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Portland Public Schools

Portland, Oregon

501 N. DixonPortland, OR 97227(503) 916-2000

Strategies for Students

Here are some practical ideas that include strategies for students, educational modifications and assistive technology solutions. Use the links below to jump to the corresponding category.

Reading - Spelling - Math - Study Skills - Aided Language Stimulation
Comm. Partner Strategies - Art for Communication Materials
25 Reasons to Use Visual Strategies - I See What You Mean
Reading: Modifications and AT

Here are some practical ideas from

Educational Tech Points: A Framework for Assistive Technology Planning
by Gayle Bowser and Penny Reed
Modifications of Task and Expectations Standard Tools Assistive Technology Solutions

Peer/adult reading

High interest, lower reading level materials

Increased time for completing reading materials

Decreased length of assignment

Simplify text



Printed information on board

Printed test materials

Instructional software to remediate or enhance basic reading and/or reading comprehension skills
Reading aids (e.g talking spellchecker or dictionary as a word recognition aid, etc.)

Electronic books (e.g. disk or CD-ROM)

Alternatives or supplements to printed information (e.g. tape recorded or talking books, computer based talking word processing program with adaptive input as needed, screen reading software with adapted input as needed, etc.)

Solutions for converting text into alternative format (e.g. scanner with OCR software, Braille printer/embosser, refreshable Braille displays, tactile graphic production systems, etc.)

Spelling: Modifications and AT
Here are some practical ideas from
Educational Tech Points: A Framework for Assistive Technology Planning
by Gayle Bowser and Penny Reed
 Modifications of
Task and Expectations
 Standard Tools Assistive Technology

Peer/adult assistance for difficult to spell words

Personal or custom dictionary

Problem word list

Reduce number of spelling words

Increaase time for completing assignments
Print dictionary

Instructional software to enhance phonics and spelling skills

Computer with word processing software with built-in spell checker
Tape recorder with difficult to spell words recorded

Hand-held spellchecker without auditory output

Hand-held spellchecker with auditory recognition of entered word

Portable word processor with built-in spellchecker

Computer with word processing program and adaptive features (talking spellchecker, word prediction software, etc.)
Math: Modifications and AT

Here are some practical ideas from

Educational Tech Points: A Framework for Assistive Technology Planning
by Gayle Bowser and Penny Reed

 Modifications of
Task and Expectations
 Standard Tools  Assistive Technology
Change format of assignment (e.g. write answers only)

Peer/adult reading of problem and recording of answer

Reduce number of problems
Manipulatives (beads, etc.)


Number line

Math fact sheet (e.g. multipication facts, etc.)

Calculator with print output

Instructional software to enhance and remediate math skills
Modified paper (e.g. graph, enlarged, raised line, etc.)

Talking calculator with speech output

Calculator with large print display

Calculator with large keypad

Computer-based on-screen calculator

Electronic math worksheet software with adaptive input and output as needed (e.g. Math Pad, Access to math and Study Works)

Adaptive measduring devices (e.g. devices with speech output, large print display, or tactile output)
Study Skills: Modifications and AT

Here are some practical ideas from

Educational Tech Points: A Framework for Assistive Technology Planning
by Gayle Bowser and Penny Reed
 Modifications of
Task and Expectations
Modifications of
Task and Expectations 
Assistive Technology
Assignment sheet provided by peer and/or adult

Outlines of key points
Instructional materials including software to remediate deficit areas, to teach compensation strategies, and focus on strengths  
Print or picture schedule

Organizational aids (e.g. color coding, appointment book, etc.)

