How to teach kids with special needs

How to deal with learning difficulties in the classroom

Do you have kids in class that need special attention?

Sometimes there are kids in class or even youth group that can be a little harder to teach than others. It’s not that they don’t want to be there, but sometimes they just have special needs.

You can’t just ask their parents to “talk” with them and set the straight. It doesn’t work that way in most cases. You do have to recognise what’s going on and work on a strategy to make classroom life easier for you and better for them.

So what leaning difficulties are we talking about?

First of all I’m not talking about kids that absolutely cannot cope without special one-on-one carers. That’s another topic all together. I mean kids who have some learning difficulties and simply struggle keeping in rhythm with the rest of the class.

You’ll recognise some of these signs. These traits are usually not isolated, but are often grouped together. Often these kids:

  • Have a low tolerance level and a high frustration level.
  • Have low self-esteem.
  • Can be easily distracted.
  • Have a short attention span.
  • Cannot control emotions.
  • Are easily confused.
  • Are verbally demanding and can be loud.
  • Can have difficulty working in groups or teams
  • Find it hard to follow instructions

What can I do to help?

Teaching kids with learning difficulties will give you with new and interesting challenges. First of all these kids will  demand more of your time as well as your patience. They will also need specialized strategies.

In order to get the most out of your class you’ll need to modify how you teach and try some new strategies. The things you can try include:

  • Give these kids lots of praise and make it very specific. Don’t just say “Well done” or “That was great”. Make sure to be very specific – “That was clever how you ……”
  • Giving verbal instruction for children with reading disabilities. You can work 1-1 for short tests or class activities whilst other kids read through the material.
  • Give extra updates to the children with learning difficulties. Spend a bit longer when giving instructions and check in on them more often.
  • When necessary, plan to repeat instructions or offer information in both written and verbal formats. Give the kids every chance to succeed.
  • Try and keep the activities simple and short wherever possible. Keep away from longer exercises. They can be pretty frustrating for both kids and teachers.
  • Keep concepts simple and grounded. Try to refer to concrete objects and ideas – things they can actually see and touch, rather than more abstract concepts.
  • Encourage learning activities where kids can work together or in teams. That way strengths and weaknesses can be better balanced give the children a greater chance of succeeding.

Real World examples

In practise even using all these strategies is not a guarantee of ultimate success. You may have to modify your goals for some of  the kids. I’ve had a situation in the recent past where one of the young children was struggling to concentrate and would often seek attention. Rather than attempting in vain to  have this child complete the same tasks as the rest of the class I simply modified their goals. What this meant was I was happy for them to color or draw whilst the others were completing a bible verse worksheet. As long as there was no disruption to class then we would let that child keep working on the tasks that they were happy to complete.

You will need to modify each class to suit the actual needs you have. Just remember that you’re not facing anything new and there are techniques you can employ to make things easier.

Until next time,

learning difficulties





Dwight Veenman


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