Differentiated Instruction

5 Tips for Ensuring That Your Elementary Classroom Is Inclusive

Teachers can design a learning environment that helps their students know they belong and can access multiple avenues to success.

December 13, 2023
Maskot / Alamy

If you’re looking for ways to build an inclusive community in an elementary classroom setting, you can consider the following five strategies to ensure that students feel valued and their academic and social and emotional needs are met.

1. Provide different tools So All Students Can succeed

This idea applies to both students and teachers. Teachers can reinforce the idea that each student requires different tools to be successful in school. This can be modeled through teacher actions. For example, after dealing with a challenge that resulted in frustration, a teacher can model a constructive way to calm down by  taking 10 deep breaths in order to return to work in a calm and focused manner. First, the teacher can think aloud, “That was a frustrating moment. How can I support myself? I know! I can take 10 deep breaths.”

In terms of accessible student learning tools, teachers can introduce a variety of options, and through trial and error they can find an appropriate approach that best meets student needs. Teachers can model each tool as they introduce it. 

Here are some examples of tools: 

  • Number lines to support adding and subtracting.
  • Fidgets to help students regulate emotions or focus attention on the task at hand.
  • Math manipulatives such as counters, cubes, or coins to support math problem-solving. 
  • Checklists to support students in completing assignments. Sentence starters or stems. Teachers can provide the beginning of a sentence to answer an open-ended question. For example, when answering the question “How does the character in the story feel?” a stem would be, “The character in the story feels _____.” 

While the above examples are all distinct, they each provide an opportunity for the student to thrive in the classroom setting. Be creative when coming up with these types of tools. 

2. Focus on individualized learning

In an inclusive classroom setting, it’s important for teachers to work with all students individually or in a small group on a frequent basis. This instruction can be for intervention, for extension, or on level learning. When all students have the opportunity for more individualized instruction, it reinforces the idea that all learners are deserving of support and recognition from their teacher. 

Some examples of individualized instruction include the following: 

  • Guided reading instruction in small groups or one-on-one to support reading comprehension by teaching a targeted reading skill 
  • Writing conferences to provide feedback on student writing and discuss strategies and next steps 
  • Intervention opportunities to support learning across all subject areas
  • Preteaching concepts such as vocabulary or math strategies
  • Extension opportunities that encourage students to think critically 

3. Celebrate successes in the classroom

Teachers should celebrate student successes, no matter how big or small. Learning is something that should be consistently recognized in the classroom, as teachers have the ongoing opportunity to validate students for their progression. Take the initiative to celebrate even the smallest of wins to demonstrate to students that their efforts are seen and important. Some ways to celebrate student success can include providing notes home to share a job well done or coordinating an author’s chair celebration for students to share their work with their peers and/or families. 

4. Emotionally co-regulate

Support students’ emotional needs through co-regulation. Emotional co-regulation is the modeling of how to manage strong emotions. Co-regulation can be supported in the classroom by designing a calm-down center in the classroom for students to access in times of need. This center can include stress balls, fidgets, or yoga and breathing cue cards. As previously stated, it’s important and helpful for teachers to model how to access these tools. 

To support the growth of skills in co-regulation, establishing strong and positive relationships with each student is necessary in order to best provide effective guidance. This can be reinforced during individualized learning, discussed in the second point. In addition to this, teachers can support students in developing stronger relationships with their peers. Social skill development is important because it teaches students how to communicate and work alongside classmates. 

Lastly, teachers can guide students to develop and recognize their sense of self. When children understand their emotions and who they are, they’re better at working and connecting with those around them. One way to do this could be through using a feelings chart that includes feeling and emotion words as well as pictures to match. Teachers can also provide opportunities for students to reflect on how they’re feeling and set personal goals for managing their strong emotions. 

5. Capitalize on student strengths and interests

Providing students with learning opportunities that highlight their strengths builds confidence in the classroom. When students have the chance to showcase their strengths, they’re better connected with the content at hand. If a student is a very talented artist and a developing writer, a teacher can create an assignment where the student is prompted to create a comic strip instead of writing a story. Additionally, when teachers give students feedback, they can take time to recognize their strengths and articulate how their capabilities can support success in other areas. 

Teachers can create learning experiences that highlight student interests—increasing engagement. For example, teachers can develop academic projects centered around student interests. When researching topics for an informational writing project, teachers can prompt students to pick a topic of their interest to better motivate and engage them. 

In math, teachers can develop story problems that involve student names and their passions. For example, in a classroom with Pokémon fans, a teacher could write, “When playing with Pokémon cards, Ameya has three Pikachu cards and one Jigglypuff. How many Pokémon cards does she have altogether?” Lastly, teachers can connect content to careers or real-life experiences that spark student curiosity. For example, if students are interested in engineering, they could design and create a toy while acting as a toy engineer.

Creating an inclusive school environment promotes equity and establishes a safe, welcoming learning community for a diverse group of learners. Teachers can prioritize inclusion in their classrooms so that every student has the opportunity to not only succeed, but thrive.

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Filed Under

  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Education Equity
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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