Circle Maps in Special Ed

Circle maps are a type of graphic organizer or thinking map.  It is a wonderful tool for helping students visualize what they know about a particular topic.  Below is a short video of how these can be used in a typical classroom setting.

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So, how and why should you use circle maps in your special education setting?  I found circle maps to be an invaluable tool with my students, even for those who were more severely affected.  Circle maps provide a visual representation of the subject matter which the student can easily refer back to.  Here are some tips if you decide to use circle maps as part of your lesson plan:

  1.  Match the student’s learning level.

We all know that in a special education class, there are many different learning levels.  For my students on the symbol level, I would often use symbols from Boardmaker.  Some of my students were readers,  and I would use either words alone or words paired with symbols.  If my students where on the picture level, I would look for realistic pictures from either magazines or google searches for realistic images related to the content.  Finally, I always had at least one student on an object learning level.  So, I would try to find some actual objects that the student could manipulate and place inside a real circle map most often using a hula hoop.

2.  Keep it consistent.

Once you identify the learning level of your student, use the same symbols, pictures, words or objects in the circle map that you will also use for the assessment.  This will help reinforce the content during this early learning phase and make evaluating the results of the assessment more valid.

3.  Don’t forget to generalize.

We know students with disabilities, especially autism often have a hard time generalizing content.  Once they see a penguin, it will forever be that black and white bird they saw in the movie, March of the Penguins.  But, penguins can look very different and are still considered penguins.  That is why, it is important to introduce variations on the pictures or symbols you are using in various additional activities.  This can also be done with a separate circle map that contains all different kinds of penguins.

This concept also works very well when building number sense in your math lessons.  Creating a circle map for each number and displaying all the different ways you can represent that number can be quite powerful.

  • Tally marks
  • Sets of objects
  • Number word
  • Number of fingers
  • Various fonts and colors
  • Dots

Click on the button below to download this FREE circle map of the number two.

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4.  Use as a study guide

Circle maps make great study guides. Students can take them home to review the content with parents and even use them while taking the assessment.  Many of our students with autism are visual learners, and being able to organize the content in this format makes it easier for them to organize the information in their minds and recall at a later date.  The circle map below is part of my Penguin Science unit that you can download from my store on teacherspayteachers by clicking on the image below.

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5.  Consider adding distractors.

If your students are at the appropriate learning level, you can also add incorrect answers or distractors into your picture selection as well.  Most of my products do not include these distractors, as my students were often not at that level.  I was mainly focused on errorless teaching for the majority of my lesson, so it was easier for me not to include them.  However, they would be a nice addition to your higher level learners.

I hope this has encouraged you to consider adding circle maps to your teaching tool box especially if you teach students with special learning needs.  They are an engaging activity that can bring a lot of value to the content you are presenting.


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