Not Your Average Novel Study

Do you do read-alouds in your classroom?  I taught in a class for students with autism for 10 years.  I had students in grades kindergarten through 5th grade.  Some students were early readers, some students could not even identify their name.  Some of my students could hold an hour long conversation with me on the fine features of Thomas the Tank Engine and some students were unable to utter a single word.  I was tasked with helping every single student grow and thrive while learning what their typical peers were learning a few classrooms away.  One of the ways I did this was by reading novels to the class as a whole group activity.  Sounds a little crazy, but it was great.

My “not your average novel units” were born from this amazing experience.  I was not reading these novels to my students for a comprehension purpose.  I was reading to them in hopes of connecting on a personal level.  I was reading to them in hopes of teaching them to sit and listen (or at least be quiet) while an adult was speaking.  I was reading to them in hopes of sharing my love of books and stories.  So, with each chapter, I found myself trying to come up with an activity that would help them make a deeper connection to the content without relying on their ability to decipher and comprehend what I was actually reading.

These novel units do just that.  With each chapter, I develop one or two activities that tie to a concept introduced on those pages.  This isn’t as easy for me as it seems.  With each novel unit I start, I worry, “Will I be able to think of what to do with the next chapter?”  Sometimes the idea comes right away as I am reading.  It is easy to see a thread to pull on and use to build a great activity.  Sometimes, it is not so easy.  Sometimes it is REALLY difficult.  Some chapters, I just want to skip.

When I was doing the novel unit for Where the Red Fern Grows (a favorite story of mine from childhood), I totally forgot that one of the characters in the story falls on an ax and dies.  It took me 3 days and LOTS of conversations with my daughter (who was home from college) before I could come up with an acceptable activity.  I really just wanted to skip that chapter, but in the end, I decided it related to when you really need to call 911 and when it is not really necessary.


I currently have competed 12 novel units.  They take me a long time, usually about a month.  There is a lot of love, time, and thought that goes into creating these.  If you are looking for a different approach to teaching your novel units, check these out.  I hope you love them as much as I have loved creating them.  Click on the image below, to download some free activities to go with the novel, Matilda by Roald Dahl.


Here are the other novel units I have in my store:  Special Needs for Special Kids.


Don’t see the novel you are looking for?  Leave me a comment below, and I will add it to my working list.  Many of the ones I  have completed were the requests of other teachers, so don’t be shy!!


Quilted Books: A great sensory choice

So this is Jimmy.

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Jimmy has had a book in his hands since before he could walk.  He LOVES his books, especially Sandra Boyton, Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle.  I have even made him a quilt of one of his favorites, Brown Bear Brown Bear.

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But, Jimmy has a problem.  A problem that many of our students have as well.  He loves books too much.  He has developed a compulsion that is truly out of his control.  He rips books apart.  It is so sad.  Even his board books end up in pieces in the trash can.

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Sure, we got him a Kindle so he can still enjoy his books without destroying them.  But, it is not the same.  Like me, he wants to hold the book, feel the pages, and get his eyes off a screen for a while.  So I have tried laminating books (he ripped the plastic off), tried sitting right next to him (he is too fast and still tears the book in half), and even tried giving him tons of old magazines to tear to satiate this need (he is too smart for that, didn’t work).  So, knowing I have had students who are terribly hard on books, and trying to find something Jimmy could “read” I turned to my second passion, quilting, and my ridiculous fabric stash (this is only a small part of it).

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I took some of my most popular social stories from my TPT store and turned them into a simplified version made from fabric.  They are colorful, tactile, durable, and MACHINE WASHABLE.  I had many, many students who would mouth objects.  It was a sensory need; putting random objects in their mouths.  These books would be perfect for a preschool classroom or an elementary classroom with students who love books a little too much like Jimmy.

And, I am happy to report that Jimmy loves them and (so far) has been unable to destroy them.  Because it is the tearing and ripping sensation he craves, he has no interest in trying to rips these quilted versions, and he seems to really enjoy the feel and colors they contain.

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So, if you are looking for a new way for your students to enjoy and interact with books, take a look at these quilted versions.  You can also get them as part of  bundle that includes digital (paper) resources as well so all your students can benefit from the material regardless of their learning style.  All the links are at the bottom of this page.

