Tips and ways to engage your students with special needs

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 2

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

  • Reading and writing, for example if they have dyslexia 
  • Ability to understand things
  • Concentration levels, for example if they have ADHD

We address some relatively common difficulties, and offer tips on what you could do to support your SEND students, and the rest of the class, with LessonUp.

How can you engage students who have issues with reading and writing?

First of all, as you already know, you can ask your local authority to carry out an assessment if you think a student needs a targeted Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. Students with major reading and writing issues, for example, might need specific support.

That said, how could you use LessonUp to support them on a daily basis?


1. Provide foundation level textbooks to supplement your teaching. Simplified content and sentence construction might go a long way in helping these students. Of course textbooks don’t cover all the interesting topics that you want to talk about in the classroom. Current events and happenings, or the latest trends, don’t have a foundation level book to consult.

Yet online there is also a golden mine of information:  videos, imagery, and simply-written articles that might be perfect to boost classroom engagement, especially for dyslectic students. With LessonUp, you could create complete lessons around present-day themes, provided of simple wording, interesting videos, and engaging imagery.

2. Differentiate your lessons by wording things differently for your students with reading and writing problems. This is a wide concept that can go from using a specific font and font size, to wording things more clearly or simply, right up to creating customised lessons. You could differentiate a lesson’s learning objectives, type of interactivity, or number of slides per topic.

You know your students and their needs. Based on that, LessonUp provides you with a wide range of tools to differentiate your lessons.


If you have a student with dyslexia, make sure you use dyslexia friendly fonts, and colour styles. LessonUp provides dyslexia-friendly options:

  • Use dark coloured text on a light (not white) background.
  • Avoid green and red/pink, as these colours are difficult for those who have colour vision deficiencies (colour blindness).
  • Consider alternatives to white backgrounds for paper, computer and visual aids such as whiteboards. White can appear too dazzling.

For more info on this topic, feel free to check out this dyslexia friendly style guide.

How can you engage students who are unable to understand things straight away?

You notice that one of your students doesn’t seem to understand what you are teaching, or your instructions. What can you do about it?

1. Try to supplement the learning material that you offer in your class with other sources. Something relatable and not too complicated like wikipedia, videos, websites, different kinds of books or magazines. 

You could try to provide differentiated instructions to this student, and in general, you could allow all your students to ask you, or a “friend” (another student), if they don’t understand something specific during your lessons. 

You could give your students the freedom to look for answers digitally or in the classroom, in books, websites, forums, and social media. LessonUp is the perfect platform to collect all this extra material in one customised lesson on a subject, rich but easy to understand.

2. In LessonUp there are some specific interactive features and exercises that could help you, such as hotspots or the quiz questions.

With hotspots, you could supplement an image or a written slide with some extra engaging information. Students can click on the hotspots to read them. Hotspots make an image more interesting, and stimulate curiosity. 

Quizzes are the perfect way to simplify things and indicate the correct answer within the mix. Seeing it written might resonate with your students, and give them an instant opportunity to revise, or learn something new.

3. To assess what you can do for your students with special needs, it is very important that you check their lesson reports. There is a lot of information there that could be useful to you as their teacher. You might notice that a student understands questions posed in a certain way, or is not comfortable expressing a personal opinion. You can also check which interactive exercises activate your students, and resonate with them.

Effective plenaries in a lesson are those that help you make sure all students understand what they have learned. With plenaries you can summarise and reinforce key points from the day’s lesson. All LessonUp’s interactive features can support you in doing this. You could implement quiz questions, open questions, mind maps, drag & drop questions, or happy to sad polls to check if, and what, your students have understood.

How can you engage students who have difficulty concentrating?

Many students (and non-students) have difficulty concentrating at times. It is not rare, but some have more difficulty than others. They might need your help to focus on your lessons, or while revising for upcoming exams. What can you do?


1. Provide them with short breaks during your lessons. During these periods of time you could encourage them to do something that relaxes them. Students with ADHD, for example, might need more breaks and breathers than others. Yet the benefits of taking more breaks and doing some physical activity are high for the entire student population.

In LessonUp you can set a timer during an activity to make sure students remember to take their breaks. If these students enjoy looking at videos or doing quizzes to relax, that is a perfect win-win situation. Maybe you could prepare some lightweight, leisurely slides to take their mind off the heavier stuff for a while. They will appreciate it, and learn something new too.

2. You can try to work with a reward system. In general, almost all kids work well with rewards, whether they are at school, or at home. 

People who have difficulty concentrating may need the incentive of a reward system more than the rest. Focusing on a lesson might be a mammoth endeavour you could help them with, also by using LessonUp.

A reward could be video material about what they like and enjoy, or a couple of lightweight quizzes. They could listen to music to relax for a moment, or relate with you on a different level during a friendly chat. Many things are possible, within limits of course, and LessonUp could help you provide them with some leisurely interaction to recharge their batteries. 


3. Revising for an exam can be very difficult for kids with ADHD, or those who have more difficulty concentrating. At school you can help with posing questions and offering supplementary material, but what happens when students are supposed to revise at home? That can be very hard for them, and not all parents have the time and resources to support them. 

LessonUp could be of great help. It is a very engaging teaching platform, where you can upload videos and visuals to supplement textbooks. Taking regular breaks from textbooks could be the secret to help these students revise. It is very important that you take a lot of effort in selecting the right resources for your students. Once they have revised, you could implement quizzes, open questions, or drag & drop questions to see if they have understood and anchored new concepts. 

At the end of the lesson, offer your students a happy to sad poll to check in with them. Do they feel like they can concentrate better with the help of engaging visuals and exercises?