Effective Teaching Practices for Students in Inclusive Classrooms

by Sue Land, M.Ed.

School teams spend precious time creating the foundations of inclusive programs for students with disabilities. Careful thought goes into scheduling co-taught classes, creating balanced classroom rosters, training co-teaching partners, developing collaborative relationships, and providing appropriate supports for students with disabilities (Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000).

However, even with well-planned inclusive services, general education teachers and co-teaching teams often struggle with how to effectively teach students with disabilities in general education classrooms. This article provides tips for inclusive practices that will assist general education teachers in meeting the educational needs of their students with disabilities.

Tips for Planning
  • Collaborate with special education teachers, related service providers, and paraprofessionals on a regular basis.
  • If you are co-teaching, commit to planning at least once a week with your co-teaching partner and determine your respective teaching responsibilities. Write your plans down and share the work load.

  • Use a variety of co-teaching methods, including:

1. Interactive Teaching - Teachers alternate roles of presenting, reviewing, and monitoring instruction.

2. Alternative Teaching - One person teaches, reteaches, or enriches a concept for a small group, while the other monitors or teaches the remaining students.

3. Parallel Teaching - Students are divided into mixed-ability groups, and each co-teaching partner teaches the same material to one of the groups.

4. Station Teaching - Small groups of students rotate to various stations for instruction, review, and/or practice.

(Walther-Thomas et al., 2000)

  • Be aware of student needs and provide the accommodations listed in your students' individualized education programs.

Tips for Classroom Management
  • Create a structured classroom. This may include designating separate areas for group and individual work and centers for reading or art, as well as creating a daily class schedule.
  • Display classroom rules.

  • Post the daily schedule incorporating color.

  • Provide opportunities for purposeful movement.

  • Develop classroom cues for settling down to work, getting out materials, and quieting down.

  • Plan for transition times (between subjects or tasks, before and after lunch, changing classes).

  • Help students organize their materials by using checklists, folders, and containers to keep materials organized in desks.

  • Visually monitor student activity.

(Adapted from Bender, 2002)

Tips for Structuring Lessons
  • Differentiate instruction by using flexible grouping, providing activities that appeal to various learning-style preferences, giving students choices, and creating alternative activities and assessments (Tomlinson, 2001).
  • Think "universal design" when planning instruction. "The central premise of Universal Design for Learning is that a curriculum should include alternatives to make it accessible and appropriate for individuals with different backgrounds, learning styles, abilities, and disabilities in widely varied learning contexts" (CAST, 2004, 3). Incorporate three qualities of universal design when planning instruction:

    1. Multiple means of representing content (visual and oral strategies),

    2. Multiple means of students' expression of content (writing, illustrating, speaking), and

    3. Flexible means of engagement as students learn (videos, software, and role-playing).

    For more information on universal design, access the website of the Center for Applied Special Technology, http://www.cast.org/udl.

  • Provide opportunities for students to work in small groups and in pairs. If cooperative learning strategies are used, five conditions must be present: (a) The task must be authentic, worthwhile, and appropriate for students working in groups; (b) Small-group learning must be the goal; (c) Cooperative behavior should be taught to and used by students; (d) Group work should be structured so that students depend on one another to complete a task successfully; (e) Students should be held individually accountable (Putnam, 1998).

  • Use graphic organizers to assist students with organizing information in meaningful ways. For example, Bender (2002) suggests providing students with lesson outlines as note-taking tools.

  • Use the instructional sequence of "I do" (teacher model), "We do" (group practice), and "You do" (individual practice). Provide supports or scaffolds to students as they are learning new material and withdraw them when they are able to perform the task on their own (Bender, 2002).

  • Employ active learning strategies such as "think, pair, share" to promote recall and understanding of new learning. This strategy allows students to reflect individually on a question, pair up with a partner to share and compare answers, and finally give the best answer (Kagan, 1994). For more active learning strategies, download the Considerations Packet, Techniques for Active Learning. This packet is available from the College of William and Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center at www.wm.edu/ttac/packets/consideration.html.

  • Teach learning strategies along with content material. Strategy instruction may be defined simply as instruction in how to learn and perform (Lenz, Deshler, & Kissam, 2004). "Learning strategies help students learn and perform by providing them with a specific set of steps for: (a) approaching new and difficult tasks, (b) guiding thoughts and actions, (c) completing tasks in a timely and successful manner, and (d) thinking strategically (Lenz et al., 2004, p. 261). Learning strategies may include organizing materials, memorizing information, taking notes, reading text, and taking tests.

  • Use ongoing informal and formal assessments to help inform instruction and monitor student progress.

To ensure success for students with disabilities in general education classrooms, teachers must plan collaboratively, create structured classrooms with clear rules and expectations, and teach content in meaningful and memorable ways.


Bender, W. N. (2002). Differentiating instruction for students with learning disabilities: Best practices for general and special educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

CAST. Summary of universal design for learning concepts. Retrieved September 20, 2004, from http://www.cast.org/udl/index.cfm?i=7

Kagan, S. (1994). Cooperative learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan.

Lenz, B. K., Deshler, D. D., & Kissam, B. R. (2004). Teaching content to all: Evidence-based inclusive practices in middle and secondary schools. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Putnam, J. W. (1998). The process of cooperative learning. In J. W. Putnam (Ed.), Cooperative learning and strategies for inclusion: Celebrating diversity in the classroom (pp. 17-47). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Walther-Thomas, C., Korinek, L., McLaughlin, V. L., & Williams, B. (2000). Collaboration for inclusive education: Developing successful programs. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Date: November/December 2004