To download a free digital version of my Emotions preschool social story, click here or on the image below.  Available in color and black and white, it gives students a chance to personalize their books through the use of crayons, markers, or paints.  Be sure to visit my store to get the quilted version of this story as well as more quilted stories.  I have also created some custom books if you would like something specific.  Just send me and email!!

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Here is a list of the quilted books I currently have available in my store.  Just click on the title to be directed to the site.  Remember to check out the bundles as well to save money and get even more activities and resources.

Teaching Topics that are Uncomfortable

As February begins, and I finish my monthly book club selection: Glory Over Everything, I realize that Black History Month is upon us.  It has been in the back of my mind for a while that I need to put a unit together on slavery.  But, it makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to research the facts, I don’t want to tease out what is really critical for my students with special learning needs to know, I just want to pretend this horrible even in our history did not exist.  But, I know that is the wrong sentiment.  Intellectually I know that through studying history, the good and bad, we are less likely to repeat our mistakes, but deep down I know through learning and TEACHING about these tough topics we show respect to those who lived through these horrible times.  And I know some may disagree, but I feel this is also true for our students with autism and other challenges.

There is no denying it, slavery is part of our American history.  We still struggle today with true equality across all races.  Thousands of slaves were shipped over from Africa in terrible conditions, to only be separated from their family members and sold at auction.

The colonists saw the slaves as property.  They often treated their pets better than the individuals who toiled long hot days in the fields.  It was horrible, it was wrong, and and it happened.  We want to ignore it and forget it, but we cannot.

As I wrote this unit, my son who turns 20 on Saturday, was laying on the couch in my office.  He has pretty significant autism and an intellectual disability.  His school journey is ending soon, and I know he has never been taught this topic.  So, as I read through pages and pages of historical material, I thought of him, and what I wanted him to know, and why.  Jimmy has had many important and influential people in his life with an African American background.  I imagine many of these individuals have a history of slavery in their family trees.  So, it is with profound respect and dignity I put this unit together.  To honor all those who have survived this terrible time in our history and have produced amazing individuals who have profoundly and positively affected the life of my family through their love and support of our son.


For those of you struggling to teach this and other difficult topics, I put together a social story to help you and your students understand why we need to learn about topics that are tough and may make us uncomfortable.  You can use it for a broad range of topics, and it is a free download in my store.  Just click on the image below to download a copy.


For those of you looking for materials for Black History Month that are appropriate and respectful for students with Autism and special learning needs, click on the images below.

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Teachers that Give


Be sure to hop to all the blogs and sign up for ALL the giveaways!! Just click on the image below to see all the amazing teacher-authors who are participating.

I am such a sucker for books.  I love to read, and I love to see kids reading.  While teaching, I would use a favorite story to teach a math concept, clarify a science experiment, and even gets kids excited about exploring new lands and space.  So, when it came time for our social skills group, I of course, found myself reaching for a book.  What I found, is that it became one of the most effective ways for my students to connect with the social skill we were targeting that week.  This may seem counter-intuitive for some special education teachers, especially if you teach students with autism.  Most of us were taught that students with communication and social deficits often have a hard time making inferences and confections with make-believe material.  Would they really make the connection that it is important to be prepared and work hard after reading the Three Little Pigs or would they need a more direct translation in the form of a social story?  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE social stories as a tool to teach students appropriate behaviors.  But, I found that the addition of a favorite book had a strong positive effect that I could not ignore.

Why Do I Think They Work so Well?

  1. Increases student engagement
  2. Is predictable and less threatening
  3. Gives teachers a place to build from

I have not done any blind studies, or extensive research to answer this question.  I only have my 20 years of working with kids and students with autism to use as my evidence.  There are a few reasons why I think this method has been so effective.  First, it greatly increases student engagement.  Most students love books, particularly those with good pictures and simple text.  My kiddos especially loved when I used a familiar favorite; one they often could recite by heart.

