Tips and ways to engage your students with special needs - part 1

Thomas Courtley, ex teacher and LessonUp education specialist

Thomas Courtley

Education Specialist

Cover image blog_ Tips and ways to engage your students with special needs - part 1

'Special educational needs and disabilities', or SEND, is a legal definition and refers to children with learning problems or disabilities. They may have problems with schoolwork, communication, or behaviour. A school can usually provide help and sometimes employ specialists to support them. Yet, as their teacher, what can you do to support & engage them during your lessons?

How SEND can affect students’ ability to learn

Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) sometimes affect young people’s ability to learn. Amongst other things, they can affect your students’:

  • Behaviour 
  • Ability to socialise

There is no one solution for every student. People differ and shouldn’t be defined by their physical or mental needs and/or differences. Yet there might be some practical things that you could try out in the classroom, with or without the help of specialists, to support these students during the learning process. Although some disorders or limitations cannot be changed, you can try to make the classroom time as effective and engaging as possible for all your students.

How can you engage students with behaviour disorders?

First of all you might want to contact your school’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENCO). Being specialised, this person will give you some great tips on how to deal with students who have behavioural issues. Together, you can dive into the specifics, and look for targeted solutions. 

That said, LessonUp can be of support in order to engage students who might disrupt the learning process for themselves and/or others:


1. Offer fun quizzes as a reward for completing an assignment, or participating during a lesson. Most students love digital quizzes. They are playful, immediate ways to assess knowledge and engage them. If you have particularly introverted or disruptive students, try to offer them a quiz about something they are passionate about. It might turn them around.

2. People are tendentially visual, and sometimes SEND students even more so. The great thing about LessonUp, is that you can upload images, youtube videos, and all kinds of interesting materials to build a more “visual” connection between you and your students. To top it up, you can even customise your images and videos by adding audio messages, symbols, hotspots with engaging information, and many more features.

Depending on your students' needs you can keep your visual material clean and simple, or make it as rich as you want. The sky's the limit: it’s up to you. There is a good chance that your students will enjoy working visually, in a digital environment, and might engage with you about what they have seen and learned. It could also make for interesting conversations about present-day themes and topics that interest them.


3. Once you have given your students instructions, you could implement a digital poll to check if they have understood what you are asking them. It might give you some insights on what a particular student finds difficult to understand. Based on that, you could differentiate your instructions for that student. It might lead to a completely different learning outcome!

4. With LessonUp, you can track student progress digitally and real time. All you have to do is go to your student’s report, and check how he/she is doing during interactive exercises, tests, formative assessments, etc. Based on this precious information you could re-think your teaching method, and search for targeted solutions on how to support this student. 

If you want, you can also give your students immediate feedback digitally, directly through their lesson reports. You can write comments next to their answers, and, in case of absence of an answer, you could enquire why.

How can you engage students who have difficulty communicating?

Also in this case, it might be wise to contact your school’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator for support and advice. 

Here are some tips on what you could try out with LessonUp:


1. Get to know your students as much as possible. The more you know about them, the more you can engage them. Take the time to ask them about their passions/hobbies in person, and if that doesn’t work, you could try to ask them digitally. A mind-map could help you to assess what they like and enjoy, or a spinner with “I like” or “my favourite football team is” etc. might do the trick as well. If your students enjoy writing, try to ask them about their passions and interests in an open-ended question. Asking them about themselves digitally might work better for students who don’t like to be at the centre of attention. It might give them an extra sense of safety & privacy.

2. Give them the opportunity to show off their knowledge. If they have difficulty with communicating verbally it might be frustrating that they cannot word what they know.

Digital open-ended questions, photo questions, and/or mind maps could be perfect for them! They give students the chance to show off their knowledge without having to interact with the rest of the class, or having to say it out loud. Some kids might surprise you with how much they know about a topic, and simply just bloom in the comfort of a digital environment.

Go a step further in your quest to make them feel safe with welcoming student anonymity in the classroom. With LessonUp, in fact, you can stimulate student engagement without revealing their names. While working with a mind map or an open-ended question, for example, you can choose if you want to display their identity or keep them anonymous.


3. Some students might need your help to find their place in the classroom group dynamic. How can you help them, without it being too obvious? 

You could use what you know about them to create learning moments on topics that interest them. Involve also the other students by promoting classroom conversations with the spinner or with a mind map. If conversation is not what you are looking for, you could try to engage them with one or more of the many interactive features available in LessonUp. 

You could divide your students in groups to answer a question collectively, or check out a video together and discuss what they have learned in smaller groups. In the LessonUp blog and community there are many articles with interesting learning techniques that you can apply straight away in your classroom, with or without the support of LessonUp.