Tape recorder

Electronic organizer

Computer-based electronic organizer with adapted input and output as needed

Speech prompting device

Aided Language Stimulation

Aided Language Stimulation is an essential strategy for successful augmentative communication use. Experience has demonstrated that augmentative communication training is best conducted within an immersion approach.
When using Aided Language Stimulation, the communication partner points out symbols on the communication display as he or she interacts and communicates verbally with the user. This modeling of the communication system assists the child to establish a visual and auditory understanding of how symbols can be combined and recombined generatively to communicate during routine activities.
Aided Language Stimulation was originally designed for the non-verbal population, however it has also been proven beneficial for students who are language delayed. This technique provides the communicator with the opportunity to visually process words and symbols being concretely combined to form functional utterances within meaningful routines. Since the printed word accompanies each symbol on the display, Aided Language Stimulation also may assist some children in the development of reading skills.
Aided language stimulation is primarily good verbal language stimulation with visual augmentation. When providing aided language stimulation for children, Carol Goossens' recommends the following verbal language stimulation guidelines:
use primarily single words (symbols) and short grammatically correct phrases (symbol phrases) to talk about what the child is hearing, seeing, doing and feeling use lots of repetition as you describe ongoing events speak slowly, inserting numerous pauses into the conversational flow whenever the child indicates something with a single word (symbol), expand that message into a semantically equivalent two-word (symbol) combination.

Communication Partner Strategies

A partner is “one who joins in the activity of another.” As communication partners, we can implement strategies which help support communication success and active participation of students with severe communication challenges.

Position and structure the environment to promote communication:

"Engineer the environment" to promote active participation and interaction

Establish routines
Position yourself at eye level during interactions Provide interesting and motivating materials
Follow the child’s lead Provide opportunities for choice making, requests, labeling, etc.
Ask yourself “What is the payoff” for the student to communicate?

Provide Opportunities for Communication:

Use motivating activities.
Pace your communication to allow time for interaction to occur.
Adapt and modify activities to increase communication.
Use this mindset .... Can I turn this activity into something that promotes communication?

Establish Routines:

Development of routines allow students to learn to anticipate the steps in an activity.
As the students become more familiar with routines, increased focus can be placed on communication within the activity.
Routines can include daily activities and repetitive games.
Involve the child in all parts of the activity, including setup and cleanup.
Benefits to teaching in natural settings include:
Increased motivation when goals are functional
Less segregation
More likely to maintain the skill in a natural setting

Aided Language Stimulation:

An immersion approach where the partner uses the same symbol system as the student.
The communication partner points to the symbols while interacting and communicating verbally with the student.
Use lots of repetition as you describe ongoing events.
Speak slowly, inserting numerous pauses into conversational flow.
Use modeling and expansion techniques with symbols.

Wait for a response and use an expectant pause:

Powerful technique which facilitates interactions
Pace your communication
Response time needed for communication is unique to each AC speaker
Beware of distractions

Sabotage Wisely

Powerful strategy which provides opportunities for communication within familiar routines.
Routines need to be very familiar to students before you incorporate sabotage.
Techniques should not be designed to frustrate students. 

Assist from Least to Most Support:

Possible sequence of prompts:
Look at the student with expectation, and then pause. Touch the student and then pause.
Make a question gesture, then pause.
Give cues for the way in which the student could respond, then pause.
Express expectation for the student to respond, and then pause.
Suggest possible specific messages, then pause. Indirectly model the response.
Provide a direct model.
Offer full physical assistance.
Remember to fade prompts to natural cues as soon as possible.

Use Questions Wisely:

Restrict the number of questions and limit yes/no questions.
Offer options for answers.
Ask open ended questions or use open ended statements.
Ask questions one at a time.
Allow time to answer.

Respond to and Reinforce All Attempts to Communicate:

Follow the student’s lead.
Observe behaviors carefully to identify communication.
Be consistent in acknowledging communication.

Manage the Topic:

Establish the topic
Teach the concept of categories and provide a category or topic page.
Provide alphabet boards for students who have phonemic awareness.
Sustain the topic
Takes practice
To practice this skill, role-play conversational scripts.
Partner may model sustaining the topic by elaborating AC user’s message.

Clarify Your Message:

Avoid communication breakdowns
Use an "Introduction" strategy
Give the listener feedback
Ask the listener for feedback
Give the listener clues
Repair communication breakdowns
“That’s not right” strategy
Elaborate on the message
Provide initial letters for words and indicate where the words end.

