TIES TIPS Foundations of Inclusion

TIP #9:
Special Education High Leverage Practices for Instruction in Inclusive Settings

TIES Center | TIES Inclusive Practice Series (TIPS)


High Leverage Practices (HLPs) are best practice strategies to support students. There are several sets of HLPs, one explicitly developed for teaching students with disabilities (see Council for Exceptional Children [CEC] and Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform [CEEDAR] Center, n.d.). Even though special education teachers are familiar with these practices on some level, application of these practices in inclusive general education settings takes careful planning by the entire team in order to maximize benefits for students with significant cognitive disabilities. There are 22 HLP practices specific to students with disabilities, divided into four categories: collaboration (HLPs #1-3), assessment (HLPs #4-6), social/emotional/behavioral (HLPs # 7-10), and instruction (HLPs # 11-22). This TIPS sheet focuses on the 11 instruction HLPs and how they could be used in inclusive settings with students with significant disabilities. Please refer to the HLP Crosswalk for more information on how these HLPs how these align with the original HLPs used by general education teachers.


HLPs refer to a group of evidence-based strategies that, when packaged together, create the foundation for a successful inclusive classroom (McLeskey et al., 2017). They provide a framework for closing the research to practice gap as a support for both special education and general education teachers, and can be used for collaborative planning (McLeskey et al., 2018). While the special education HLPs do not explicitly show how they can be applied to inclusive classrooms, the purpose of this TIPs is to do just that. Because the package of special education HLPs are relatively new, research on the use of the package in inclusive settings has been limited.

Implementation of HLPs in Inclusive Settings

There are 11 HLPs in the area of instruction that can be used in the inclusive setting. We provide examples to illustrate how these strategies can be used in an inclusive classroom. Read the full definitions outlined by McLeskey et al. (2017) PDF . Included below are examples of how to apply HLPs during instruction of students with significant cognitive disabilities in inclusive settings.

HLP 11: Identify long- and short-term learning goals

Teachers create long-term goals for their students based on grade-level standards. These are the things that the student needs to know by the end of the school year. Short-term goals are more specific. They allow teachers to monitor student progress toward the broader, long-term goal, and to change instructional practices as needed.

Inclusive Example

For students with significant cognitive disabilities, special education and general education teachers can start planning for long-term goals by looking at the current grade-level standards-based unit of study in a specific subject area. For example, a middle school long-term goal for language standard (L.7.6) is to acquire and use accurately grade appropriate general academic and domain specific words and phrases (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010). A short-term goal may be to learn 10 new vocabulary words in the context of a social studies unit on the relationship between Native Americans and the early settlers (e.g., conflict, compromise, negotiation, resolution).

HLP 12: Systematically design instruction toward a specific learning goal

Most academic tasks are made up of smaller chunks or skills that come together to form a chain. Breaking down a skill into smaller chunks allows teachers to ensure that each step is taught so that the student can understand the larger skill.

Inclusive Example:

For students with significant cognitive disabilities, as well as students in the general education population, breaking down a skill such as long division into a series of skills to teach can ensure that a student makes progress toward the standard. For example, systematically designing instruction could look like designing instruction around the following skills:

  1. Making sets with manipulatives
  2. Partitioning sets of manipulatives into equal groups
  3. Dividing a set of manipulatives into 1, 2, or 3 equal groups
  4. Connecting actions with manipulatives with math symbols (division symbol, equals sign)
  5. THEN using adapted division problems OR technology as appropriate once a student demonstrates the concept of division.

Throughout a unit, educators may use adapted division problems (see HLP 13) that they continually use to connect and represent mathematical ideas. Students with a significant cognitive disability may need opportunities for pre-teaching as well as technology supports or materials planned and made prior to the lesson in order to participate. This is expanded on in the next example.

HLP 13: Adapt curriculum tasks and materials for specific learning goals

For inclusion to be successful, every student needs access to the same curricular materials. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, these materials may need to be adapted to meet their strengths and needs. This will allow the students to participate with their peers throughout the lesson.

Inclusive Example:

In the inclusive classroom the teacher may be modeling an algebraic equation on the board for students to copy each step while a student with a significant cognitive disability manipulates pre-made (laminated on Velcro) numbers and symbols to build the problem in a graphic organizer and create a product of the equation.

HLP 14: Teach cognitive and metacognitive strategies to support learning and independence.

Before instruction begins, teachers should ensure students are attending to the lesson. A number of strategies can be implemented to ensure this (e.g., gaining eye contact, using attention getters, high-interest activities, choral responding, etc.). Teachers also implement strategies throughout the lesson to maintain attention (e.g., requiring student responses, maintaining a fast pace, varying voice tone, etc.).