Perhaps unlike typical students who would grow bored hearing the same story over and over, I found my students with autism LOVED listening to the same book read time and time again.   I knew once I had them hooked, I could more easily slip in the social skills lesson I was targeting for the week.    Second, the predictability of a well-known story makes the topic less-threatening.  Once of the most anxious things for students with autism in not knowing what comes next.  This is not only true when it comes to their daily schedule, but it can also be true of a story you are reading.  If the book you choose is familiar, there is less anxiety about what will happen and how long they will need to listen.  I believe, this allows the students to be more open to making personal connections to the story’s content.   Third, it is more interesting to the teacher and parent, so he or she is more likely to reinforce and follow through with the lesson.  Teaching a social skills lesson can not only be intimidating, but it can also be a little boring.  Using a story, not only provides predictable structure for the student, but it also gives the teacher a starting point and a source of material to expand upon.  For me a good book is like going down the isle at the farmer’s market.  There is so much inspiration to choose from right in front of you.  Just grab whatever looks or sounds good and go from there.  A good book will never leave you empty of ideas.

How to Use a Book Effectively

Again, I can only share my personal experience that I have come to tweak and modify over the years.  I usually focus on the same social skill for about a week.  We usually do 20-30 minute sessions, depending on the maturity level of the students at the time.  I have even done as short as 10 minute sessions during those more challenging years.  I always start my lesson by reading the story.  Because most of my students do not like anything changed or altered, I just read it as is every time.  It gets them settled and thinking about the characters or content.  Then, we do a structured activity that helps relate the social skill and the story.  (At this point, I have not directly talked about the social skill yet.)  We often do cut and paste sorts, circle maps, or a group activity that will get them up and moving.  We end the session with a social story that I have written that pulls in the skill we will focus on that week.  With each passing day of the week, I try to pull in more and more commonalities between the book we chose  and social story I have written.  By the end of the week, it becomes more seamless, and some of the students will actually start to interject parts of the social story into the book as we are reading.  It is quite amazing to see, but takes a slow, methodical, and consistent daily approach to get there.

Lasting Benefits

Finally, what I found most interesting is that during later weeks when a social situation would arise that we had previously addressed using the method above, I could refer back to the book we had read.  Because the student often had a long history with that book, they could recall the message more quickly.  Also, it was less threatening, as I could address it in a more indirect way, rather than saying “Remember how we talked about using a calm voice?” I could say, “remember how grouchy that ladybug sounded?”

So, maybe I am just a sucker for a good book, and that makes this approach work for me.  But, isn’t that half the battle?  Find the tool that works best for you and reap the benefits with your students.

So, if you would like to try this technique out, click on the image below to get download a free social story using the favorite book Elmer by David McKee.  I have many other literacy units with social stories included available as well in my store at  I hope this work as well for you as it did for me!


Through the Eyes of Autism

I love to quilt, and I love a challenge.  So, this year I decided to join a Quilting Challenge group.  Every two weeks, they give you a topic, and you have to come up with an original idea and turn it into a quilt in less than a week.  This week’s challenge was Through the Eyes’s of a Child.  (click on the link to see lots of amazing quilts made by others all around the world) As most of you know who read this blog, or know me, you know one of my children has autism.  This affects everything we do every day, and it definitely affects how we see things.  But, it got me wondering, how HE sees things.  Do kids with autism see things the same way we do?

This really got me pondering what Jimmy, my son, really sees when he looks at something.  He is not able to communicate this to me, so I just have to use clues to take a guess.  My best guess is that there is NO WAY he can see the world as most of us do.  For example, think of your favorite movie of all time.  How many times have you seen it?  I would have to say my favorite movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  I have seen it more times than I can count over the years, but over the holiday season I probably only watch it about 3 times.  The first time is the best, and the other times are usually just space fillers and comfort seeking times.  Jimmy has a favorite movie, too.  It is Tennessee Ten.  It is a short 1 minute clip from Sesame Street that talks about how the number 10 gets some weird rash after kissing 10 fruit animals.  I know, only on Sesame Street.  In case you haven’t seen it, here it is 🙂

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Now Jimmy LOVES this movie.  So much that he watches it probably 100 times a day, every day.  He never gets tired of it.  He loves it as much on time 78 as he did the first time.  He laughs, he rocks, he is blissfully happy.  I’ve seen it more times than I can count too, but I just don’t get it.  He MUST see something I don’t.  There is some input he is experiencing that the rest of us mere mortals do not.  It keeps him coming back day after day.  It makes me wish I could see what he was seeing…

