Ruda-Peachey Education Ltd

Inclusion and Differentiation in the ELT classroom:
introduction to SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities)


Let’s be honest. Not many teachers, newly qualified and non, know how to best manage a class with students who have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). It is often difficult and embarrassing to admit it - Who do you ask for help? Where can you find reliable online information? What immediate actions can you take to make your lessons more accessible for all? Many academies/language schools nowadays are better equipped to support teachers in these circumstances. Some have a SEND coordinator appointed to liaise with students and teachers, so that their classroom experience can be improved. But not all teachers work in this kind of environment. This training session is just the tip of the iceberg, to gently introduce you to a world that you might not be familiar with. 


Outcomes  (slide 1-2)

The objectives of this session are:

  • to have a better understanding of what SEND means 
  • to discover what can be done to better cater for a wide range of students. 


But this!

  • Here you’ll find only GENERAL advice, as a starting point
  • Here we focus mainly on children and young people with SEND
  • The definitions and information presented may vary from country to country
  • Note that ‘categorising’ SEND is extremely hard, as they often overlap. 
  • For some learners with SEND, different learning contexts may present different challenges (e.g. ELT classroom vs non-ELT)
  • There is a lot more to discover about SEND - this is just a brief introduction.


What is SEND?  (slide 3)

According to the Equality Act 2010, SEND is described as ‘…a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on their [children and young people] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. 


For the purpose of this session, it is vital to remember that the definition above includes:

  • more children than it is often realised, as its threshold is quite low;
  • sensory impairments (e.g. affecting sight or hearing) as well as long-term health conditions (e.g. diabetes, cancer).

Please note:

  • children and young people affected by sensory impairments and long-term health conditions might not have SEND, but often disabilities and SEND overlap.


Why do we need to know more about SEND?  (slide 4)

There are a number of reasons why teachers need to familiarise themselves with SEND. 

Reflect! Can you think of 5 reasons why teachers should know more about SEND?


  • The number of students with SEND is increasing worldwide;
  • You might have students with SEND in your classroom, but you are not aware of it;
  • Not all TEFL courses offer training on the matter;
  • To promote equal learning opportunities;
  • To teach ALL students more effectively.


SEND  categories  (slide 5)

Identifying each type of SEND isn’t easy: many of them are similar, but with significant differences, while often overlapping. Generally speaking, however, they fall under four different categories.

Reflect and look at the slide. Can you complete the names of the categories?


  1. Communication and interaction
  2. Cognition and learning 
  3. Social, emotional and mental health
  4. Sensory and/or physical needs.


REMEMBER – We are not doctors or education psychologists. It’s not our job to diagnose, even if we suspect that a student might have SEND. We are teachers. Our job is to give our students the best classroom experience we possibly can.


Classifying SEND  (slide 6)

The slide below offers four broad areas of special educational needs, as identified here.

Reflect and look at the slide below. Can you name the category (from the previous slide) for each group of SEND?


  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties
  • Communication and interaction
  • Sensory and/or physical needs
  • Cognition and learning


However, ‘categorising’ SEND is extremely hard, as they often overlap. Perhaps the diagram below can better represent this. (slide 7)



For a clear and in-depth explanation of each category, please see ‘Broad areas of need’ pages 97-98.


Purpose  (slide 8)

We mentioned earlier that one of the reasons for better understanding SEND is ‘to teach ALL students more effectively’. In order to do that, teachers need to implement ‘inclusion’ and ‘differentiation’ – these have been buzzwords in the education sector for the past few years. 


Reflect! What does ‘inclusion’ mean to you? How would you describe ‘differentiation’?



As teachers, we all want our students to be part of an inclusive classroom, where everyone follows the same curriculum, and no one is left behind. To make this possible, we need to make some changes to our lessons and our classroom environment that will ultimately benefit every single student in our class. 


Good practice  (slide 9)

With the idea of ‘inclusion’ in mind, there are many steps a teacher can take before, during, and after class to address the needs of every student, without overcomplicating their own lives. 


Reflect! How can your lesson planning facilitate inclusion? What can you plan ahead to ensure that no student is left behind?




The suggestions above are only some of the measures that can be taken to foster inclusion in the classroom. 


Reflect about your current classroom dynamics. Consider the following areas and answer the questions:

  • Interaction between students

How often do your learners share their ideas with their peers?

  • Grouping/interaction patterns - e.g. individual, pair, group work

How varied is the interaction pattern in your classroom? Have you tried different types of interaction patterns (e.g. stations, jigsaw)? What criteria do you follow to organise pair/group work?

  • Range of activities

When planning your lesson, what activities do you provide depending on what you expect all/most/some students to achieve? WHat activities/questions do you include for fast finishers

  • Freedom of choice

What do you negotiate with your students? e.g. lesson topics, homework.

What do you let them choose independently? e.g. how to be assessed, interaction pattern, seating arrangement.



REMEMBER – Making changes to your teaching routine won’t come easy, until you get used to them. Then they will become your new routine. It just takes a little time and practice. 


Differentiation as a means of inclusion  (slide 10)


Every student is different in the way they learn: speed, engagement, and thought process. For this reason, differentiation can be beneficial to all learners. However, for it to be effective, differentiation needs to become an integral part of your everyday classroom practice.