Self-monitoring and self-reinforcement strategies can increase student independence.

Inclusive Example:

Teachers can help students improve their metacognitive processes by using self-questioning strategies that help students think about their thinking. For example, teachers can have students ask themselves “Does my answer make sense?”. One way to do this with students with significant cognitive disabilities in an inclusive classroom is to have peers check each other’s answers and ask each other how they got their answer. Students with a significant cognitive disability can respond to a peer’s reasoning by using a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response card to tell peers if they agree with each statement. They can share their own ideas in a variety of ways (e.g., on cards, using augmented and alternative communication [AAC] devices, from provided choices) while the peer agrees ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with each statement.

HLP 15:  Provide scaffolded supports

Every student needs scaffolding to learn new skills. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, certain skills may need to be taught more systematically. The use of prompting hierarchies is one strategy that is commonly used. More intensive prompts (such as physical prompts or models) may be needed initially. These can later be faded to more traditional prompts (such as written directions or peer models) as the skill is learned. A second strategy that can be used as scaffolded support is the use of a graphic organizer, specifically one with visuals to help students organize information from a lesson. The graphic organizer can provide a starting point for students to transfer what they are learning to a tangible paper or electronic product. It can be referenced and added to later to further support their understanding.

Inclusive Example:

Students with significant cognitive disabilities can organize information from a science unit comparing predators vs. prey in a chart on a tablet by dragging and dropping options into the chart. A student can save and use this file as a reference later when building complex food chains for an ecosystem.

HLP 16: Use explicit instruction

“I do, We do, You do” is an often-used strategy when working with all students. During the first phase, teachers present the content, explicitly linking it to previous learning, with models. Then students work together with the teacher to practice the lesson or skill. Finally, students independently apply the skill. Explicit instruction is an excellent way to teach both core content and prerequisite academic skills (e.g., counting, letter naming, etc.).

Inclusive Example:

This practice is often used with both students with significant cognitive disabilities and general education peers. In an inclusive setting it could be used when the general education teacher introduces a new skill, such as identifying individual letter sounds in a word. “I do” would begin with the teacher modeling how to sound out the word for the class. Then the teacher would ask students to restate each sound in isolation for the “We do” section of the lesson. Students who are non-verbal would use AAC devices to make the sounds. For the last part, “You do”, the teacher would ask students to sound out the next three words with a peer by saying the word on the card and then making the individual sounds within that word. Again, the students with significant cognitive disabilities could use their AAC system to read the words and/or make the sounds.

HLP 17: Use flexible grouping

Just like their typical peers, students with a significant cognitive disability need a variety of grouping strategies to learn new skills. Although 1-1 instruction works well for some students and should be part of an array of strategies, it is only one approach. Remember to incorporate a variety of grouping strategies when planning—small group, partner work, large group, etc. These approaches are more time and cost effective and incorporate the opportunity for modeling and peer support.

Grouping strategies offer opportunities for modeling and peer interaction.

Inclusive Example:

Students with significant cognitive disabilities should be included with peers in any peer grouping format. The teacher can assign the group any number of tasks, such as solving a math problem using the order of operations (parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction - PEMDAS) on a dry erase board and then sharing with the class how they got their answer. Students with significant cognitive disabilities can participate in a number of ways such as choosing operation cards (prompted by the peers if necessary) for the next suggested step in the problem, writing or dictating the numbers, or calculating the solution using technology. While sharing with the class, students with significant cognitive disabilities can hold up, or point to, PEMDAS cards in the order the group used them, or help in sharing answers with the class.

HLP 18: Use strategies to promote active student engagement

Increasing the number of opportunities students have to respond increases learning. Remember to plan for student engagement (e.g., choral responding, numbered heads together, think-pair-share, etc.) when writing lesson plans. Also consider the types of communication methods students use (e.g., using voice output devices, sign, visual communication boards, etc.).

Inclusive Example:

A simple solution to having a student with a significant cognitive disability participate in choral responding with the whole group is to have pre-printed response cards in an adapted format to fit the student’s needs and strengths. For example, a class is working on summarizing a short story together. The general education teacher plans to use a “somebody, wanted, but, so, then” format for summarizing. A student with a significant cognitive disability could have pre-printed response cards with character names for “somebody”, choices for “wanted”, etc. and then choose from those when the teacher asks questions out to the class such as, “Who is the ‘somebody’ in this story?” and “Now that we know who, what did they want?”.

