US Department of Education (image modified).  Creative Commons.US Department of Education (image modified). Creative Commons.
Learning Environment

7 Critical Areas for Arranging Your Special Education Classroom

Don’t overlook these key zones when figuring out the physical layout for your special education classroom.

No two classrooms look the same. No two teachers teach the same. And no two students have special needs that are the same. Therefore, implementing these four core elements will set a framework for your students to achieve success and progress in the classroom and for you, the teacher, to create a learning environment that effectively supports your style.

Well-Defined Areas

Setting up the physical layout of your classroom is a personal choice but spaces with organized, well-defined areas will set the stage for positive learning environments. Students learn to respect boundaries between student areas and teacher-only areas. They can anticipate activities and their role based on the area. Predictability can be calming for students since it reduces apprehension and anxiety, which may also curb misbehavior. Consider these design options when arranging your special education classroom:

  • Home Base: This is a place each student can claim as their own (clearly labeled with his/her name) for independent work. A student can go to his or her home base in order to (a) prepare for or review the day’s events; (b) escape stress or anxiety and regain control; (c) work on independent activities; (d) prepare to transition to the next activity. Setting up each student with a home base is critical for child-oriented teaching models.
  • Group Area: This is often split into two areas — one for whole-group instruction and the other for small groups. There are distinctions between both areas. The whole-group area is usually meant for informal discussion or student presentations. Small group settings are generally more teacher driven.
  • Sensory Area: This is a space dedicated to addressing your students’ sensory needs. A bean bag chair, rug, tent, swing, or stress balls are all items that may be found here. Not every classroom has the space for a sensory area so consider using a second room if it’s available.
  • Student Schedule Area: To many, this is considered one of the most important areas in the special education classroom. Dedicate space either on the wall, door, or a shelf for a visual schedule. Use words and pictures to illustrate each activity. You may also find that using arrows is helpful for students to plan and prepare for transitions in activity. Use different colors or label them “First” and “Then.” The arrows act as visual cues and give your students a chance to better prepare and participate in activities. Move the arrows down the schedule as you complete certain activities. Other students may do better with visual cues supplemented with auditory cues. A clock timer can cue the end of one activity and the beginning of the next, indicating to students it’s time to transition.
  • Reading Center:This is a quiet, secluded spot where students can read independently or with a partner. Don’t forget about comfy seating!
  • Writing Center:Here students write independently or with others. Make sure there is enough room and access to supplies.
  • Teacher Zone:It’s important for you to have your own space to check school emails, plan lessons, store your records, etc. While most of the classroom real estate should be devoted to your students, having your own small area is just as crucial. This can also be a good teaching tool for students to understand boundaries and that some things are off-limits.

Remember to be flexible. If certain things aren’t working, you may need to consider redesigning. Finally, don’t forget to include your students in the discussion. Kids are really honest (sometimes brutally so) and will let you know what’s not working.


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