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Group of cute little prescool kids drawing

“Teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theatre.”- Gail Goldwin

Teaching requires great effort to ensure that all students receive the most from every lesson. However, teaching students with special needs or as I like to call them “unique” learners, is a theatrical exert that entails a little extra. Whether you consider “unique” learners as those who are gifted and talented or those who require more support and/ or scaffolding to complete a task, they all bring out the most creative sides of us, as educators. So what happens when your lesson does not go as planned or students are either just not comprehending the material or are quite simply not motivated enough to engage? This can be even more challenging when working with students with unique learning needs. The goal of a teacher is to ensure that no student is left behind, but how does one motivate, encourage and engage unique learners? Here are 5 activities that I have often utilised to engage my unique learners, which can be used to engage all learners.

Word Buffet

After a grammar lesson, such as simple sentences, divide your class into groups (ability, flexible, etc.). Use sentence strips (or pieces of paper) to write out as many words as possible, including the different parts of speech. Spread the words out over a large table and give each group a paper plate, hence the name “word buffet.” Have 1 learner from each team go to the table and take as many words as they want (“all they can eat”) from the table in 30 seconds. Let them take the words back to their team and sort the words out by part of speech. As an extension activity, you can have them create simple sentences using the words on their table. This can be taken a step further by asking them to create specific simple sentences, such as a “simple sentence about a classroom object, animal, person, etc.”


This flipbook is comprised of plain sheets of paper folded to create several leaves of paper for a book. You can write down key terms or information at the bottom of each page. Have your learners draw a picture to represent the term or concept that is written at the bottom of each page.

Vocabulary/Term Squares

Vocabulary seems to be one of the most challenging aspects for learners, especially within the ESL context here in the UAE. Vocabulary boxes are a great way to engage the visual and kinesthetic learner. Simply take a blank sheet of paper, fold it in half vertically then do 3 or 4 horizontal folds (depending on the number of terms). In each square, have learners write a term at the top in big letters. Have learners fill in the squares with short phrases and pictures for each term as it is discussed.

High Five

In the USA, there is a colloquial term ‘to know something like the back of your hand.” With this activity, have learners trace their hand on a blank sheet of paper. On each finger of the paper hand, they can write 5 things they learned during the lesson (the 5 things they know like the back of their hand).

Dialogue Box

Communication is key in learning. It can also be used as a form of informal assessment and ticks the box as assessment of learning. An activity that can be used is that of the dialogue box. In a shoebox, put pictures of various images related to the lesson. In small groups, have learners pull out one picture at a time. Let them discuss the image and how it relates to the lesson(s). When all the pieces have been removed from the box and discussed, learners can discuss how all the pieces fit together like a puzzle, or create a collage using the pieces.

As we look to engage all of our learners, I always say, “That which engages you, stays with you.” Engaging unique learners involves providing them with the opportunities to ‘create with the language,’ and also making the material relevant to their everyday lives, interests and future goals. Let us be reminded that while the rest of the education sector is focused on mastery, teaching unique learners (dare I say all learners) should be about the growth and progress they are making with each skill.

By Melissa Monney

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