How To Use Whole Group Instruction Special Ed · Mrs. P’s Specialties


Teaching students in a group setting is essential for our students, though it is often challenging. Whole group instruction is a wonderful way to teach students to take turns, and learn to wait. It gives them opportunities to communicate with peers and have others working in close proximity to them. All great things! BUT… it can be very challenging to lead whole group lessons in special education when students are often at many different levels. Here are strategies you can use to make whole group instruction more effective.

Have different roles for students

Set up different roles within the group lesson which allows all students to contribute at their own level. For example, during morning meeting, assign students jobs appropriate for their levels. The possibilities are endless. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Students at the emergent literacy level can put names together with or without a model.
  • For letter of the day, early emergent literacy students can use errorless materials, be given visual supports, etc. Students who are farther in the emergent literacy level can come up with words for the given letter, generate the associated sound, etc.
  • Each day we choose an amount of money to count (usually the date). Work together to build the day’s amount with our coins. In order to engage all of the kids, I might show one student a coin and have them find the matching coin, then ask another student what coin it is or how much it is worth, then have another student find a dime, then ask another student to find a coin worth five cents, then have another student add up how much money we have built so far, etc. Once we have built the day’s amount, we count it up as a group. Every student had a part in working together to make our total in a way that was meaningful to them.

Adapt materials for whole group instruction

Adapting materials or adding in visual supports is an easy way to make whole group lessons more effective. Sticking with morning meeting, here are adaptions you can make to support the mixed level grouping.

  • Color coding: for example, color code the materials for creating the date. Students can simply match colors or focus on sequencing the date.
Use color coded cards to help students of all levels participate example from morning meeting
  • Use visually supported materials. For example, when writing the letter of the day, some students have models, some have to trace the letters while others need to write the letter without any support.
  • Have a way to easily add in support if needed. For example, we build the name of the student of the day during morning meeting. With this activity, we can target building names, counting letters, etc. The strip we build our names on is on our whiteboard. This way, when needed, we can quickly add support by writing the name out above it for students to match. We can also adjust the difficulty by increasing or decreasing the number of letter choices the student is working with.
Example of writing name above where student has to build their name.

Use leveled materials in whole group instruction

Using leveled materials during whole group lessons allows all students to use the same materials but at their level. The key is to plan ahead and think about how you can make your lesson meaningful and appropriate for each student. Once you have done this a couple of times, it will be a snap.

For example, during a whole group lesson for reading, start by reading a theme book. Afterward, do an activity that goes with the book. Here are ways to add in leveled support:

  • While reading the book, have language boards with visuals students will need to comment on and answer questions. Make sure students with devices also have these visuals.
  • Use activities that come in 2 or 3 levels to reinforce concepts and vocabulary from the book.
Use leveled materials during whole group lesson example

Allow for different ways of responding

Finally, allow students to answer or respond in different ways to individualize during whole group instruction. Here are a variety of ways a student can respond or answer in a lesson:

  • Cut and paste their answers
  • Circle or put an object on the answer
  • Point to the answer
  • Verbally state their answer
  • Write out answers
  • Choose from a choice of 2 or more

You can meet each student where they are while still having them actively participating in your group.

How to make whole group instruction effective blog post pin image

Teaching a group of students who are at a wide range of levels and abilities can be a challenge, but worth the effort. Being part of a group, learning to wait and take turns, listening to others, cooperating, etc are all important life skills that our kiddos need to practice to master. With a little thought and preparation, you can successfully teach to multiple levels in the same group.

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