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Teaching English To Special Needs Students

Teaching English to students with additional needs is perfectly feasible, it just requires a little thought and planning to make sure it is done in the most effective and rewarding way possible.

The key aspects of adapting English to students with special educational needs can include, early interventions and adaptations of teaching methods, scaffolding of both instructions and tasks, quality communication between stakeholders and recognition and prevention of barriers to participation.

Although this appears to a significant amount of work it is, in fact, nothing in particular out of the ordinary for most teachers day to day work load. Schools should be able to offer both advice and training to staff, as well as any information they have of the needs and requirements of the students teachers will be teaching.

Teaching your child additional languages is a great way to advance their educational careers, but when your child has special educational needs, it may seem like a daunting task. The good news is that it is not only possible, but it is also advisable. Children with special educational needs should be treated just as any other child and held to the same standards. What you must realize, though, is that they may not always be able to do it in the same time frame or with the same methods.

Early Interventions

Recognizing challenges early on can help you meet the needs of your students more fully. You can often recognize early challenges in English language learners just as you would in any other class. English language learners are sometimes more challenging to note these issues, though, since they do not speak the other students’ language. However, teachers of English as a Second Language are trained to recognize challenges. Early interventions will keep students from falling further behind. If your child is exhibiting troubles with English language learning, do not be afraid to begin intervention services to prevent further challenges.

Methods for Teaching English for SEN Students

While you may hold the children to the same standards as typically developing students, this does not mean that the same methods should be deployed. You must consider how the student learns as much as what you are teaching them. The learning styles you may see in any student are auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and verbal. Learning languages often center on auditory or verbal learning, but visual and kinesthetic learners can certainly benefit from additional languages.

  • Make your lessons predictable, at least with structure if not activities. So that SEN students are aware of what sections are coming each lesson and can prepare for them.
  • As mentioned above try to make lessons incorporate multi intelligence aspects, visual, aural, verbal and kinesthetic.
  • Make sure that tasks as well as instructions are scaffolded appropriately.
  • allow access to your materials to students outside of classrooms.
  • Diversify your materials, there is more than one way to skin cat (no idea where that came from!) and there is more than one way to teach grammar, phonics, vocabulary etc.
  • Consider how you will run assessments, can there be extended deadlines, open questions and open text sections?


It may seem that scaffolding is nearly impossible when teaching another language than the native or first language. However, it is not only possible, but it is also advisable. Using scaffolding takes what the student already knows and expand it by introducing new material. Scaffolding can be especially good for most every learning style. How you approach this will depend on the learning style of the student. However, taking what they know about their target language and incorporating the new language is one of the best ways to connect. Offering multiple options to study is a concrete way of achieving this, as well as information presented in different formats. These will actually help all students not just ones with SEN.


Just as with any new information, chunking is a good method for introducing English concepts. While learning a new language may not seem conducive to chunking, it is very possible to teach using this method. Break down the information by what the students already know through scaffolding, but make these extensions small amounts of information that may be absorbed more readily. For instance, English shares many words and roots with other languages. Teaching children the English words for things that sound similar in their native tongue can help them learn more thoroughly. They can learn the roots and how the words are connected before expanding into more words and phrases. Learning a word that expands into a short phrase and then a longer phrase serves to both chunk and scaffold the information. This process can be done by any of the learning styles mentioned above as well.

Work with Each Other

Working as a team includes students, teachers, and parents. Students know what works for their learning needs, and parents know what accommodations have been used in years past. Likewise, teachers have the latest research and information. Children also tend to respond well when they know that their educators are working as a team. Children with additional educational needs often need to feel supported, and by working as a team, you can show your students or children that their educational needs are essential, and you are focused on their growth.

Peer Interactions

Often if students are learning English as a Second Language, they are doing so in a fully immersed environment. Even with learning differences, children learn best from their peers in many cases. Working with their peers can help students learn the language much more naturally. When speaking with other students, children will learn inflection, tone, and vocabulary simultaneously. Even children with learning differences can begin to learn these cues. Unless the child is nonverbal, you will notice the benefits of working with peers. Even non-verbal students can benefit from some of these interventions, but their expressive language may hinder your knowledge of their language growth. Make sure the classroom environment is non judgmental and inclusive and don’t be afraid to answer questions from other students.

Remove Barriers

Sometimes children with additional needs have barriers that can be mitigated in the classroom. Other times, barriers may be more challenging to overcome. However, for students who lack English materials at home, you can provide them with the things they need to be successful. On the other hand, providing them with practice outside the school is more challenging. For this reason, you may want to provide them with more opportunities in the classroom.

Removing barriers is more than just providing them with practice or materials , we have a huge selection materials that can be adapted for classrooms and SEN students. Children’s environments also need to be comfortable for them to learn. If they have trouble with the lighting, temperature, or seating arrangement, do the best you can to change these circumstances. If assessments are too long for students to focus properly look at shortening, or splitting them up into smaller pieces.

Children with ADHD cannot concentrate if the room is uncomfortable, noisy, or too bright. While ADHD might not be the only learning challenge that your students may have, several other learning differences respond to environmental barriers as well. Make sure you have as much information from the school administration or parents to be able to prepare the most successful environment you can.

Final Thoughts

Students with additional learning needs require extra interventions where scaffolding and chunking can help. These interventions are not the only ones that you may use. Peer interaction, removing barriers, and working with parents/ teachers/ and students can also make a difference in how students learn new information. Learning differences should not change the expectations you have for your students, they may just change how you present the subject matter or activities and make you a more responsive and adaptable teacher in the process. Creating a diverse range of ways for students to show what they have learnt , making tasks and instruction more accessible and being flexible with assessments will help students develop language skills that will last them a lifetime. That’s why we are doing it isn’t it, not just for a score on a test?

About Making English Funn

Thought it was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children

I have been a teacher of English for over 15 years, in that time i made hundreds and thousands of resources and learnt so much i think its worth sharing. Hopefully to help teachers and parents around the world.

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