HLP 19: Use assistive technology and instructional technologies

Assistive technology, like AAC devices allow a student with a significant cognitive disability to participate with peers during the lesson. These devices may be high-tech, like a tablet with a voice output program, or low-tech, like a picture card. Ensuring each student has a way to communicate is essential for student learning. Instructional technology can also increase engagement for all students. Embedding computer and audiovisual programs in the lesson for all students provides novelty and motivation for everyone.

Inclusive Example:

A history class is reviewing the civil rights movement by going over a study guide given as homework over the weekend. A student with a significant cognitive disability can participate in the review by having answer choices for vocabulary definitions and terms programmed into an iPad. When the student is called on, he or she can give an answer to the class using an audible device. It is important to note that students with a significant cognitive disability can use AAC in every course, in every classroom. The AAC must have essential vocabulary and definitions preprogrammed prior to any activity.

HLP 20: Provide intensive instruction

For students with significant cognitive disabilities, the amount of instruction on a specific skill or standard provided in a typical lesson may not be sufficient for them to learn the content. (e.g., individualized, partner, small group) should be included in unit and year-long plans to ensure that these students continue to make progress toward their long-term goals (see HLP 11).

Additional intensive instruction opportunities may be necessary.

Inclusive Example:

In an inclusive classroom, intensive instruction can be integrated into daily routines for students with a significant cognitive disability. During morning work time while the class is working at their desks, the general education teacher provides direct instruction to a student with a significant cognitive disability for a specific skill, such as sight word reading using an evidence-based strategy. The teacher gives the student a chance to choose a sight word from a choice of three cards to ensure he or she can identify the targeted sight word(s). After this practice, the student finds and reads the sight words independently within a provided text until the class transitions to the next lesson.

HLP 21: Teach students to maintain and generalize new learning across time and settings.

The skills taught to students are not just relevant for one unit or even one grade. Teachers should consider how to determine whether students can still demonstrate the skill three weeks, three months, or even three years after the unit has finished. Generalization refers to the ability of the student to perform the skill beyond the scope of the individual lesson or unit. Multiplication is not useful if students can only perform it on a worksheet. Using multiple settings, materials, and examples can help students generalize skills outside of the classroom.

Maintenance and generalization activities solidify and extend learning.

Inclusive Example:

Maintenance and generalization are important because there are several places and spaces that require generalization of skills across inclusive settings. For example, a student with a significant cognitive disability may have mastered spelling their name using letter cards previously, but every day students are required to put their names on paper to turn in assignments. A student with a significant cognitive disability could be given a name stamp to stamp papers as a faster option. However, if the student is not frequently assessed for maintenance of knowing how to spell his or her name, the student may lose the skill and mix up letters. In regards to generalization, the student may need to type his or her name on the computer to play an interactive smartboard game with the class and will need to be able to do so to participate in the same manner that peers do.

HLP 22: Provide positive and constructive feedback to guide students’ learning and behavior

All students require feedback to make progress. Positive feedback (“Good job! 5 x 2 equals 10!”) ensures future correct responses and motivates students. Likewise, constructive corrective feedback is important to ensure that errors do not continue to occur. (“Hmmm… let’s try again. I see you put 4 blocks in each group, but the equation tells us there are 5 in each group. Put 5 blocks in each group. Let’s count together.”)

Inclusive Example:

When working in a group setting with other peers, it is important that students receive specific feedback. For example, students are working together in a group to solve a math word problem with manipulatives and the teacher asks, “How many balloons did the first girl have? Put that number of blocks in the first circle on your equation mat”. If a student with a significant cognitive disability puts 4 (the correct answer), the teacher needs to give affirmative feedback to the student and can then ask him or her to move to the next part of the problem. However, if the student puts 6 on the equation mat, the teacher needs to go back to the word problem and read it aloud while pointing to the value “4” in the problem and asking the student to try again. If the teacher does not stop to show the student with a significant cognitive disability the error and provide feedback for fixing it, then the student will make an error and likely repeat such an error in the future. Likewise, the student with a significant cognitive disability would also miss reinforcement for correct answers, which could be discouraging when working with a group of peers who may be working at a faster pace.

Proposed Plan for Teacher Collaboration

Many teachers are already using the HLPs every day. General education and special education teachers can sit down and take a look at the inclusive classroom lesson plan together. Together, they can identify where HLPs are already incorporated into instruction and consider adding additional HLPs to benefit student learning. Here is an example of a component of an ELA lesson plan from a 4th grade classroom. HLPs embedded within the lesson plan are listed in the table below. Different types of supports and adaptations the teachers think would be beneficial for their shared student are listed as well.

