Creating Global Connections in your special education classroom

So what do we really mean when we talk about global connections. It boils down to this: Our well-being is linked to others. What we do in our own lives affects not only ourselves and the people around us, but has ripple effects that can be felt around the world. For that reason, it is important to teach students early (and often) that the choices we make can have powerful consequences. Therefore, we need to help them understand what are good choices versus bad when it comes to the overall well-being of the Earth and its people. Be sure to read to the end of this post to get your free download to make an impact on your students and thus around the world.

In 2015, several countries, came together to create a set of goals meant to keep the world healthy and strong. They came up with 17 Sustainable Developmental Goals with a timeline of being realized by the year 2030. They are not easy goals. But they are critically important if we want to continue to live on a planet that is strong and inhabited by healthy people. You can read more about their mission HERE, but these are the goals they came up with:

  1. No poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and well-being
  4. Quality education
  5. Gender equality
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. Industries, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable cities and communities
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on land
  16. Peace, justice, and strong institutions
  17. Partnerships for goals

Those are a lot of goals, so I decided to just choose 8 of them to focus on while creating a unit for students with significant challenges in middle and high school. But the issue still, was how to get them to really understand what a global impact meant, and how they could create one.

1. I started with a book.

I wrote a 64 page book in which I talked about each of the goals in terms I thought students would understand. Then, I gave them a very specific action they could do locally. And a specific action they could do globally.

2. I developed a vocabulary list.

I find that key vocabulary is critical for long-term retention and generalization of the material. For this unit, I was came up with 15 words that I wanted to use in various activities through the unit.

15 Vocabulary cards

3. I developed some activities.

I love using thinking maps. In particular, I find circle maps to be one of the best tools for teaching our students note taking and seeing the overall picture. I came up with 3 circle maps for this unit. One was a general overview, one was about local impacts, and one covered global impacts.

3 different circle maps

I also created a sorting activity to assess if the students were really getting the concept of what a good action or choice was versus a bad one. Remember, you can always add color coding if needed for more additional support.

Sorting good vs bad choices

I also made an activity that looked at each goal and had students identify a local and global action they could do for each. Because I wanted students to focus more on matching the change to the goal, I used color coding. All the local actions were outlined in green and global actions were outlined in blue.

What can I do?

4. I created a writing prompt and pledge cards.

I LOVE writing prompts. They are a great way to allow EVERY student to express their own individual thoughts with some support. I make all my prompts errorless. Obviously there are some better answer choices than others, but all the answers will work. The best part is allowing students to then share their finished stories with others. So awesome!!

Writing Prompt (download free below)

I also decided to created some pledge cards to go with this unit. I made them similar to how I create power cards. This gave students a way to focus in on one particular goal that was meaningful to them.

Pledge cards (2 sizes)

5. I made some assessments.

Of course, you need some way to assess if all the work you are putting into teaching this material is actually making an impact on your students. I like to create some close worksheets that are more narrowly focused. I use these as a warm up to determine what sections many need more re-teaching.

Close worksheets

Then I also have a standard assessment. I always make 3 versions of the same assessment. Version one allows students to circle the correct answer choice using pictures. Version two requires a little more prep work. I enlarge the answer choices, print them onto card stock and laminated them. I can then ask the student the question and put the answers (field of 2 or 3) in front of them. The student can indicate their answer using the selection method of their choice, which may be pointing, slapping the card, or even eye gaze. The last version is a standard multiple choice assessment for any kiddos who may be good readers.


So, how long will/should it take you to teach your students about global connections and their own individual impact on the world? I broke it all down for you in a 13 day lesson plan. With some reteaching, and inevitable bumps in the road, I can see this lesson lasting at least 3 weeks. But really, when it comes to impacting the world in a lasting and positive way, that seems like hardly any time at all.

Want to try an activity from this unit? There are so many to choose from, but I am including my favorite here, the writing prompt. It would fit well with whatever lesson plans you may already be using, so be sure to click the button below to grab your free copy.

You can also get my complete unit on Global Connections by clicking HERE or the caption below. It was a labor of love that I hope will make an impact around the world.

Get the complete unit <CLICK HERE>

Tips for scissor cutting skills using the same activity

Those fine motor skills can be really tricky to work on. Especially when you are also trying to teach content at the same time. We all know that teaching skills in the natural environment is preferred, but it sure isn’t always easy. Here are 5 simple ways to you can take ONE task that requires cutting and quickly differentiate it for all the students in your class.

