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.