TIES TIPS Foundations of Inclusion

TIP #20: Embedded Instruction in the Inclusive Classroom

TIES Center | TIES Inclusive Practice Series (TIPS)


Teachers in inclusive classrooms often find themselves wondering how the instructional team (general educators, special educators, paraprofessionals, specialized support staff) can provide high-quality instruction in the curriculum as well as any needed individualized instruction (related to individual student’s IEP goals or areas where pre-teaching or re-teaching are necessary). Luckily, content instruction can be paired with instruction that addresses individualized goals through embedded instruction. As with all effective inclusive practices, collaboration is key. Embedded instruction must be planned ahead of time with a focus first on the standards in the course content and then include instruction tailored to specific student goals. Teachers should consider how to balance students' support needs with academic progression through the curriculum within the natural context and the pace of the general education classroom (Jimenez & Kamei, 2015). 


Embedded instruction is a strategy that involves providing individualized and explicit instruction within  natural opportunities in the general education classroom (McDonnell et al., 2014). This strategy has been used to effectively teach a wide range of skills to students with significant cognitive disabilities, including skills that may come from IEP goals and/or from the general education curriculum. Some of the skills taught in the research literature include sight word identification, number identification, vocabulary, phonics, and solving word problems, among many others (Jameson et al., 2020).  Special and general educators, paraprofessionals, and peers have all demonstrated the ability to effectively deliver embedded instruction as well, offering opportunities for flexible service delivery and shared responsibility in inclusive classrooms (Bowman et al., 2020). 


When implementing embedded instruction, there are four main steps that a team will engage in. These steps include (1) identifying a goal, (2) identifying natural opportunities to provide instruction, (3) using a prompt hierarchy and fading during instruction, and (4) collecting data (McDonnell et al., 2014). These steps are outlined below with further description and examples. 

1. Check the IEP for specific goals that could be addressed or identify one from the curriculum where a student may need more intensive instruction

Hint for writing inclusive IEP goals (Kurth, 2013) 

  • Identify goals that apply across content areas, lessons/units,  and daily routines in general education classes

For more information on writing inclusive IEP goals see the Comprehensive Inclusive Education resource

After the general and special educator connected about what instruction might be embedded in the new unit, they decided on the following IEP goal to prioritize: Given unit-specific vocabulary instruction in all classes, the student will use 4-5 new vocabulary words per unit in the context of general education lessons and activities with 75% accuracy for 3 consecutive trials.  

The current 8th-grade math unit involves constructing and interpreting scatter plots (see examples). The general and special educators have identified the following vocabulary words for instruction: positive association, negative association, no association, and variable. 

Scatter plots the math class will interpret

A scatterplot showing a positive correlation between the number of cavities and servings of sugar consumed.
A scatterplot showing a no correlation between the shoe size and time spent exercising.
A scatterplot showing a negative correlation between the car speed and time to destination.

2. Ask the general educator to identify natural opportunities to provide instruction within general education activities and routines (for example, transitions, independent work)

In math class, transitions typically occur between teacher demonstrations, independent work, group work, and group/individual sharing and discussion. A student could be provided with embedded instruction in each class period during these times. 

3. Prompt the student and increase wait time

The student’s partner (general educator, special educator, paraprofessional, or peer) will use a prompt (“Which kind of association does this scatter plot have?”) and a 5-second wait time for a response (constant time delay). If the student makes an error, the partner will provide a verbal prompt (“You pointed to the positive association, but this scatter plot shows no association, point to no association.”). Once the student reaches the goal with a 5 second wait time, the student’s partners will begin to wait longer for a response before a prompt is provided. 

4. Collect, chart, and use data

Twice a week or so, the general or special educator or paraprofessional will collect data on the student’s acquisition of the new vocabulary words on a data sheet (see example). The special educator will review the data each week to determine if the student is on track to reach the goal and if changes to the embedded instruction program are needed. 

Example data sheet

A sample data collection sheet showing student progress on identification of math vocabulary words such as positive association, negative association, no association, and variable.

Embedded Instruction in Action 

Here is an example showcasing a collaborative team approach to embedded instruction within a general education math class. 