So, back to the quilting challenge.  I decided that since Jimmy does not really draw or make much art of any kind, I wanted to try and “see” a quilt the way he “sees” Tennessee Ten.  It had to be crazy and interesting, but needed some predictability and structure.  After all, it is not like Tennessee Ten is different every time.  Ten always gets better at the end after the doctor pays him a visit.  So, I started with making some very different, but very classic quilt blocks.  9 blocks in all with a bold sashing in between to add that visual structure kids with autism crave.  Here is where I started:

Autism Before

I loved the construction of the blocks, the straight edges, the crisp (almost) points.  I loved this quilt.  But, it is not what I knew Jimmy would likely see.  So, I did the sacred sin of quilters, and cut all the block apart.  I used some gentle curves and rearranged all the pieces and tried to put it back together.  I left the sashing in place and uncut, because I do believe kids with autism usually find some general point of focus.  It helps anchor all the chaos perhaps.  Here is the finished product:

Thru the Eyes of Autism

Can you see it?  Can you see the original blocks?  Here they are side by side:

I will never really know what Jimmy “sees” when he looks out into the world.  I know it can sometimes cause him anxiety and confusion, but for the most part it seems to excite him and bring him joy.  So, this is my little piece of awareness I am sharing in hopes others realize that there is more than one way to see the world.

Being a Good Sport

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As I watched the Superbowl on Sunday, I couldn’t help but notice the behavior of these “idols” to many and hoping they would live up to their image.  For the most part, it was a great game filled with excitement and some disappointment.  But, there were some times that emotions ran high and our idols were less than idealistic.

Monday morning found me struggling with this idea of being a good sport, and how important it is to teach our students this quality in a structured, focused and purposeful way.  Many typical kids learn these skills from coaches and other adults who influence them while honing their athletic skills on the court, field or pool.  However, what about those students who simply do not have the skill or desire to play a competitive sport?  These skills are equally important, and we need to teach them at an early age.

Of course it takes LOTS of practice but we need a place to start.  A social story is the perfect way to introduce this topic and start some good conversations.  You can download this FREE copy of my social story : Being a Good Sport by clicking HERE or on the picture below.

Being a Good Sport Social Story


I have created some activities that go along with this story and you can grab the entire unit in my store on TPT.  There are sorting activities for several different learning levels as well as a booklet for students to make.  Grab all 30+ pages by clicking on the image below.


Being a good sport is not always easy, but it is very important.  Learning how to win and how to lose graciously is something every student deserves to be taught as well as witness from their heroes.

Subitizing and Why It’s Important

Subitizing is the ability to quickly identify the number of items or dots in a small set without counting. Researchers have demonstrated the ability to subitize is a necessary early math skill.  In addition, toddlers as young as 12 months have shown the ability to subitize.  Sadly, this is a skill many of our students are not being exposed to.  Why?  Think about how we likely learned this skill 20, 30, or 40 years ago.  We played lots of games that often involved a board and a pair of dice.  Remember when you were a kid when you would roll the dice and could tell within a microsecond, without even thinking about it, how many places to move your game piece around the game board.  Today, our kids play totally different games.  Most games are in a digital format on some kind of screen.  They almost never involve a pair of dice and rarely force the player to utilize any math skills at all.  This is why, it is even more important we address this skill with direct and focused instruction in our math lessons.  Here are some important things to keep in mind when teaching this important skill.

  1.  Use dots

As teachers, we just love to dress things up and make them “cuter” and “prettier” in an attempt to make our boring material more engaging to our students.  But, when it comes to subitizing it is critical to keep it simple and use only dots.  Look at the two cards below:

dots and butterflies

I know I would have used the card with the butterflies when teaching my students to learn early counting skills.  But, after taking some classes in math foundations, I learned it is better (and necessary) to use the the card with the dots.  When learning this early skill of determining the number of images WITHOUT counting, you need to use the dots so the brain is minimally distracted.  Once the skill is mastered, it is fine to introduce other images, but initially, the use of dots is critical.

2.  Use standard placement

The dots on each side of a die is placed in a pattern that is consistent and strategic.  The placement of the dots in this standard manner is another critical step to learning how to subitize.  Take a look at the cards below:

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Your brain can very quickly identify that there are 6 dots on the first card.  However, it takes an extra second to determine the number of butterflies on the second card.  Keeping the dot pattern consistent is critical when learning this early skill.