REMEMBER – The purpose of differentiation is inclusion. For example, if you suspect that one or more of your students have dyslexia, try printing your handouts on a light (but not white) paper FOR THE WHOLE CLASS. At the end of the lesson ask for anonymous feedback: was the content easier to read?


There are many ways to differentiate. A very broad classification can be by support, by outcome, and by task.


Reflect! Read each definition below and match it to the right category.



  • Task
  • Support
  • Outcome


Other ways to differentiate (slide 11-12)

Looking at a traditional lesson structure, there are often three stages. First, the topic and the target language is introduced and presented; then, the students practice it; finally, the learners demonstrate their understanding of the language and show their ability to use it.


Taking these three stages as examples, and by giving students some choice, we can improve the level of differentiation in the classroom. 


Reflect! One option has been given for each lesson stage. What alternatives can you add? 


CHECK YOUR ANSWERS BELOW!  Is there anything you haven’t thought of?



Challenging behaviour  (slide 13)

Generally speaking, for most schools and teachers, challenging behaviours are those that interfere with the safety of the student, other students and/or school staff, or with the learning of the student and/or other students. Often, challenging behaviour is triggered by a combination of several factors, which can’t always be predicted.

It’s worth noting that challenging behaviour can occur in any classroom and can be displayed by any student.

Should you find yourself facing challenging behaviour, keep calm and remember that:


  • There is always a reason for challenging behaviour. It is usually a combination of internal and environmental factors, and it is a form of communication. Therefore, it should never be taken ‘personally’. 


  • Distraction rather than confrontation. Ignoring challenging behaviour can be extremely difficult and counterproductive; however, addressing the behaviour directly can escalate an already precarious situation. On the other hand, redirecting the student’s focus or making immediate small changes to the surrounding environment (e.g. grouping/seating arrangement, lighting) might help you gain back control of the classroom.



Reflect! The students have just started working in groups. One student has become agitated, but you don’t know why. What immediate change can you make?


  • Focus on the positive. Learners who show signs of challenging behaviour are often exposed to negative comments regarding their attitude, lack of focus, rage outbursts etc. You can flip the table by praising them for their achievements, no matter how small.


  • Positive ground rules. Agree with your class on rules and stick to them. It is important that you make them positive.


Reflect! Look at the following rules. How can you make them positive?

1. Don’t eat in the classroom.

2. Keep your phones off during lessons

3. If you are more than 10 minutes late for class, you’ll be marked    as absent.


Teacher’s strategies  (slide 14)

There are four types of strategies that teachers can apply to deal with difficult situations to DEFUSE, DIVERT, MANAGE, or PREVENT challenging behaviour.  


Reflect and look at the slide. Can you name the category  for each group of strategies?


  • Preventing
  • Diverting
  • Defusing
  • Managing


Practice time! (slide 15)


Consider the following scenarios:


  1. Stefano is a friendly and polite student who struggles with information retention because he has severe memory difficulties. He is unable to recall what was learnt during previous lessons. Because of this, he quickly loses interest in the lessons and expresses his frustration with anger outbursts.


  1. Lucille is a bright and creative student who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She is often distracted in class and rarely completes her homework or any given task. She can’t cope with the pressure to perform and is unable to absorb long instructions.


  1. Omar is an inquisitive and extroverted student who has dyslexia and finds written work extremely challenging. He doesn’t write any more than three sentences, which lack clarity and structure. His reading is slow and hesitant, which affects his confidence and his behaviour in the classroom. 


  1. Anthea is a dedicated and conscientious student who has severe hearing loss. She sometimes appears distracted and very tired. 


Reflect! What changes can you implement to your lessons and classroom environment to provide a better learning experience for these students?


Have a look below for some suggestions:


  1. Frequent disruptive behaviour (slide 16)
  • Use supported self-compiled visual dictionary for subject-specific vocabulary
  • Break work down into smaller chunks disregarding superfluous content
  • Use visual cues to support written text
  • Use a lesson menu to write down instructions
  • Tick off each one as the student completes it so they can identify their own progress.


  1. Lack of concentration or focus (slide 17)
  • Class work should be broken down into small sections which can be worked on one point at a time
  • Introduce "time out" as a calming measure
  • Use realistic timed targets to promote engagement with a task. You can also use these to monitor student progress
  • Homework and classwork should be phased so that your student is not overwhelmed by quantity


  1. Reading/Writing difficulties (slide 18)
  • Use coloured overlays, following advice from specialists to reduce glare and jumping letters (e.g. use 12-14 size sans-serif font, on light colour background)
  • Keep instructions simple and break down into short, well-spaced out sentences
  • Facilitate 1:1 tutorials to engage your student in letter/word games that encourage phoneme blending
  • Use alternative means of recording such as iPads or laptops
  • Use visuals to support written text
  • Colour code books and equipment, using different colours for each subject


  1. Hearing impairment (slide 19)
  • Use pictures, graphics and text labels
  • Arrange chairs in semi-circle (if possible)
  • Face the class when speaking / Don’t speak while writing on the board
  • Speak clearly with a natural tone of voice
  • Minimise background noise
  • Write and keep key information on the board (or handouts)


References & Bibliography


Click below for the slides!