Meet Jaxon

Jaxon is an eighth-grade student who is included in general education classes and activities for most of his day. He has a daily small group and 1:1 instruction from the special education team where he receives specially designed instruction (SDI) on the content and skills he needs, in addition to receiving SDI throughout the school day provided by other staff. For instance, in these small groups, the team might pre-teach or re-teach concepts and skills that the general and special educators identified were essential for each unit or the team might focus on explicitly teaching Jaxon a cognitive strategy for solving math problems. Jaxon participates in the state alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards as a result of his instructional needs related to having an intellectual disability and autism. He also needs visual support due to his low vision. 

Jaxon can read short, simple sentences if they have been enlarged or that he can enlarge on a screen. Images, such as a graph, are often enlarged and outlined with dried white glue or puffy paint. He can routinely indicate if there are more or less of something and can rote count to 10 but is still developing his 1:1 correspondence skills in math. He works best when the information is summarized and chunked and when he has multiple opportunities to practice a skill or concept. Graphic organizers have been a helpful tool for Jaxon and his whole team has learned about prompt hierarchies and fading to support his learning and build his independence. 

Jaxon’s IEP goals focus on skills such as: 

  • Identifying and using new vocabulary from grade-level content and general education routines
  • Counting with 1:1 correspondence
  • Cause and effect (for example, identifying if a person eats a lot of sugar, they could get more cavities)

Setting the team up for success

Toward the beginning of the year, the special educator shared instructional strategies and skills that typically worked well for Jaxon as well as detailing his specific supports and accommodations with the general educators and paraprofessionals. This menu of supports was available on a shared electronic document that all educators had access to and in which they could add or edit. The team met once every month or two to outline upcoming lessons and plan for instruction and support. Below is part of the 5-15-45 planning template and process that Jaxon’s educational team used for planning the semester. 

 15-Minute Lesson Planning Template

Pro Tip: Use the guide to think about the academic content, instruction, activities, and barriers in your lesson. Make your action items and teach!

Guiding Questions

Notes Here (with sentence starters)

Success Indicators

What is the content being taught in this lesson?

What is the most essential for all learners to know?

The most essential grade-level content is...

Scatter plots help us make sense of relationships.

We have a mutual understanding of the essential content of this lesson

What are the instructional strategies and activities for this lesson?

What instructional strategies and activities are most helpful for teaching the essential content? 

We teach this content by...

Students will comlete class polls or research with two variables and plot them to identify characteristics of attribution.

We can identify a barrier to learning for our student with a significant cognitive disability in this lesson.

What is one barrier to learning we anticipate for our student with significant cognitive disabilities?

  • Is it related to student interest or engagement?
  • Is it related to the student's background knowledge (e.g. vocabulary)?
  • Is it related to how the student shows what they know (i.e. how they communicate)?

One barrier in this lesson for students with significant cognitive disabilities includes...

  • Jaxon may have difficulty viewing the scatter plots
  • Jaxon may also require additional practice in use of mathematical vocabulary

We can identify a barrier to learning for our student with a significant cognitive disability in this lesson.

What is one way to remove this barrier?

A strategy to reduce this barrier and teach this content to students with significant cognitive disabilities is...

  • Using white glue to create raised axes and data points for tactile support
  • Use of a personal glossary to match scatter plot trends to his glossary

We can identify a strategy to include in this lesson to reduce the barrier and support a student with a significant cognitive disability.

Maximize your Impact: How could other students benefit from this new instructional strategy or option? 

We could let other students o the whole class use this strategy by...

  • Allowing students to build their scatterplots using different formats (graphy paper, Technology, using objects, etc.)

We can determine how all students might be able to access and use this strategy.

Action Plan:

General Educator: 
  • Send class slides to special education team for adaptations/modifications 
General and special educator: 
  • Support modifications and adaptation development and review effectiveness after
  • Use the Education Day-At-A-Glance
  • Regularly review class and IEP data and identify any changes needed
Special educator: 

Give instructions to paraprofessionals for modifying/adapting the slides

  • Pre-teach
    • scatter plot - help us see if variables might be related (for example, height and shoe size)
    • types of scatter plot correlations - positive, negative, and no correlation
  • Create data sheets & take baseline data

Provide training to the paraprofessional on:

  • how and when to use embedded instruction,
  • supporting others to provide embedded instruction (for example, peer, general educator), and
  • collecting data
  • Adapt slides under special educator’s direction
  • Create a tactile glossary
  • Adapt materials in the moment (for example, when the class creates a scatter plot, the student’s plot is made by poking holes in the paper instead of marks on it)
  • Use the instructional techniques from the classroom teacher to provide classroom support

Here is what it looked like in practice (opportunities to embed IEP goals are bolded):

Study Hall the Day Before


Jaxon’s participation

Opportunities to embed instruction

Study hall the day before

Jaxon engages in individualized instruction on scatter plot variables and types of correlation

Not applicable

General Education Math Class


Jaxon’s participation

Opportunities to embed instruction

Warm up: reviewing previous content on linear equations

Jaxon solves simplified equations with an unknown using one of the classroom math balances (a support available for anyone who needs it)

When Jaxon finishes his warm up, the general education teacher embeds additional re-teaching on previous vocabulary and pre-teaching on new vocabulary

Anticipatory set: students brainstorm why they might want to know whether two variables have a relationship

Jaxon uses tactile vocabulary glossary

Jaxon’s table partner supports him to use his tactile vocabulary glossary during sharing

Direct instruction: Share scatterplots and introduce vocabulary 

The general educator provides direct instruction in types of scatterplots and new vocabulary to all students, including Jaxon

Not appropriate to embed instruction during direct instruction

Guided practice: Class poll (shoe size and height) then create class scatter plot on shared screen 

All students work in pairs to measure their height and record their shoe size, then plot on a shared scatterplot on the board

While class is plotting their points, the general education teacher embeds instruction on counting with one to one correspondence on the x and y axes using tactile points. 

Closure: Class discussion on their findings 

Student pairs identify their findings, the type of scatter plot and association and report out. The class then compares and summarizes the data 

Jaxon (with support from his table partner) matches his vocabulary cards to the scatter plots and answers questions about cause and effect using the scatter plot.

The education team used a matrix to identify when and what data the paraprofessional would collect. They decided that the best time to collect the vocabulary data was during the pre-teaching opportunity (baseline) and then embedded within Wednesday and Friday’s general education math classes.  On Monday and Thursday of this unit they would embed data collection opportunities for 1:1 correspondence. 

For students with significant cognitive disabilities, teaching the general education curriculum requires planning by general education and special education teachers, and staff. When teams work together to create accessible instruction, curriculum, and materials, authentic participation is possible. When teams thoughtfully identify natural places to embed essential and foundational skills into general education classroom instruction, students with significant cognitive disabilities thrive. 


  • Bowman, J. (2020). Embedded Instruction During Hybrid Learning. Retrieved from https://publications.ici.umn.edu/ties/building-engagement-with-distance-learning/dl25-embedding-instruction-during-hybrid-learning

  • CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning guidelines (version 2.2).

  • TIES Center. (2020). TIES lessons for all: The 5-15-45. Retrieved from https://publications.ici.umn.edu/ties/5-15-45/overview

  • TIES Center. (2021). Comprehensive inclusive education: the general education curriculum and the IEP. Retrieved from https://tiescenter.org/inclusive-instruction/comprehensive-inclusive-education-general-education-and-the-inclusive-iep


  • Bowman, J. A., McDonnell, J., Ryan, J. H., Fudge-Coleman, O., Conradi, L., & Eichelberger, C. (2020). Effects of general education teacher-delivered embedded instruction in teaching students with intellectual disability to solve word problems. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 55, 318–331.

  • Jameson, J. M., McDonnell, J., Riesen, T., & Polychronis, S. (2020). Embedded instruction in the general education classroom for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In Prism Series Volume 12. Council for Exceptional Children Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

  • Jimenez, B. A., & Kamei, A. (2015). Embedded instruction: An evaluation of evidence to inform inclusive practice. Inclusion, 3, 132–144.

  • McDonnell, J., Jameson, M. J., Riesen, T., & Polychronis, P. (2014). Embedded instruction in inclusive settings. In D. M. Browder & F. Spooner (Eds.), Language arts, math, and science for students with significant cognitive disabilities (pp. 15–36). Paul H. Brookes.

TIPS Series: Tip #20, July 2020

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

  • Bowman, J. A., & Taub, D. (2021). Embedded instruction in the inclusive classroom (TIPS Series: Tip #20). 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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