3.  No counting allowed

What?  Isn’t subitizing counting small sets of dots?  Actually it is NOT.  Subitizing is recognizing the number of dots without actually counting them.  I found this to be the most difficult task of all to teach my students with special learning needs.  When you ask “How many?” to a student with autism, he or she is automatically cued to begin counting.  It is a strong learned response that has likely been drilled into them over and over again since kindergarten.  That is why, if you are given the luxury, start teaching students students how to subitize BEFORE you teach them how to count.  The way I found I could do this with the best results, was to play a subitizing game each morning.  I would use either large flashcards or used my Smartboard to project images of dot patterns.  The key was to only show the image for a couple of seconds.  Do not leave the image visible long enough for the students to count.  You simply want them to see the pattern.  Of course, this required a lot of prompting to begin with; lots of prompting and lots and lots of trials.

4.  Vary the presentation

So, we know you have to use standard dot patterns when teaching students to subitize, but we also know that students with special learning needs, especially autism, have a lot of difficulty with generalization.  So, find different ways to practice this skill.  This is part of the reason I used flash cards and projected images.  Another great way is to play simple games that use dice.  This has the added benefit of working on those important social skills as well that all of our students have on their IEPs.  Again, when using dice do not give your students time to count the dots.  I know it seems really mean to take the dice away before they have the chance to count the dots, but it is critical, even when playing a game, that you continue to train their brain to see the dots as an image that represents a quantity not individual objects that need to be counted.

5.  So, now what….

Once your students are able to subitize, the next step is to connect that image to a quantity.  Being able to match the dot patterns to sets of objects or numerals are also a critical skill.  In addition, being able to order a set of dot cards from least to greatest, is another critical skill in building number sense.  In older students, being able to add together sets of dots images will greatly help with skills such as doubles in addition.  There are so many ways to utilize this mastered skill in your more advanced math lessons.

I learned about the importance of subitizing in my 8th year of teaching.  It saddens me to think of all those students I had who missed out on learning this crucial early skill.  In addition, there is NO doubt in my mind that those students (including my own son) who never learned how to subitize struggled in math for the rest of their school career. Consider adding this skill to your IEP goal bank.  I promise you it is worth the effort!!

If you are looking for a resource that will truly help you become an amazing math teacher and successful at building really strong number sense in your students, I recommend the book below.  It became my bible while teaching math during my last 2 years in the classroom, and then helping other teachers become better math teachers. (click on image below to go to the link on

learning trajectory book

Click on the image below for a FREE download of subitizing flashcards to use today!


To get my complete Subitizing Unit from my store on TPT click the image below to get a book, worksheets, and flashcards to practice this critical skill.

subitizing unit

Do You Hug Your Students?

Do You Hug

As a previous elementary teacher in an autism classroom, I often got asked why I was not more affectionate with my students.  Don’t get me wrong, I did the occasional hugs, but in general I was not a big one for physical affection with my students.  This was sometimes mistaken as aloofness or coldness, but that was certainly not the case.  I simply had first hand experience of what showing a lot affection to young students in an autism classroom setting could lead to… lots of problems and behavior to un-learn.

My son is now almost 19 years old and has severe autism.  I am lucky because he has never shied away from giving me physical affection.  He loves his hugs.  However, somewhere along the line, he also started displaying very inappropriate ways of showing others (even strangers) physical affection. He used to want to kiss and smell everyone’s knees.  It is still by far his favorite body part.  I think it was partly due to the huge amount of time we spent at swimming pools when he was younger.  Everyone thought it was kind of cute when this 4-5 year old, who was just over knee high to many adults, would come up and kiss their knee.  Most knew he had autism, so they would just ruffle his hair and say “How sweet.”  Not the same response however when he was in high school.  With a lot of hard work from teachers and therapists, we were able to shape that behavior to kissing and smelling the top of a person’s arm.  Still kind of weird, I know, but it seemed the best we could do.  I look back now, and wish I had simply stopped that behavior at the pool all those years ago.  If I had just told people, that is going to be a big problem down the road, so let’s not encourage him.  Ah, hind sight…

So as I entered the classroom, I was already armed with this knowledge.  I knew how I interacted with my young students and how I allowed them to interact with each other would create a strong impression upon them that could last for years.  So, I emphasized to the other adults and peers who worked with my students, that hugging was probably not the best idea.  We did a lot of high fives and fist bumps.  I know it may have seemed cold to some of the people and parents I worked with, but I hope the middle and high school teachers who later had my students would appreciate the expectation we had set.

