundations of Inclusion

TIP #18: Choosing Accessible Grade-Level Texts for Use in Inclusive Classrooms

TIES Center | TIES Inclusive Practice Series (TIPS)


Often, students have favorite books or characters that enable them to learn from rich literary experiences. Individuals with disabilities should have the opportunity to engage in grade-level texts, connect memories, and learn from favorite books alongside their peers. Accessible texts promote comprehension through the use of adaptations that modify original print formats. This TIPS will outline considerations for choosing appropriate accessible grade-level texts for students with significant cognitive disabilities in inclusive classrooms. See TIPS# 19  for how to create accessible texts if one is not already available.


Teachers have many choices to make when designing instruction targeting reading comprehension and reading across the content areas. The idea of modifying books or text is not new (Lee & Henderson, 2012). For example, students with visual impairments use large print or braille books that are adaptations of the original texts. Finding high-quality adapted versions of text that are appropriate for students with significant cognitive disabilities can be challenging. Changes to the vocabulary may make it difficult to determine students’ reading level. Chapter books often include many pages with small print, may not stay open on a page without physical assistance, and likely do not include pictures to aid comprehension. Additionally, barriers for students accessing print may occur due to fine motor limitations (for example, the ability to hold the book or turn pages). Teachers, as well as district committees during curriculum adoption reviews, need to recognize these challenges and be thoughtful in choosing appropriate accessible text options that are inclusive of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Research Support for Accessible Grade-level Text for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

Language arts and content-area texts can be challenging for students who are emerging or beginning readers, because even when the text is read aloud by an adult, peer, or technological device, it can still be too complex for students’ receptive language (Hudson et al., 2013). Research using adapted texts when providing literacy instruction to students with significant cognitive disabilities has shown the following to be effective in increasing student engagement and their comprehension responses: (a) making adaptations to length, adding pictures, and repeating storylines; (b) including pictures or objects for student response options; (c) applying the system of least intrusive prompts when rereading a text ( refer to the text, highlight single sentence, point to the answer, state the answer; Hudson et al., 2013).


Although grade-level text may be augmented or modified to make it more accessible to students who have a wide range of reading abilities, it is important to retain enough of the original text characteristics to ensure students are participating in grade-level standards. In inclusive classrooms, teachers provide opportunities for students with significant cognitive disabilities to interact with the original text to ensure language development, develop similar content background knowledge to their peers, and comprehend grade-level concepts.

Key features of well-adapted text

A flow chart of 5 rows and 2 columns. Row 1 not too many symbols or images. No more than 3-4 symbols per line of text. Row 2 use purposeful symbols or images that promote meaningful comprehension. Symbols or images should represent story elements or vocabulary. Row 3 supports for students to track the text. Clearly define where students should point to or touch while reading. Row 4 high contrast text. Use text colors and fonts that are easy to read and show up on paper (black and white). Row 5 repeated text line. Add repeated text line on top of each page or new chapter.

Modified from Hudson et al., 2013 

Questions to ask when choosing pre-existing adapted text

Do my students need an adapted text?

When determining if students need an adapted text, it is essential to consider the level of support each student may need in order to have equal access to grade-level curriculum. Additionally, determine if students can effectively demonstrate their understanding if they engage with the original text. It is important that special and general education teachers work collaboratively to make this educational decision and, if needed, plan appropriate adaptations to grade-level text that are tailored to meet individual student needs.

What is the purpose of the instruction?

When making adaptations to grade-level texts, a focus should first be placed on including the most important general education content the student should learn based on the identified content standards. This is vital because adapting texts can be done in multiple ways. Most of these ways include chunking information from the text, removing unimportant details, or by using an active voice. However, teachers should be mindful of the purpose of intended lessons and thoughtful that they are not removing supporting evidence or details that need to be included in the adapted text for students to adequately achieve the identified learning targets. Additionally, teachers also should consider what IEP goals or essential skills will be embedded into the lesson. For example, if the student is working on developing content vocabulary, adapted text should include that vocabulary multiple times and be included in the student’s alternative augmentative communication (AAC) system if the student uses one.

Can the general education text meet the identified purpose for students with significant cognitive disabilities?
Cover from Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan with image of the links for audio files for each chapter of the book

After identifying the purpose of instruction, educators can review the grade-level text to determine the extent to which the text features (for example, titles, headings, glossary, illustrations, graphs) are available to promote opportunities for engagement. In addition to decreasing the difficulty of the text, additional communication opportunities can be increased by: (a) including frequent comprehension questions; (b) providing accompanying word banks for answering comprehension questions or discussing the book; (c) supporting students’ understanding of the text through the use of graphic organizers or timelines. Educators may also consider options for how students can access audio or visual text. For example, a teacher may pair the physical or digital book with a read-aloud, such as in the book Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan which is available as a free online, unabridged read-aloud form . The student can listen while viewing the text.

