Making the “Big Idea” achievable: Including all students in the same curriculum – Practical Tips for Teachers (No. 4 Part B)

By Dr Robert Jackson and Catia Malaquias

This is the Part B of the fourth article in a series of short articles aimed at providing practical tips for teachers to improve the inclusiveness of their general education classrooms.  You can read the earlier articles at SWJ IncludED and their respective titles and weblinks are also listed at the end of this article.

 The focus of Part A of this article was designing the teaching lesson around core information and concepts to ensure that the “Big Ideas” are identified and received by every student – so that everyone is involved in and connected to the same lesson.

The focus of this Part B is to outline several teaching strategies used by teachers around the world to make that core information achievable for all students, or in other words, to maximise the effectiveness of the lesson for all.

Many of the teaching strategies outlined here will be known and used by you in your classroom, but it is nevertheless important to emphasise the range and importance of strategies available to connect students with diverse learning needs to the “Big Ideas” of the lesson.

In managing necessary differentiation of material and engaging students at their individual levels, these teaching strategies can be enhanced with the use of class-wide peer tutoring, considered grouping of students and the delivery support of education assistants.

  1. Primed background knowledge – refreshing students’ memory of required background concepts

The reality in every classroom is that students, like the rest of us, forget things.  So when you are starting a lesson, you shouldn’t assume that all of your students will remember the background information necessary to understand the material to be covered.  So in preparing the lesson, ask yourself “What am I assuming that the students will know and bring to this lesson?”  This will help you identify what (otherwise assumed) core information and concepts should be briefly refreshed at the beginning of your lesson – to ensure that everyone starts from a place where they are ready to absorb the new “Big Ideas”.

If you have students who have not previously received or are unable to readily retain the required background core information (for example new students, students with limited English language skills or students with a learning disability, particularly affecting their capacity to neurologically retrieve information), you may also need to provide this background core information in a written or other concrete form for them to refer to throughout the lesson.

  1. Strategic integration – Helping students to “link” new concepts to previous concepts

If the new lesson material is linked to other information that your students already know, those “links” will make the new material easier to remember (neurologically retrieve) and, in providing context, easier to understand.  The new concepts become more accessible and meaningful to them.

We all know that we learn more effectively when a new concept is relevant to us, and even more so if it engages our subjective interests.  Although obvious to some, many students will not clearly appreciate how new information or concepts are relevant to them or how they build on their prior learning.  They will need more explicit instruction and explanation to make the required “links”.

Some basic situations where “linking” helps include maths problems written as sentences, reading lessons around science concepts, or writing about geography concepts as a writing lesson.  For a student with a learning disability impacting upon their connection skills, more creative strategies such as having another student read the connecting material to them (audio reinforcement) or having them or another student draw the connection as a picture (visual reinforcement) might be used to help make the links.

For kinesthetic learners, providing an opportunity for physical reinforcement of the connecting concepts will help (e.g. everyone being asked to stand to receive the key connecting information or to physically bring their two index fingers together to signify that they are receiving the connecting information).

  1. Creative scaffolding – strategies to support access to the lesson

All teachers are aware of the need to build supports around student learning to allow students to access it, and then to remove these supports as they progress.  However, for teachers who have not experienced a student working at a level that is significantly different to the class average, the degree of support needed for the student to access the material might seem daunting.

Relax a bit!

You can give the answer and get it back.  In this way the flow of the lesson is not disturbed, the student is engaged in the lesson and challenged to contribute and all the other students benefit by hearing the information repeated.  Teachers with a sound knowledge of their students can use this even more creatively.  They can put a question out to the class to be answered by a more advanced student: “What is the atomic mass of boron?”  If the student answers 10.8 , the teacher can then go to a student who is distracted to ask the same question (to bring their attention back), then ask the same question to a student that they know needs a little time to process, and then ask the most challenged student.  The whole class has heard the answer 4 times and 4 students have been challenged and involved at their level, all in the space of a few seconds.

For students with very limited maths skills, learning to use a calculator can lead to genuine involvement in more advanced maths classes.  In fact, for most of us over time using a calculator becomes a more efficient and functional skill that replaces our more complex (once learnt but now forgotten) maths skills.  The student’s peer connection is increased if they are asked occasionally to “confirm” the answers of other students using their calculator (e.g. “Tom says 25 x 25 is 625, Kate can you tell Tom if you and your calculator agree?”)

Teachers should also keep “peer tutoring” (having more advanced students assist in teaching the most challenged students) at the front of their scaffolding strategies.  It is possibly the most effective method of scaffolding, improving the academic development of both students as you have to master a concept to teach it to another, and their social development, through direct peer connection.

  1. Conspicuous Strategies – stories, rhymes, acronyms etc

Primary school teachers in particular are very creative in designing strategies to help students learn difficult concepts.  For example, in spelling lessons little stories like “in spelling ‘believe’, remember it has a ‘lie’ in the middle and you wouldn’t believe a lie, would you?”, and rhymes like  “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’” and “when two vowels go a walking, the first one does the talking” (as in ‘wait’, ‘lie’ etc.).  Almost all of these rules have exceptions, but these strategies assist students to learn the “Big Idea” before the exceptions are tackled.

All classes can have conspicuous strategies like these to assist students to process or retain core information.  For example, in maths we can use acronyms like BIMDAS (for Brackets, Indices, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction) to order maths sentence calculations and in science we can use LAPDOG (Latitude and Longitude, Altitude, Prevailing Winds, Distance from Oceans, Ocean Currents and Geography) for remembering factors affecting the weather.

  1. Judicious Review – reviewing student learning and teacher self-review

As a teacher, you need to continually assess how well you are doing in delivering the required knowledge.  This requires reviewing previous lesson material in class to check how well information and concepts are being retained by your students and whether they are able to utilise that information effectively.

For core information and concepts that are key to future learning (i.e. Big Ideas), this review needs to be done at regular intervals.  For less important information, the frequency of review may be less.

For information integrated into later lessons, specific review of the earlier information may not be necessary as it will be assessed in the teaching of the new material.

It needs to be stressed that while reviewing students is part of the process of ensuring that students are learning and progressing, this review, provides direct insight into the effectiveness of you as their teacher – in other words, it necessarily also involves self-reviewIt is this regular self-review “cross-check”, and its prompting of adjustments to teaching strategies along the way, that is likely to have the largest ongoing impact on teaching effectiveness and therefore your students’ progress.


* The teaching strategies discussed in this Part B are considered in detail in Coyne, M. D., Kame’enui, E. J. & Carnine, D. W. (2011). Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners (4th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

In Part C of this article, we will discuss Universal Design for Learning, a key curricular inclusion strategy used internationally.


Other articles in this series:

Creating An Inclusive Class Culture – Practical Tips For Teachers (N.o1)

Supporting Peer Connection in the Inclusive Class – Practical Tips For Teachers (No.2)

Less Is More: The Education Assistant – Practical Tips For Teachers (No.3)

Getting the “Big Idea”: Including All Students in the Same Curriculum – Practical Tips for Teachers (No. 4 Part A)

Presenting the “Big Idea” for All: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – Practical tips for teachers (No. 4 part C)

Summary of General Comment No 4 by the the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

UN Committee Clarifies Right to Inclusive Education.

*Dr Robert Jackson is an Associate Professor of Education at Curtin University in Western Australia, a registered Psychologist and a Director of Include.  You can connect with Dr Jackson on Twitter @include108 or through

*Catia Malaquias is a mother of three young children, a lawyer and the Founder of Starting With Julius.  You can connect with Catia on Twitter @CatiaMalaquias or on Facebook

[Cover photo © Martin Vorel]

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