Showing affection can be a very difficult topic to address in special education settings, but setting clear expectations and models for appropriate behavior can be quite powerful tools.  In my store on teacherspayteachers, I have several resources you may find helpful.  I have a social story on showing affection that you can purchase alone or as part of my Valentine’s Day unit.

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Finally, as a thank you to all of you who take the time out of your busy day to read my blog, here is a FREEBIE for you!!


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 image 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.


Learning a New Year

Even for most of us it is always a challenge to remember to write the correct year after January 1.  Our brain and finger muscles have had 365 days to practice writing 2016.  Now, all of a sudden, we need to remember to write 2017.  That may take us a while…

Now imagine if you have a significant learning disability.  It may have taken you 300 of those 365 days to finally be able to “write” or “say” 2016 on your own.  Now, for no reason you can comprehend, you must forget that, and learn a new number to designate the year.  Very frustrating.

Admittedly, for many of the students I taught, knowing what year it was currently, probably was not high on the list of important facts to learn or be able to recite.  After all, many of my kids did not write or even speak.  But, there were always 1 or 2 that were at the high end of that curve who would go out for some time in the regular education setting and would be expected to write the CORRECT date on their papers.  In addition, there was always that one parent who felt their child should be able to parrot back the year when asked, just like their current age.  (Full disclaimer, I was one of those parents eons ago.  I so wanted my son to appear “normal” and be able to know what other kids his age knew.  It took a long time for me to be okay with the fact that at almost 19 years old now, he still does not know the current year or even how old he is.  But who really cares anyway?  Not him that’s for sure.)

So, how to go about teaching our students with disabilities that 2016 is over and now it is 2017?  Here are (what I think) some important things to consider.

  1.  Use ERRORLESS teaching

If they already know what year it is, we KNOW they will answer “2016” when asked “What year is it?”  So, you need to provide full prompting right away.  Stop letting them practice saying or writing the wrong year.  If you are asking your student verbally, then immediately follow your question with the correct answer and then allow your student to repeat you.  For some students you may need to give the full verbal prompt several times before fading.  For example:

Step 1= Teacher:  “What year is it?”

Step 2= Teacher: “2017”

Step 3= Teacher: “What year is it?”

Step 4= Student: “2017”

If your student is still saying 2016 after step 3, then repeat steps 1-2 several times before fading the full verbal prompt.  **Remember, there is a lot of research that shows that fading to partial verbal prompt is  NOT effective.  Just go from full verbal prompt to no verbal prompt.  If this is still not working and your student can read numbers, try using a cue card with the year written on it.  Pair that card with your full verbal prompt at first, then as you fade the verbal prompt keep the card.  Eventually fade the card.

If your students are writing the year on their papers, have then trace the correct year on their work for a while.  This will take some extra prepping on your part.  Beforehand, write the correct date in pencil and have them trace it.  Also put the correct date on the board or on an index card on their desk.  That way, you can fade the tracing to a visual prompt.  The index card is nice because it can go with them to various classroom settings if needed.

2.  Practice, Practice Practice

Set up lots of time and ways to practice writing or saying the new year. The more frequently it is practiced the quicker the muscle memory will build for either saying or writing the correct year.  Take every authentic opportunity to have students tell you or write 2017.

3.  Vary the stimuli

Remember, students with disabilities, especially Autism, have difficulty generalizing what they learn.  So, they may be able to put the date on their paper in your classroom, but not in Ms. Smith’s inclusion setting.  Taking visual prompts to new locations will help, as will practicing the skill in different environments with different people.  One way to practice is to try a cut and paste activity which you can download for FREE by clicking on the pictures below.  This is a great way for students to visualize the new year and manipulate the numbers.  I would try printing it on different colored paper each day for a while (repetition with variation).  In addition, don’t forget you can add color coding for your students who need more visual structure.


So if you are teaching your students it is now 2017, I wish you the best of luck!!  I am hoping to simply remember that myself this year.

***If you are looking for a unit to go with this activity, grab this New Year Unit in my store, over 40 pages for only $3.00.  Includes a story, circle maps, and cut and paste activities all designed for students with special needs, especially autism.