Alternative Teaching Strategies for Students with Leadning Disabilities

SNOW - Special Needs Opportunity Window (

Learning disabilities are often an invisible handicap. Students with learning disabilities do not have a hearing or visual impairment, a physical disability, or below average intelligence. However, they demonstrate difficulties in the following areas with regularity over an extended period of time:

  • receptive language (listening, reading), language processing (thinking, conceptualizing, integrating), and expressive language (talking, spelling, writing)
  • mathematical computations
  • visual, auditory, motor, organizational and/or conceptual skills
  • memory
  • focusing attention, leading to uneven or inconsistent performance
  • behaviour (often immature, impulsive, and egocentric)
  • self-esteem and social skills (including fear of school)
  • an inability to produce answers (even when there is mastery of content)
  • cognitive style (often careless, disorganized, impulsive, off-task)
  • sequencing
  • comprehension (may seem satisfied with peripheral understanding and may misinterpret what constitutes completeness)
  • time management.

Motivational Strategies

  • check papers by marking correct responses rather than those that are incorrect
  • give immediate reinforcement of correct responses
  • keep graphs and charts of student's progress.

Presentation Strategies

  • use many modalities, e.g., oral presentation, board notes, overheads, diagrams, class discussion, activity-based learning
  • give instructions after eye contact has been established. Instructions should be clear and concise; sequenced logically; verbally rehearsed by student ("what should I do?"; reviewed after a time lapse; written on board or in notebook
  • organize assignments so they are broken down step by step; outlined in writing, both in student's homework book and on chalkboard
  • use a direct teaching method and teach in small, incremental steps, from simple to more difficult
  • encourage students to question for clarification and additional information
  • avoid using figurative language unless it has been specifically pre-taught
  • provide extra time to complete assignments that might otherwise be completed in class
  • give students several short assignments rather than one long one
  • check with the student frequently to give help before frustration begins
  • give the restless student opportunities to move. Some students need physical movement, e.g., rocking or tapping, to concentrate
  • use experiential, concrete activities to teach abstract concepts.


  • use a direct teaching approach, e.g., phonics, trace and pronounce a word simultaneously
  • use special materials, e.g., high interest low vocabulary reading material
  • reduce the quantity of material.

Writing and Note Taking

Students who have difficulty with written work may have problems transferring what they see into a written form because of motor, memory or processing difficulties, so teachers should consider:

  • negotiating written assignments. Allow students to write less and allow more time for the work to be completed
  • teaching the elements of a proper/acceptable written assignment. Keep good models/samples visible for references
  • providing alternatives, such as, paper that has larger spaces and lines, the computer, diagrams, assignments on audiotape
  • accepting different writing forms for different purposes, e.g., point-form notes for summarizing or mapping
  • encouraging students to listen first and the write their notes. Doing both at the same time may be confusing
  • when students need to transcribe notes from point form to draft copy, letting them record or dictate to another person, or use a computer
  • when students need to transcribe notes from draft copy to final copy, deciding the requirement for correct spelling. If it is essential, use a word processor or peer editing, etc.
  • in taking chalkboard notes: using point form; allowing plenty of time for copying; using clear, well-spaced script; providing a photocopy of teacher-made or pupil-made notes when necessary; using summary sheets (have a group summarize the notes together)
  • in working on research projects: assisting with the formulation of a framework; allowing the use of live interviews or TV and radio programs; providing photocopies (enlarged, if possible) and assisting the student with highlighting key terms/information; assisting the student with categorizing and sequencing the material according to the framework.


  • read the student exactly what he/she has written. The student will often be able to self-correct in this way
  • provide assistance with proofreading for spelling, punctuation, and syntax from a peer, peer-tutor, parent, teacher
  • provide a checklist to help focus the student's attention.


  • provide opportunities for extra drill
  • support the use of manipulative and concrete materials, such as, computer programs for drill and practice, calculators, cuing strategies, e.g., colour coding, bold, underline, and models/charts
  • problem solving: pre-teach or review new/necessary vocabulary; use diagrams/concrete materials; have the problem read to the student; have the student paraphrase and/or rehearse the information and necessary steps and operations.

Test Taking

  • prepare student ahead of time by explaining the expectations for the test
  • prepare review sheets; encourage student to do them. Give immediate feedback regarding strengths and weaknesses
  • make sure student understands test instructions
  • accept spelling as written unless it is a previously specified dictation
  • allow adequate response time, oral or written
  • allow short answer tests to be taken orally. Answers could be recorded and transcribed.
  • for essay tests:
    • read questions to student
    • have students formulate a framework for their response/answer
    • have student dictate to peer-tutor
    • use verbatim scribing
    • if scribing not available, have student record answers for marking or later transcription
    • focus on quality of content in the answer than with structure, unless, structure of response is also being evaluated
    • consider testing longer exams in shorter time segments
  • consider alternative evaluation techniques;
    • oral test: teacher/peer reads questions and/or writes the student's answers
    • open book test: student has the use of notes, good for evaluation of process/skill more than knowledge
    • closed book test with different requirements for answers, e.g., short answer, true/false, matching, multiple choice (very difficult for learning disabled student with language deficits)
    • taped tests; student listens to tape and responds on tape
    • take-home tests
    • extended time to complete the test
    • resource room
    • short quizzes instead of major tests
    • partial marks for answers
    • critique early drafts of papers and encourage rewrites