Modifying Writing Assignments for Special Ed Students

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer taught 9th grade ELA and AP Literature for over 8 years. She has a dual master's in English Literature and Teaching Secondary Ed from Simmons University and a BS in Psychology. She is a full-time senior content writer and certified AP Test Reader.

Sometimes students need more help with a writing assignment than meets the eye, especially special education students. In this lesson, we'll learn how modifying writing assignments can ensure success in the classroom.

Writing Assignments & IEPs

Not every student learns in the same way, and that statement is especially true for special education students. While there are many ways to modify writing assignments for them, we have to be sure to follow each student's individualized education program (IEP), which includes legally binding modifications and accommodations.

Modifications may not only include scaffolding assignments and graphic organizers, but also call for fewer sources for a research paper, a lower page count, or customized directions. Check with your student's special education liaison or department head if you have any questions or concerns.

Scaffolding Modifications

No matter how big or small an assignment, it is important to break down academic material so students feel confident that they can complete the objective or task and learn the skill. This technique is called scaffolding. Scaffolding is when you break down a larger assignment into smaller, more manageable parts. These parts can be combined over time to complete the overall objective.

When assigning writing work, scaffolding means setting smaller goals for special education students that will help them pull all of the pieces together. Here are some techniques for breaking down the different parts of writing assignments and helping our special education students succeed.

Short Writing Assignment Techniques

Even for a short or one-page assignment or reflection, first brainstorm with your special education students. For example, don't simply give them a prompt and ask them to write. Have them brainstorm using a mind map or bulleted points so they don't feel overwhelmed. It might also benefit all students if you brainstorm as a class so that struggling students can see how others work through the given assignment.

Another way to help get special education students going is by using sentence starters. Ease students into an assignment by writing the beginning of a sentence on the board or on a worksheet. For example, you could write something like, ''Today in class I learned...'' or ''During today's class, I learned three things about World War I.'' Then, add some bulleted points for your students to fill in on their own.

These seemingly small tips help special education students feel like they can complete an assignment, especially if you offer support along the way. Now let's take a look at how we can help them during longer writing assignments.

Long Writing Assignment Techniques

For longer assignments, break down each section of a paper into manageable parts, such as:

  • Introduction
  • Thesis statement
  • Topic sentences
  • Evidence
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion

This way, the task doesn't feel overwhelming. Students can work at the assignment piece by piece at their own pace until they complete the task.

Graphic Organizers

To break up an assignment effectively, give students a graphic organizer. A graphic organizer is a handout that breaks down tasks into smaller pieces. It usually contains visual representations - such as boxes or other shapes - to help students organize their thoughts. There are many sample organizers for open responses and long compositions available online. However, feel free to create your own and design them specifically for each long writing assignment.

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I would definitely recommend to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

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