Lesson plan Components

Examples of HLPs in Practice in an inclusive classroom

ELA 9/17/19

Unit: The Dreamer

Standard (HLP11): CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.4.4c

Objective (HLP11): Students will use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition by answering 8/10 blanks correctly on a cloze worksheet.

I Can (HLP11): I can use context from the text to self-correct my word recognition.

HLP 11: Identify long- and short-term goals by selecting a standard and objective for the lesson. (HLP11)

Materials: Cloze passages from The Dreamer

HLP 19: Use assistive technology and instructional technology by preparing a communication board before introducing the lesson with phrases from previous lesson (HLP19)


Remind students of Book Walk completed yesterday. Facilitate a Think-Pair-Share (HLP18) as a quick review of book introduction.

HLP 18: Promote active student engagement by using Think-Pair-Share. (HLP18)

I Do (HLP16):

Project cloze passage from page 1. Write word bank on board. Model think-aloud (HLP14) to complete cloze. Model process of elimination.

HLP 16: Use explicit instruction by including an “I do” teacher model at the beginning of the lesson. (HLP16)

HLP 14: Use cognitive and metacognitive strategies to support learning and independence by modeling a process of elimination strategy. (HLP14)

HLP 13: Adapt curricular materials and tasks by using pictures paired with text program for cloze reading passage and word cards. (HLP13)

We Do (HLP16): Table partners (HLP17) work on cloze passage from page 2. Provide feedback (HLP22) and review as a class. Use Respectful disagreement strategies.

HLP 16: Use explicit instruction by including an “we do” practicing together in the middle of the lesson. (HLP16)

HLP 15: Provide scaffolded supports prepare response cards (I agree/I disagree). (HLP15)

HLP 17: Use flexible grouping by having students work in partners. (HLP17)

HLP 22: Provide feedback to students during the “we do” practice. (HLP22)

You Do (HLP16): Have students work independently.

HLP 16: Use explicit instruction by including an “you do” for independent practice at the end of the lesson (HLP16)

HLP 20: Provide intensive instruction by pulling the student here to work individually. (HLP20)

Wrap-up: Have students self-assess thumbs up/thumbs down for daily learning target.

HLP 15: Provide scaffolded supports prepare response cards (thumbs up/thumbs down). (HLP15)

HLP11: Identify long- and short-term goals

  • General Education teacher looks to the standards to develop long- and short-term goals

HLP12: Systematically design instruction

  • We don’t see this in the individual lesson plan, but General Education teacher considered it as he planned out this whole unit.

HLP13: Adapt curricular materials and tasks

  • General Education teacher asks Special Education teacher to help create some adapted curricular materials for student

HLP14: Use cognitive and metacognitive strategies to support learning and independence

  • General Education teacher models “think-aloud” strategies to support all students’ learning
  • Students use respectful disagreement strategies to communicate their thinking to one another.

HLP15: Provide scaffolded supports

  • General educator asks special educator to model prompted responses for the peer partner

HLP16: Use explicit instruction

  • General Education teacher is using I Do, We Do, You Do, an explicit instruction strategy, to organize his lesson

HLP17: Use flexible grouping

  • General Education teacher uses whole group, partner work, and 1-1 instruction throughout his lesson

HLP18: Promote active student engagement

  • General Education teacher uses Think-Pair-Share to support student engagement

HLP19: Use assistive technology and instructional technology

  • General Education teacher asks the Special Education teacher for support in using the student’s communication device so he can participate in the class discussion

HLP20: Provide intensive instruction

  • While other students are working independently, the General Education teacher takes this time to work individually with the student on his learning target

HLP21: Plan for both maintenance and generalization

  • We don’t see evidence of this in this single lesson plan, but this may be included in the unit plan!

HLP22: Provide feedback to students

  • While students are working on their partner work, the General Education teacher provides feedback to students as he circulates throughout the room


  • Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common Core State Standards for Math. Retrieved from

  • Council for Exceptional Children [CEC] and Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform [CEEDAR] Center. (n.d.). High-leverage practices in special education. Retrieved from

  • McLeskey, J., Barringer, M. D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., … Ziegler, D. (2017). High-leverage practices in special education. Retrieved from Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center website:

  • McLeskey, J., Billingsley, B., & Ziegler, D. (2018). Using high-leverage practices in teacher preparation to reduce the research-to-practice gap in inclusive settings. Australasian Journal of Special and Inclusive Education, 42(1), 3–16.

TIPS Series: Tip #9, July 2020

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

  • Clausen, A., Reyes, E. N., Wakeman, S., & Collins, B. (2020). High-Leverage Practices (TIPS Series: Tip #9). 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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