First Week Activities in a Special Education Class (with freebies!)

How do you start the first week in a special education class? I've been asked this question a lot lately, and understandably why! I think every teacher, no matter how long they have been teaching, has some sort of nightmares or sleepless nights about the first day/weeks (am I right?!).

Here's what I focus on during those first couple of days.

Schedule: I try to start with our normal schedule that I have planned so that they get used to the routine and schedule, BUT I keep the activities easy and fun so that they don't get frustrated. We don't need to work on both academics and learning a new schedule/routine at the same time. We will get to the academic later. It is so important that they learn this routine! This also helps me see where they are at academically so I get an even better idea of where to start.

School Scavenger Hunt: Go on a scavenger hunt to help them learn different areas in the school and different places they will go. My colleagues were always really good at creating activities for this! One time we had QR codes that we scanned in different locations (lunchroom, pool, office) that told us where to go next. It was a fun way to learn the school AND use technology.

Get to Know You: Even if you have the same students you had last year, ask them what they did over the summer. And I'm sure you have at least one new student, so they all need to take time to get to know each other! 

I just posted this free activity here with visual questions so all students can participate easily!

Take Pictures and Make Class Books: Take pictures of your students in their desk and around the classroom and print these to send them home. Students can use these pictures to show their parents their classroom and talk about school, when starting a discussion might be a struggle usually. Post pictures in the classroom. We use pictures for attendance, and even something little like that helps students feel like they are a truly a part of the class and it is their classroom as well.

I love making class book and talk about the important of them here. If you think your students can't help write a book, think again! We love adding pictures to make books our own. This greetings book is customizable for your class and is a fun way to make a class book AND practice greetings at the same time!

Classroom Rules: Go over rules and expectations and be firm with them. Review your students' behavior plans if they have them and know that you will probably need to have different expectations for different students and that is OKAY! I keep my classroom rules very simple and to the point, and create additional visual reminders for students as needed.
Grab these FREE classroom rules!

Morning Routine: I LOVE my morning routine in my classroom. If you know me, you know I'm obsessed with my morning routine and highly recommend every classroom having something predicable and student centered. It helps to start each day off on a great note. We don't do many class wide activities, but we rock these 15 minutes in the morning!

Intro Letter and Parent Questionnaire: Be sure to introduce yourself to your students' parents and get to know them as well! Ask for their input about their child, using a survey. I use these back-to-school forms, and have shared it with you so that you can make a copy in order to edit them to include all of your personal info.

Hope that helps! And good luck. If your first day or week doesn't go as expected, just know you are not alone! So much of special education is learning to go with the flow, thinking on your feet and learning what your students need. You've got this!!

Morning Binders in the Special Education Classroom

My students use morning binders during our morning meeting and throughout our academic portion of the morning. I love using binders because I can personalize and individualize each binder according to my students needs.
I store our binders right by the door, so that students grab them as soon as they walk in for the day (well, that's the idea at least...there is a lot of reminding to go back and get their binders!)

Here's what I put inside each binder. Everything is separated by tabs (except for the schedule which is the first page).

Schedule for the morning. Our schedules change based on the day of the week (due to therapies and shortened schedules on Wednesdays), I print off a schedule for each day of the week (for each student) and store them all in one page protector. All we have to do each day is move the correct schedule to the top.
Students cross off each item as they complete it, and we erase and start new every day. (I only include the morning in our schedule because my students are with me for the first three hours of the day, and then they go to other classes in our program, and eventually come back for resource). 

Some of my students need a more tangible schedule, and for them, I use individual pieces for a schedule or might just use a first/then board, especially if they get overwhelmed with too much information at one time.

Sign in sheet. Before my students start their job for the morning, I have them sign in. I like doing this because they get in name practice, it's an easy activity to start off the day, and it signals to them that they are ready to start their day. You signed in, you are ready to work.
Some of my students use name stamps to sign in (ALL of your students can and should be able to and be practicing to mark their name some way) but for the most part, if students are able to make a mark on their own, I like them to do that. We also work on initials for students who can't write their whole name. Also, students check off if they are here or write in the time when they sign in. I printed my sign in sheets from the Unique Learning System.

Personal info practice. About half of my students finish their morning job before we are ready to begin our morning meeting, so they work on their personal information during this time. They can also work on personal information if they need something to do during the day. Say plans change and I need an activity real quick, I can tell them to work on their personal info. I keep multiple pages in there, so they are always ready to go! I physically fade tracing prompts over time in order to help students learn their info and not just copy it.

Calendar page.  During our morning meeting, I have students go to their calendars that they created and we cross off the days that have happened already.
This is a great way for them to see time passing and to anticipate upcoming events. Read more about my color coded calendars here.

Daily question journals.  In our morning meeting, we go over a question of the day. Some students need a lot of time to answer this question (for example, if they are preparing it on their device), while other students are very quick and need something to do while their classmates are getting ready! I have them write a sentence or draw a picture based on the daily question during this time, and we store all of those pages under this tab.

IEP data sheets. I keep some of our data sheets in the location where the goal is worked on (for example, in their work binder or by our task boxes), but some goals don't have a specific location so I store those in their binders! Since they kept their binders with them throughout the morning (mostly because of their schedules), my paraprofessionals and I have easy access to their goals whenever I need to track something.

Extras. Our binders are also a great place to store social stories, token boards, and visual reminders that are unique for each student.

