4 Tips for Effective Whole Group Activities

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I have heard so many self-contained special education teachers say their kiddos just "can't handle" whole group lessons or activities... I enjoy small groups and working 1:1 with students, but I really LOVE whole group activities and have found strategies that make whole group lessons successful and fun!

Before I share a few tips, I want to give a brief description of what whole group lessons in our classroom look like- All whole group lessons are done at a kidney table that faces our interactive whiteboard. Students and staff sit around the kidney table. Students complete tasks for 4-7 minutes and then watch an educational music video on the smart board. This sequence repeats for 30-40 minutes.

Short example:
-Students sort, match, or verbally identify colors for 4 minutes
-Students watch 3 minutes of videos about colors
-Students sort, match, or identify shapes for 5 minutes
-Students watch 4 minutes of videos about shapes
-Students match numbers, sequence numbers or count objects for 3 minutes
-Students watch a 2 minute video about counting

Are ya getting the gist? Okay, now on to a few tips!

Have materials ready and prepped
This seems like common sense, but developing a system to organize and prep all the supplies is important and can be tricky. Most of our kids won't wait 2.3 seconds for me to get stuff together, so I had to find ways that I could easily whip out each part of the lesson.
All of our circle time/ morning meeting materials are prepped and ready to go in this little ottoman. It contains all of the materials we need for circle time including vocabulary/ Core 40 work, communication items, materials for when we work on letters and phonics, and of course some Minnie Mouse and Frozen stickers as reinforcers.

All of our math whole group materials are organized in this bucket. I keep the bucket in a cabinet and just grab it when it's time for math group. There is a big ziplock bag for each math topic (colors, shapes, numbers/ counting, etc.). Every morning, I put new materials in the corresponding bag. During math group, when it's time to do colors, I just grab the color bag and start handing activities/ materials to students.

This might seem like another "duh" tip, but lessons that are too easy or too difficult for students can lead to challenging behaviors and lack of progress.
Here of a few examples of how I differentiate when we work on letter identification during circle time:

Here are examples of our differentiation around weather work:

Use paraprofessionals effectively
Even though it's a whole group activity, paras can (and should) still be working with 1-3 students throughout the lesson. This ensures that you're using all the adults in the classroom AND it makes it easier on you because you aren't the only one doing instruction. Make sure paras know exactly what each student should be working on throughout whole group lessons.  I post very specific and simple objectives for paras to reference during the lesson.

Include time for movement
My students always get the chance to dance, move and/or sing throughout whole group lessons. This process is briefly described above, but I have found that this really helps my active kiddos and also gives me a chance to get the next activity prepped! It's also helped me to increase the length of lessons and to increase the work stamina of my kiddos. 

Do you guys have any strategies or tips for running a whole group lesson in a self-contained sped. classroom? It can be tough at times, but I love the sense of community :) Please comment with any ideas or questions!!