Insights from the School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College

Educators who teach children with moderate disability have a rewarding job, but also face many challenges. Some classroom tips that can help teachers include establishing a well-thought-out classroom structure, using a direct instruction method, using the scaffolding teaching method, creating a positive culture, and using high-quality children’s literature in the curriculum.

Designing the best possible classroom for moderate disability students is something that graduates from a Master of Education – Moderate Disabilities program must eventually accomplish. Fortunately, a master’s program prepares graduates well for this challenge.

Moderate disabilities can include learning disabilities, speech or language disorders, behavior disorders, ADD/ADHD and high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. This means that every class is different and requires a slightly different approach.

With that in mind, the following are some options teachers have found to be effective in approaching instruction in a moderate disability classroom.

Set Up Structure

Every moment of the student’s day needs to be analyzed thoroughly. All activities must align with your teaching style, as well as any special challenges involving the specific group of students or the classroom layout. This process starts after you have seen the classroom and can better envision how things will work. This helps you plan a successful day for each class. Planning includes details such as:

How to enter and exit the classroom

  • How to get supplies
  • How to turn in and pass out work
  • Rules for working together in groups
  • Proper behavior for moving between activities
  • Rules for classroom behavior, consequences of breaking those rules

Direct Instruction

Students with moderate disabilities typically perform better if classroom activities are structured, sequenced and led by the teacher. Teachers who use this approach typically apply a series of strategies, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA). They include:

  • Breaking learning into small steps
  • Supplying regular, quality feedback
  • Using diagrams, graphics, and pictures to support what is said
  • Modeling instructional practices that you want students to follow


Scaffolding also can make a difference with students, according to the LDA. This involves teachers beginning with heavily mediated instruction, gradually allowing students to acquire the skill, then moving towards the goal of student-mediated instruction. In short, students slowly require less outside assistance.

Using Literature in the Curriculum

Using high-quality children’s literature helps connect learning to daily life. It also gives students with a moderate disability the chance to engage with children’s literature, as “students with mild disabilities are often provided few opportunities to write and read for real audiences and for real purposes,” according to a study published in the Texas Journal of Literacy Education.

Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

All of those who teach students with a moderate disability know that each student must be treated as an individual and recognized both for their specific challenges and vast potential. Creating a positive atmosphere to support that idea is important. That can involve seating arrangements where kids are grouped by skill level, setting expectations for each individual student and encouraging group activities that are supportive and inclusive.

Teaching students with moderate disabilities is one of the most rewarding jobs in education. It’s also one of the most challenging. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare your classroom for the coming school year.