How can I support learners with SEND in my classroom?

Read this article by Leslie Milligan and Stephen Ellender, which explores how teachers can support learners with SEND in their classes.

Teacher with young learners in Sudan classroom

This article provides an overview of some of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) that you may find in your classroom and provides some practical suggestions and techniques for supporting these learners in the English language classroom. 

The term SEND or special educational needs and disabilities is an umbrella term that covers a variety of different special education needs. The ways in which these different SENDs may manifest are wide-ranging, as are the strategies and techniques that can be used in the classroom to help learners with these needs. Below are four categories of SEND that may be present in the classroom. We have also included some of the strategies that you may want to use in your lessons to help create an inclusive learning environment that supports these learners. While these strategies are particularly supportive for learners with SEND, they can enhance the learning experience for everyone in the class and empower all learners. 

Cognition and learning 

An area that might be encountered in the classroom is learners who have difficulty with cognition and learning. This can include difficulties with reading, writing, maths or understanding information. Dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia are some of the most common cognition and learning difficulties. Learners with this type of difficulty may often find reading and writing tasks daunting and often will give up easily or try to avoid these activities altogether. Teachers can help these learners by first breaking tasks down into achievable chunks or by allowing learners to present work in different ways that are more comfortable for them, for example drawing pictures or writing bullet points to share their ideas. It can also be beneficial to encourage learners to get into the routine of checking their own work, as this will allow them to become more self-aware of their strengths with their learning, as well as their own difficulties. Finally, it is always good to focus just on what the learners have done correctly, rather than the mistakes they have made, as their self-confidence can be boosted through encouragement and praise.  

Social and emotional needs 

Another area of SEND that teachers may encounter is learners with certain social, emotional and mental health difficulties that present a barrier to learning. These issues are often observed in learners who have difficulty understanding or regulating their emotions. This can lead to the learner behaving in an unacceptable manner and/or being unable to make friends in class or relate to others. Strategies that teachers can use when working with these learners are first by setting rules in class that are routinely reviewed in each lesson. If learners show any type of behaviour that does not follow the class rules, teachers should calmly explain to the learner what they want to have happen and set clear and consistent behaviour expectations in the class. It is important to also note that punishments, particularly after a learner has behaved in an unacceptable manner, will generally be ineffective. It will also take a toll on learners' self-confidence, as an inability to self-regulate can be underlying their behaviour. Teachers can also take note of warning signs such as stress, anxiety and frustration that can trigger negative behaviours and take steps to avoid them. At times when behaviour does deteriorate to a point where it is detrimental to others in the class, it is good to have time-out strategies in place. Finally, it is always good to reward and reinforce examples of good behaviour when they are demonstrated.  

Communication and interaction difficulties 

Communication and interaction difficulties are another form of SEND that can sometimes be evident in learners. Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and the autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) are some of the most frequent communication and interaction difficulties. When working with a student who has been diagnosed with autism, the following approaches are useful. To begin with, it is important to have consistent routines that the class follows in every lesson so that learners know what to expect in the lessons so that they feel less anxious in class. When giving instructions, make sure you have the learner's attention, making sure you use the learner's name; however, don’t expect eye contact. Keep language as simple as possible, and this is done by making sure the language used is clear, direct and consistent as much as possible. Use of idioms or metaphors can sometimes cause confusion for these learners. It is also important to pause to check understanding, and the use of visual aids to help understanding can also be a good strategy. 

Sensory or physical impairments 

Finally, some students may have SENDs that are of a sensory or physical nature. This can include hearing, visual and physical impairments and disabilities. Aiding learners with visual impairments can be achieved by using assistive technology like screen readers, which can turn text into audio. Thinking about accessibility, teachers should use specific fonts in class materials, like sans-serif-type fonts, and using larger text sizes helps learners better see the text. For learners with hearing impairments, it is also useful to provide transcripts for listening activities and to adapt activities so that learners can also see any spoken interaction in class, like having simple classroom instructions shown on the board. Classroom layout and seating are also an important consideration. Making sure that the classroom is free of physical obstructions, that all learners have a clear view of the board and that all teacher talk and audio materials can be clearly heard are all valuable ways of helping learners with sensory and physical needs.      

The strategies mentioned above are just some of the things that you can do as a class teacher to make your classroom more inclusive. It is also important to remember that things that you do in class to support SEND learners will benefit other learners in class as well. 



Department for Education, 2018. Understanding neurodiversity: A guide to specific learning differences. 2nd edn.

National Association for Special Educational Needs, 2021. Teacher handbook: SEND – Embedding inclusive practice.

Riddel, S, 2019. Autonomy, rights and children with special needs. MacMillan.

Smith, AM, 2018. Inclusive practices in the ELT classroom. Oxford University Press.

The Blackwood Centre for SEN, [no date]. Course materials


Leslie began his teaching career in 2003, first working as a primary teacher in his home country of New Zealand before moving to adult education and later EFL. Leslie has also taught in Russia, Sri Lanka and, more recently, in Singapore, where he is based. Among his qualifications, he has a BA degree, a Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Primary), a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education (Adult Education) and a DELTA. Last year Leslie completed a Recognised Teacher of SEN professional development course with NASEN. Leslie works for the British Council as the Special Education Needs and Disability Coordinator for the Asia Pacific Region. 

Stephen began his teaching career in 1988, first working as an English teacher in Thailand. He was initially involved in adult education, but later began teaching at primary level. Stephen has also taught in New Zealand and Malaysia but is now based back in Thailand. Stephen has a number of qualifications, including a master’s degree in Professional Language Studies in Language Teaching and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Stephen also has a Diploma in Special Education Needs Support. Stephen is currently working for the British Council in Bangkok, where he acts as the SEND champion. 




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