Free Art for Communication Materials

Free printable activities and clipart for kids, parents, students and teachers
Download and print free PDF files with text and graphics for school routines and activities
by Widgit, software Free symbol resources
A monthly magazine for symbol readers
Clip Art Gallery
Fun graphics and clipart

"25 Reasons to use visual strategies"

By Linda Hodgdon
Another View April 2005 newsletter
We use visual tools to accomplish a purpose. Perhaps we use something visual to help a student understand a situation. Maybe we provide a visual prompt so a student can accomplish a task more independently. Think of the PURPOSE of a visual tool. Defining the student's NEEDS guides the decision about what kind of tool to use. Identifying the purpose of a visual tool helps us know how to use it. Is your school or home environment set up to provide the visual support your students can benefit from?
1. Establish attention: Looking at something can help students establish attention better than just listening. Once they have focused their attention, the rest of the communication message can get in.
2. Give information: How do students get information to answer the who, what, why, where, when questions?
3. Explain social situations: The social world can be confusing. People are moving, changing & unpredictable. Giving social information by writing it down helps students understand.
4. Give choices: How do students know what the options are? What is available? What is not available?
5. Give structure to the day: Creating a schedule to tell what is happening or what is not happening. Giving students the big picture to reduce anxiety.
6. Teach routines: Following multiple steps in a routine will be easier when the student can SEE what they are. They will learn a routine faster when they are guided with visual supports so they don't make a lot of mistakes.
7. Organize materials in the environment: Where are the things we need? Is it clear where to put supplies away when it is clean up time?
8. Organize the space in the environment: Can the student identify his own space to work or play or sit? Which parts of the environment can he use and which parts are "off limits?"
9. Teach new skills: Learning to operate a new toy or piece of equipment. Learning a new task or academic skill.
10. Support transitions: Stopping one activity to start another. Moving from one environment to another. Anything that involves a shift or change.
11. Stay on task: Remembering what the current activity is and staying involved with it until it is completed.
12. Ignore distractions: Helping students consciously focus their attention on desired activities or interactions.
13. Manage time: How long is 5 minutes or one hour? How much time is there before a transition in the schedule? Time is invisible. Timers and clocks turn time into something students can SEE.
14. Communicate rules: People presume students know the rules. That is often not true. Perhaps they don't remember. Or they don't understand. Or they get too impulsive, etc?
15. Assist students in handling change: Preparing for something that is going to change. Preparing students when something will be different from what they normally expect can prevent lots of problems.
16. Guide self-management: Students need to learn how to manage their behavior by making acceptable choices when they get anxious or encounter a problem.
17. Aid memory: Remembering what to do or when to do it. Remembering what something is called or what someone's name is. (Think about how many ways you provide cues for yourself!)
18. Speed up slow thinking: Some students have lots of information in their brains, but it takes them a very long time to access it. Visual cues can speed that process.
19. Support language retrieval: Did you ever have an experience where you know someone's name but you just can't remember it? Or you know what something is but can't recall the word? Once you hear it or see it you instantly remember. (The older we are, the worse it becomes!) Students can experience the same challenges in remembering.
20. Provide structure: Structure means organized and predictable. Strive for an environment that provides visual organization and information.
21. Learn vocabulary: Create a personal dictionary with pictures and words of important vocabulary: names of people, favorite toys or videos or activities or places. Students will learn that information when they can access it over and over.
22. Communicate emotions: Students demonstrate a variety of emotions with their actions. Translating those responses into pictures or written language gives an opportunity to explain, clarify or validate their experience.
23. Clarify verbal information: What I understood might not be what you meant. Making it visual helps clarify our conversation. It eliminates the confusion.
24. Organize life information: Think of phone numbers, calendars, cooking instructions, shopping lists, social security numbers, appointments, etc.
25. Review & remember: One of the greatest benefits of making something visual is that you can keep it. Verbal language flies away. It disappears. Keeping visual information to review over and over helps students remember and understand.
Giving information to students in a concrete visual form helps them handle the many happenings during a day that can cause confusion or frustration. It gives them the structure necessary to better handle situations that are difficult for them. Using visual strategies provides a way for students to participate more appropriately and independently in their life activities.
Count the ways that your students receive visual support consistently in their communication environments. Did you think of any new ideas to try?

"I See What You Mean"

Two excellent articles published in the Disability Solutions Newsletter:
Volume 5, Issue 4 (March/April 2003) by Patti McVay, Heidi Wilson, and Luci Chiotti Supported Education Team/Multnomah Education Service District
Volume 5, Issue 5 (July/August 2003) by Patti McVay, Heidi Wilson, and Luci Chiotti Supported Education Team/Multnomah Education Service District