How to Teach English to Students with Learning Disabilities. From Theory to Practice

Identifying a learning disability is not always straightforward; the clearest indication often manifests as academic challenges or underachievement in individuals who seem capable of achieving more. Many teachers operate within environments where they lack access to therapy, counseling, or expert advice on referrals and specialized support for students with special needs.

When learning a new language or speaking in public, these students encounter many difficulties. In essence, neuroscientists and psychologists outline these dysfunctions in terms of: 1) attention, the most prevalent type of learning disability; 2) language, involving challenges in comprehending verbal messages and instructions; 3) spatial orientation, resulting in poor reading and spelling skills due to difficulties in processing visuals and distinguishing similar-looking letters; 4) memory, encompassing issues with recalling stored information as it may be lost and not readily retrievable; 5) fine motor control difficulties, leading to breakdowns in transferring ideas from the mind to paper; and 6) sequencing, involving challenges in organizing information and instructions into an appropriate order so that tasks can be successfully completed.

In English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes, students, especially those with learning disabilities, are not only struggling to acquire a new language but also to decipher its intricacies. The challenge for us as educators is to ensure that the classroom atmosphere does not contribute to learning setbacks. Many times children or students with disabilities are isolated by their peers and even educators. The communication gap between the participants in the educational process deepens the isolation and lack of useful strategies in order to make a disability transform into an ability.

Teachers can enhance the learning environment for numerous students, including those with learning disabilities, by strategically planning tasks to accommodate different intelligences and by ensuring a balanced challenge for each hemisphere of their brain. Many experts offer suggestions that can be seamlessly integrated into classroom activities. Naturally, varied strategies may offer varying degrees of assistance to different students, especially in culturally and linguistically diverse classes.

These students must be allowed ample time whenever feasible to complete in-class and homework assignments, as well as test papers.
a. Implementing tests in modern formats, such as orally or on computers.
b. Presenting material using images and/or multimedia.
c. Integrating auditory and visual stimuli whenever possible by verbalizing and writing on the board.
d. Encouraging learners to utilize word processors, which significantly ease rewriting and revising, particularly beneficial for students with fine-motor, sequencing, spelling, and language manipulation difficulties.
e. When asked to repeat, maintaining consistency in language to avoid altering the construction and challenging the purpose of repetition.
f. Minimizing the number of instructions given simultaneously by breaking tasks into component parts and providing instructions for each part individually.
g. Allowing sufficient time for students to contemplate items covered in class through pre-speaking, pre-writing, pre-reading lead moments, and other pre-teaching activities.
h. Reducing distractions in the classroom.
i. Clearly stating the topic and proceeding in an organized, concrete manner, progressing from the obvious to the concrete to the abstract.
j. Selecting material by relating it to past classroom or personal experiences and emphasizing new material.
k. Organizing material by category.
l. Regularly checking notebooks.
m. Acknowledging, praising, and reinforcing students’ self-esteem through regular motivation.
n. Conducting a SWOT analysis to determine how students believe they learn best.

Visual supports are incredibly beneficial for students with autism. They involve using pictures or other visual aids to communicate with children who struggle with understanding or using language. These supports can take various forms, including photographs, drawings, objects, written words, or lists. Research indicates that visual supports are highly effective for communication purposes. Visual supports facilitate improved communication between parents and their child and assist the child in communicating more effectively with other children or adults.

It is crucial to employ a variety of tools while adapting lessons to accommodate the diverse range of individuals in the classroom. This includes introverted and talkative students, as well as those who are sociable or have learning and behavioral disabilities. Teaching requires patience, preparation, and the ability to adapt to new challenges. Hopefully, the developments in technology with the practical and constant involvement of educators and organizations meant to help all students, the teaching and learning can become more comprehensive and inclusive.


1. Gray S. A., Dueck K., Rogers M., Tannock R. (2017). Qualitative review synthesis: The relationship between inattention and academic achievement. Educational Research, 59(1), 17–35.
2. Khamwan, T. (2007). The effects of interactional strategy training on teacher-student interaction in an EFL classroom. Nakhon Ratchasima: Suranaree University of Technology.
3. Weisleder, A., & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to children matters: Early language experience strengthens processing and builds vocabulary. Psychological Science, 24(11), 2143–2152.
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prof. Iulia Mihaela Gheorghe

Colegiul Național Pedagogic Constantin Brătescu, Constanța (Constanţa) , România
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