A page of digital text with illustrations. A colored box containing a comprehension question has been added to the page.

Adaptations may be necessary to support a student in making responses to comprehension questions. For example, when using a digital book, a focused comprehension question can be added to the text using presentation software (see image of colored box added to The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister). Once selected, the correct answer will turn or flash to provide students with immediate positive feedback. Another idea for adaptation is creating a slide version of the text, which could be projected in the classroom as a support for all students or could be accessed on a device. Each slide could include a recording with the adapted text and printed when a paper version is desired. Students who require communication support may need to be provided with word banks for answering comprehension questions or discussing the book, especially when vocabulary boards are not available.

For older students, chapters can be summarized and complex content adapted for each chapter when producing the slides. When adapted versions are created, a copy of the grade-level text for student reference is recommended. See the example from Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.

A page of adapted digital text from Bud, Not Buddy contains simplified text, an image, and a colored box containing a comprehension question.

Large print, simplified text with images added to illustrate key words.
Is there an adapted text available?

If an adapted text is readily available, it is important that educators collaboratively examine the text to determine how many of the key features of a well-adapted text are present. Not every adapted book is created equal, nor does every adapted book meet the unique needs of all students with significant cognitive disabilities. Because there are many ways that adapted books can vary, teachers need to be able to effectively evaluate the quality and characteristics of the text to ensure it meets specific student needs.  The adapted version of City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is an example of a text that offers many supports for students, such as less complex vocabulary with embedded definitions, picture supported text, and repeated storylines (for the full adapted novel see Project Impact: Inclusion Made Practical for All Children and Teachers , 2020).


Including accessible, grade-level text for students with significant cognitive disabilities in inclusive instruction requires collaborative planning by general education and special education teachers. It is essential that texts adapted for accessibility stay true to the original source to ensure age appropriateness and to keep essential features of the text intact. Teachers should work together to evaluate the quality of existing adapted texts to facilitate access and allow for authentic participation in inclusive settings.

Simplified text from the book Charlotte’s Web that could be used to answer “who” and “what” questions but not questions about how the characters feel.

 It is important to remember that condensed text should always supplement rather than replace the original text because the adapted version will not meet the purpose of all instructional goals. For example, reading a text to determine the author’s purpose, to determine how the author builds character points of view, or to determine the meaning of figurative language would all require the adapted text to maintain specific content from the original text. This point can further be made using the excerpt from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. The adapted version of this text could provide students with sufficient information to address the following learning target, “RL.3.1 I can answer who and what questions using the text and pictures in the story to show my understanding of the text,” but would be insufficient for addressing, “R.L.3.3 I can identify how characters are feeling in the story” due to the lack of information provided regarding characters’ emotions at that point in the story.  

When adapted texts are not available that meet the needs of the standard or align with the instructional plan, teachers may consider creating original adapted texts. To learn more about how to create grade-level adapted texts, see our TIPS# 19.


  • Hudson, M. E., Browder, D., & Wakeman, S. (2013). Helping students with moderate and severe intellectual disability access grade-level text. Teaching Exceptional Children, 45(3), 14–23.

  • Lee, A., & Henderson, K. (2012). Students with significant cognitive disabilities: Adapting books – A PowerPoint presentation for professional development. Modules Addressing Special Education and Teacher Education (MAST). Greenville, NC: East Carolina University.

TIPS Series: Tip #18, May 2021

The information in this Brief is not an endorsement of any identified products. Products identified in this Brief are shared solely as examples to help communicate information about ways to reach the desired goals for students.

All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

  • Wakeman, S. Y., Taub, D., Johnson, H. N., & Kearns, J. (2021). Choosing Accessible Grade-Level Texts for Use in Inclusive Classrooms (TIPS Series: Tip #18). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, TIES Center.

TIES Center is the national technical assistance center on inclusive practices and policies. Its purpose is to create sustainable changes in kindergarten-grade 8 school and district educational systems so that students with significant cognitive disabilities can fully engage in the same instructional and non-instructional activities as their general education peers, while being instructed in a way that meets individual learning needs. TIES Center is led by the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, and includes the following additional collaborating partners: Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North Carolina – Charlotte, and University of North Carolina – Greensboro.

TIES Center is supported through a Cooperative Agreement (#H326Y170004) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Project Officer: Susan Weigert

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