1. Thicken the lines

Some students have a pretty good grasp of how to use a pair of scissors. They have the dexterity and the strength to cut a piece of paper in half. For these students, they may just need an extra visual cue as to where to cut. For these students, I take a black marker and just thicken the lines a bit. This is a great way to subtly modify the task if the student is in a general education inclusion setting. Hardly anyone will even notice.

2. Highlight the line

This is another visual cue for those students, who can cut on their own but just need more visual support. I use a colored highlighter to trace the lines I want them to cut. It is also a great idea to practice this in isolation, when you are not teaching a lesson. I always try and use the same color, so students get used to seeing that as a cue, “cut here.”

3. Add a physical barrier

I learned this one by watching my OT. She would place Wikki Stix (thin strings covered with a sticky wax substance) on either side of the line she wanted the student to cut on. Well, I didn’t happen to have these fancy little stix in my classroom, but I did have hot glue, and lots of it. So, I just put a bead of hot glue down either side of the cutting line ahead of time. If the student started straying off the cutting line, the hot glue was really hard to cut through. It gave them some sensory feedback that they had fallen off the line.

4. Pre-cut some of the pieces

Prepping materials in a special education classroom is more than half the battle. If needed, I would ALSO sometimes do some of the cutting myself ahead of time. This way, students were not waiting for me to get things ready. Everyone was able to cut out the same activity at the same time. (Having a bin or folder for each student in the group was super helpful in keeping all of this organized.)

5. Free cutting

Ok there are some students who are just not going to be able to attend to the paper long enough to cut on a line. It won’t matter how much hot glue I piled on there. For these students, I often just let them cut wherever they wanted to on the paper. They still had the same activity as all of the other students. But when it came time to actually DO the activity, voila!! I would have some pre-cut pieces for them ready to go. I had prepped these ahead of time. That way, all the students felt they were involved in the same activity.

I think most special education teachers are accustomed to spending their free time prepping materials for the next day. We spend HOURS laminating, cutting things out, and adding Velcro. Taking a little time to add some visual cues to cutting activities can really pay off when it comes to whole group participation. There is nothing worse than students sitting around while the teacher or assistant cuts out the pieces for them. Using one of the above techniques, will help overall participation and increase student engagement.

Presidents Day in Special Ed

Presidents’ Day in a Special Ed classroom

Presidents’ Day is fast approaching and it is one I kind of dreaded when I first started teaching. I knew all the other classrooms would be putting out their George Washington silhouettes and wearing their Abraham Lincoln top hats. I also knew I wanted my kiddos to learn about these important people as well, but there just were not any great materials out there for them to use. So, of course, like most special education teachers, I made my own.

And I want to share some of them with you for free at the end of this post!!

It takes more than a day

So the first thing I realized that I needed a MUCH longer time to teach this topic than most of the regular classrooms around me. That was fine. If nothing else, we had time. So I typically devoted 2 full weeks to Presidents’ Day. In a nut shell, here is what I did:

  • Week 1: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln
  • Week 2: Other past presidents (briefly), our current president, and the general powers of the President

Week 1 : George Washington

Who doesn’t love a good story about a hero who tries to save the country? I found George Washington an easy person to teach about. However, I did not stray into the more controversial areas of his life (like owning slaves). Because I taught K-5th grade I was not ready to go there, but I might have if I had older students. I wrote a book, we reviewed some fact sheets, and I did a circle map. It seemed to work really well, and the kids could make some nice connections to the Revolutionary War unit (click HERE) I had previously taught.

Fact Sheet and Circle Map

Week 1: Abraham Lincoln

Next, we talked about Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President, and a champion for trying to abolish slavery. Since we were mid-February at this point, we had been talking about Black History Month, and this fit in perfectly. I also had taught the Civil War unit (click HERE) earlier in the year, so we could also circle back to those main concepts as well. I love recycling my old materials. It is a great way to check for retention and connections to new material. Again, we did a book, fact sheet, and circle map. Now I could also introduce a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting Washington and Lincoln. Color coding was of course added, and voila, they could successfully see how these two presidents were so alike.

Fact Sheet and Venn Diagram

We also ended the week with a fun log cabin replica made from some supplies I had in the classroom and from home.

