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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Special Populations

7 Top Teaching Strategies for Students in Special Populations

March 30th, 2023 | 6 min. read

Brad Hummel

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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As a CTE teacher, chances are that you have or will have special populations students in your classroom. Meeting these students' individual needs is critical for their success now and in their future careers. But without effective strategies in place, you could feel overwhelmed and unable to help.

Thankfully, there are specific measures you can take to make sure every student in your classroom succeeds.

In this article, you'll discover seven of the best teaching strategies for students in special populations:

  1. Customization Strategies
  2. Classroom Management Strategies
  3. Differentiated Instruction
  4. Alternatives for Common Assignments
  5. Vocabulary Strategies
  6. Student Notes
  7. Graphic Organizers

After reading, you'll have a better idea of measures you can take to ensure your students succeed in CTE.


1. Customization Strategies

The first strategy you can use to help meet the needs of special populations in education is to customize your curriculum. Often, you'll be required to provide accommodations, modifications, and extensions in your lessons, activities, and assessments.

Making these adjustments is not only a legal requirement; it often makes a significant impact on students' ability to comprehend the material and be prepared for certification and their future careers.

If you use the iCEV curriculum, you can use customization strategies directly in the learning system. Examples of adjustments you can make include:

When you customize your instruction, you can give individual students specific accommodations and modifications to meet their needs, even when these adjustments vary from student to student.

2. Classroom Management Strategies

Classroom management is critical to every teacher's success. Creating a daily routine is essential to effective classroom management as it gives students an expected form of learning and behavior they'll follow throughout the entire term. By establishing a routine early, teachers can focus less on classroom management and more on teaching course content and building relationships with their students.

There are many strategies successful teachers use to manage their classrooms well. Some examples of effective classroom management initiatives include:

  • Providing structure and a routine during each class period.
  • Promoting the participation of every student in the class.
  • Grouping students so that learners avoid distractions and help one another.

A well-managed classroom is beneficial to special populations because it makes it easier to identify where and when learners need additional assistance.

While even the best teachers can struggle with classroom management, creating a healthy learning environment can often make the difference between a successful semester where students are prepared for exams and certifications or an unruly, distracted classroom full of unprepared children.

Discover additional classroom management techniques when you read this article: 8 Wildly Successful Classroom Management Strategies

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction is the process of varying your lessons, projects, and activities to provide students with a varied of opportunities to learn.

Teachers are sometimes reluctant to differentiate their instruction because it can add work to a busy schedule. Many teachers find incorporating different assignments simultaneously challenging, mostly because it creates inequalities in grading.

But diversifying your instruction doesn't have to be challenging. It can be as simple as changing the instructional format of your class, such as trying the flipped classroom model.

Other strategies to make differentiation for special populations easier include:

  • Introduce ability-based activities
  • Assign self-paced learning exercises
  • Utilize customized assessments and coursework

These methods will help keep your special populations students on track by providing work that provides right-fit challenges based on their abilities.

To learn even more ways to engage your students, discover the Best Differentiated Instruction Strategies for CTE

4. Alternatives for Common Assignments

Teachers can easily fall into a routine, asking students to do the same projects or presentations throughout the year. To keep the attention of teenagers, occasionally change up your instructional pattern and assign a new activity.

This change of pace could pique your students' attention and keep them motivated throughout the term. It's also a great way to introduce blended learning methods into your instruction.

Alternative assignments are particularly important for special populations because you can use them to meet modification and accommodation requirements without putting an extra burden on yourself as the teacher.

Within the iCEV curriculum, you can find alternative projects for:

  • Writing a Research Paper
  • Creating a PowerPoint Presentation
  • Making a Poster

Choosing an alternative assignment is a great way to ensure students remain focused on learning throughout your course.

5. Vocabulary Strategies

Mastering vocabulary is critical to students developing core knowledge essential to work in a field. This is especially true in CTE courses, where students are often introduced to brand new terminology.

One of the most important things to remember about vocabulary is that you can't teach it in isolation. Students need to learn terms in the context in which they will use them.

For special populations students, conceptualizing vocabulary is often key to comprehending terms and their applications. This can make all the difference in helping learners master your subject material.

Strategies to effectively teach vocabulary include:

  • Creating physical copies of vocabulary terms
  • Using interactive activities
  • Playing review games

Many teachers have found that using multiple strategies to reinforce vocab terms ensures that learners have them fresh in their minds when it comes to exams and certifications.

6. Student Notes

Notetaking is a fundamental skill that will help students master the knowledge and skills necessary for their chosen career pathway. But not every student learns in the same way. Nor does the same style of notetaking equally benefit every learner.

That's why it's important to provide different ways for students to take notes in class, homework, and reading assignments. This is especially true for special populations students, who may benefit from creating notes that look different from other learners in your class.

Some examples of notetaking strategies include:

  • Doodle notes and sketches
  • Visual notes and bullet journaling
  • Outlining
  • The Cornell Method for handwritten notes

In addition, every iCEV lesson includes fill-in-the-blank notes for students to work on as they progress through the content.

Regardless of the method, recording notes helps students commit core concepts to memory and gives them written material they can review before exams and certifications.

7. Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are designed to help students better understand course material. You can use them as supplemental resources or build them directly into your everyday lessons. Many teachers frequently implement graphic organizers in class because it adds variety to instruction and helps students stay focused.

Graphic organizers are also great learning tools for special populations because they give students an additional way of understanding and synthesizing the content taught in class. 

Some examples of useful graphic organizers teachers use include:

  • Four Corner Vocabulary
  • Vocabulary List
  • One Page Take Away
  • Comparison Chart
  • Cornell Note Taking

Before assigning a graphic organizer, consider which type of resource best suits the material you're covering in class. Successful teachers often use a mixture of different graphic organizers throughout the duration of a course.

Meet the Needs of Every Student in Your Classroom

As a CTE teacher, it can be hard to meet your standards and the individual needs of every student. For special populations in education, it's vital to provide learners with the specific instruction and assistance they need to succeed in class and their future careers.

In this blog, we've reviewed seven top strategies for working with special populations. When used individually, each of these techniques can go a long way toward helping your students. When used together, they help your classroom become an active and thriving learning environment for everyone.

But there is still more that you can do to ensure every student succeeds. If you want to understand more precisely how to meet the needs of your students, download your guide to teaching strategies for special populations.

In this free resource, you'll learn more about special population groups and the difference between accommodations and modifications.

Download the Guide