Implementing morning binders was a game changer for me. I love being able to store everything that each student needs in one place. It has made prep easier and I'm not scrambling for worksheets as we go through our typical activities. It also gives students a chance to practice responsibility as they have to keep track of their binder in the classroom.

What else would you add to your morning binders?

Using Station Binders to Differentiate and Make Teaching Easier!

In the morning I have all of the same students for both Language Arts and Math classes, so I run the class as a block. This way I can run stations and individual work with math and language arts skills (along with independent life skills) scattered throughout our morning.

One way I make differentiating easier for each student is by incorporating binders.

Station Binders: Each student has a "work binder" that they use during their journal, math, and language stations (they also have morning binders where they keep their schedules and more).
I separate the work for each station with labeled tabs. What's great about this system is I usually put work in their binders for several weeks at a time, so it is ready to go and I don't even have to think about it until we start to run out. Also, if several students are working together at the same station at different levels, no students are singled out and given the wrong work.

Math Binder Work: For our math station, I have students work on the topic of the day in a hands-on way first. Each shelf next to where we store the binders contains the math activities for a certain topic that corresponds with these math life skill worksheets.
For example, the worksheet below works on more/less, so the students would work with groups of manipulatives counting and choosing which one has more or which one has less or will complete some of these task cards. Then they would each finish the worksheet in their binder that is at their level.

Other math topics include money, time, directions, and sizes.
Each day of the week is a new topic. So we review money on Monday, directions on Tuesday, more/less on Wednesday, sizes on Thursday, and time on Friday. If a student masters a certain level for a topic, I move them up to the next level for that topic.

Journal Binder Work: I use these differentiated journals which I love because literally every single student in my class is able to complete these and they are all journaling about the same topic.
I can even have a student at each of the three levels working at the same time: one will be cutting and pasting pictures to complete their sentences, another will be tracing and copying words (as pictured below), and yet another will be looking at the classroom sample to write out their own journal.

When completing their journals, all students need to first either color or draw the picture. This is a great time to work on skills such as color matching, copying, and problem solving ("We don't have markers here, where can you get them?" or "Your classmate is using the color you need, what do you do?" Then they read the title, and my device users find it on their device or type it out. All students then use the sentence starters to complete the sentences. My higher level writers might also add a sentence of their own at the bottom. Any students who finish quickly can also type out their journals.

(These other journals are great for higher level students and also have three levels).

Language Binder Work: This station is a little different, as it really isn't a group station. However, having the work ready to go in binders helps staff know where the students are at and keeps materials in an easily accessible location. I am always collecting data at the language station as we work on IEP goals during this time.

If my students are able to recognize some words or word shapes, I have them work through the Edmark Functional Word Series (amazon affiliate link). I love the predicability of this program and see results with my students!

My students who are not able to complete Edmark work on these household vocabulary units. They work on recognizing the pictures of various household items, and may graduate to learning the words as well. This 280 page household vocabulary pack is much cheaper than the previous mentioned program ;)

Unfortunately, it isn't shaded in in the example above, but I love the progress graph attached to the data sheet so students can help track their progress!

Since incorporating these binders the amount of prep work I had to go went down considerably, as all I had to do when I noticed we were getting low on papers was just print more out! And I know that my students are getting the practice they need, with the level of support they require. Do you use station binders in your classroom?

Visual Color Coded Calendars for Students with Special Needs

Whenever we are about to start a new month, it's time to prepare our color coded calendars! These are ESSENTIAL in my special education classroom. My students absolutely love filling out and coloring their calendars as it really helps them know what to expect for the month.

Time can be such a tricky concept to teach...what exactly does tomorrow mean? When we have a field trip at the end of the month, how long do we actually have to wait for it? Using these calendars daily helps students better understand the concept of time, days, and calendars.

Students fill out their calendars using the level of support they need, whether it is tracing all of the numbers, writing half (either 2-10 or 2-20, I always include the 1 so they know where to begin) and tracing the higher numbers, or writing all of the numbers by themselves. This is great number and writing practice.

When it is time to color code our calendars, I like to make my students pay attention and copy the example I do in the front of the class or fill it out simply by my explanation, such as "The 26th is a special day, we have a school assembly! Color that date green."

For my students who can't follow along with this yet, I outline the dates in the correct color before they trace/write their numbers so they can follow along with the level of support that they need.

Once students complete their calendar for the month, I have them hole punch and put it in their binder under the calendar tab. Each morning, during our morning meeting time, we open our binders to our calendar pages and cross off the days that have passed. We also use this time to talk about what has happened and what is coming up. The colors are a great visual way to talk about events and time passing.

For additional calendar practice for my higher level students, I have a worksheet that asks questions about the calendar, such as "How many days are in this month?", "How many Tuesdays?", "What holidays/special events are happening this month?", etc. You can also have students write a paragraph about what they are looking forward to in the upcoming month.

I also have worksheets that work on writing the months, matching months to their picture or abbreviation by cut and paste, and a worksheet for each month that works on picture identification and/or word identification (as seen above). Some of my students are more accurate when they count and write at the same time, so you can see in the example above, the numbers are written in each picture or word. For my students who aren't able to recognize words yet, I just cut off the bottom portion of the worksheet or have them try their best!

Using these calendars has seriously been a lifesaver for my students. I even have a few students make two so that their parents can use them at home with them as well! These calendars have just been updated for the 2016-17 school year and you can download the preview here in order to try out the August calendars for free!

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