Pretzel Log Cabin

Week 2: Other Presidents

I felt like it was important for students to at least “meet” some other past presidents, especially those we had talked about in other social studies units. For this purpose I wrote a quick book and actually made a file folder matching activity. (I know I don’t have many of those in my store, but I used them ALL THE TIME in the classroom.)

We also looked at who our current president is and what powers, in general the president has. We had already done the Branches of Government unit (click HERE) where we had really looked at the powers of each branch of government, so this was just meant as a review. Again, super cool to swing back around and revisit material we had previously done, but now presented in a new way.

Of course I had to do a writing prompt (they are my favorite!) This year, I also created some cool Sudoku puzzles to add even more variety. They are super fun, and I give you some great tips so EVERY student in your class can complete these puzzles.

Writing Prompt and Sudoku Puzzle

A Free Download for YOU!!

As always, how can I help? I tried to find something in this unit that I thought EVERYONE could use. So I am making the Washington and Lincoln facts sheets, and the cut and paste review sheets free to download here. I know you will be able to incorporate these into any lesson plans you have for Presidents’ Day. Hopefully, it will give you just a little more time to take a breath and enjoy your students.

Fact sheets and Cut & Paste

You can check out my entire unit on Presidents’s Day by clicking HERE. It has over 120 pages of material guaranteed to keep your kiddos engaged and learning for 2 weeks.

Power Cards: an effective behavior management tool

Have you ever spent what feels like days teaching a particular social skill? You find the perfect social story, review it daily, send a copy home for parents to read, and even do various activities reinforcing the main concept. It seems, like your student understands and recognizes what behavior is expected. Then it happens. One or two weeks later you find yourself in that precise situation you practiced and talked about. Maybe it is in an assembly or maybe it is waiting in line for pizza in the cafeteria. You feel confident, your student will behave perfectly; just like you practiced. But then it falls apart. It is as if all that work was for nothing. Your student seems to have forgotten all the cues, all the appropriate responses. It is just a mess.

Boy, have I been there. It can be really discouraging. We all know that social stories are an effective tool. We should not just abandon them when it feels like they may not be working. Maybe they just need a little more support. Maybe we need to add some power cards.

What are power cards?

Power cards are small, often 3 x 5 , that summarize in just a few words or pictures what the appropriate behavior is in a given situation. You can easily create a power card for just about any social story. They can be highly effective reminders, especially when it has been a while since you focused on that particular skill. Because they are so small and portable, students can easily carry them and refer to them as needed. In addition, they do not draw a lot of attention from their peers.

How do you make power cards?

There are a lot of tips out there on how to make the perfect power card. The bottom line, is that it depends on your particular student. Here are some things to keep it mind:

  • Keep them small enough to be portable. How will your kids carry them? In their pocket, on a key chain, in a phone holder? This will determine the best size to make them.
  • Use materials that will withstand wear and tear. I like printing them on card stock and laminating them. You can also use packing tape as a quick and cheap way to make them really durable.
  • Make sure they look age appropriate. The front image can be just about anything that is of high interest to your student. Often, they can look like trading cards. I also let my kiddos personalize them with stickers, color, and even glitter. You can always substitute the front image with something else.
Front of field trip power card
Back of field trip card

How do you use power cards?

Review the power card as part of the daily lesson when you are focused on teaching that skill. Then, make sure there is a designated space either you or your student keeps their card. In some instances, I kept all the cards myself. For example, the cards we made for a field trip, I would keep in my desk. I would pass them out before leaving and collect them again once we returned. On the other hand, cards we made for what to do when the teacher is talking, students kept in a location they could easily access. For some kids that was in their desk, for some it was in a pencil box, and for some it was on a key chain. As long as they could get it out when needed quickly was fine with me.

I found power cards to be a really nice tool to help students quickly review expectations. It allowed me to use less intrusive prompts. I could simply point to the card as a remember to appropriate behavior.

An additional benefit of power cards

One last great thing about power cards is that they are a great cue to other adults what is expected. If you are not present, another adult can look at the power card and implement the same expectations. Having everyone on the same page so quickly and easily is invaluable.

So, consider adding power cards to your social skills strategy. They are a great tool to have in your arsenal. Click the button below to download this one on telling the truth to try today.  There is a copy with pictures and one with just words.