Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to Make Your Classroom Inclusive Today: The First 15 Minutes

1.  Before School

Including children with various needs in a general education classroom can be a concern for some teachers who have not had any experience with inclusion. It can be an overwhelming task with IEPs to follow, adaptations to make, and differentiated lessons to create. Not to mention, inclusion is rumored to cost a lot of money! How can general education teachers ever make this work?

First and foremost, inclusion is an attitude not a program. Just by starting to think that all children in your class will be included as much as possible is the best way to begin! In fact, one of the most effective, inclusive behaviors is to use inclusive language! Rather than using the word “them” when referring to children with special needs , start using the words “we” or  “us”.  And, second, start small.  Making a few tweaks to your curriculum and daily schedule each  week will set you on your way! 

In this article, I list several ways in which you can quickly, easily and cheaply transform the beginning of the school day to make it more inclusive and support students with various social, emotional, physical and intellectual needs. These activities can be adapted to most grade levels. 

2.  Meet and Greet

Shaking a student's hand
at the beginning of class
If you are a teacher who sits at your desk as the students enter the room, you would surprised at what a difference greeting them at the door makes. For some children, this will be the first positive interaction they have had with an adult that morning. 

This time can set the stage for a day full of positive learning experiences.  By cheerfully greeting each student you let them know it is a new day with a fresh start and you are happy to see them. In a very effective way, this creates the sense that you are on their team and are ready to help them learn. (In addition, it has the added benefit of allowing you to assess the mood of the students before they even sit down so you can make curriculum adjustments accordingly!). Here are some ways to greet your class:

  • high-five
  • fist bump
  • say ‘Hello’ in another language
  • secret password
  • handshake
  • wave

Teacher giving the students
 a high-five

Different ways to say 'hello'
Found on Pinterest

3.  Seating

Before sitting down at their desks, make sure the students know where to put their belongings.  Assign hooks, shelves or lockers to students. You would be surprised at the amount of interaction that goes on in this area, so help students be fair and considerate of one another.  In addition, take the time to plan a seating arrangement for your class. Make seating inclusive by:

  • taking into account student needs (ie. physical, sensory, or proximity to teacher). For example, placing a student with ADHD near the front of the class allows the teacher to help the student remain focussed.)  
  • placing desks in a way that facilitates inclusion such as a horseshoe shape, in pairs, groups, a circle or side by side in a line. 
  • ensuring that ALL students are a part of this arrangement and not relegated to the back corner of the classroom
  • Instead of individual desks, use large tables for students to sit around

A modified "horseshoe" seating arrangement

4.  Schedule

Posting the class schedule in a highly visible area of the classroom supports ALL students by providing predictability, routine and transitions. Schedules can be used and created in many different ways such as:

  • a visual schedule with pictures of activity and/or time the activity takes place
  • individual schedules at the student’s desk

In addition, the use of timers during each new learning time can help students anticipate future transitions in the schedule.

A visual timer found on www.online-stopwatch.com

Individual schedules taken from

Visual Schedule with print
and picture

5.  Sponge Activity

After the students are seated, help them prepare for learning with a “Sponge” activity.  A sponge activity is always engaging and sets the student up for learning. In addition, this is typically a quiet time that allows the teacher to take care of matters such as attendance or homework check. Here are some guidelines I use for Sponge activities:

  • Always provide choices for Sponge activity
  • Offer choices that appeal to various learning styles 
  • Provide choices that are at various skill levels
  • Choices come from various subject areas
  • Sponge activities can be done independently

A "Choice Board" with Sponge activities

An example of what students might see
when they enter the room

Let me know if you make any of these changes! To  help you get started, I have put all these suggestions into a checklist:

*Unless otherwise noted, all images are royalty-free and are from Google Images


  1. I am about to embark on a new open classroom experience where my roster will include gifted students but my coteacher's roster is going to have inclusion students. This was a great and manageable set of ideas for me to use! THANK YOU!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you found these suggestions useful! Good luck with your new class :)