Literacy Routines in a Special Education Classroom

With so many different student levels, it can be difficult at the beginning of the school year to establish literacy routines, especially when you are focused on hammering out behavior problems and  working to get your littles to sit for more than 5 minutes. My first year in my classroom with students with autism, I tried to do read alouds but found the students weren’t engaged. Part of the problem was that I was too sporadic with how I ran story time. There was no structure, no routine, just me and book wingin’ it. Obviously, I never had much success with this. Last year, I tried very hard to develop a literacy routine that we did daily. We usually focused on the SAME book for at least a week or more if the students were engaged in the story. Of course at first, I had the same issues with wiggling and distractions, BUT, once I kept our routine the same, after a few weeks, story time became a relaxing, fun time for my TAs, me, and most importantly, my students. Below I’ve described a few routines from last year and a few new routines I want to implement.

A few pictures of how I set up our group time area last year. 

1. Pick the Right Books AHEAD of Time.

Sometimes a book that is popular in a general education kindergarten class, is not going to be appropriate for students with autism or special needs. Our students find it hard to focus on books that seem to last a lifetime. When I do research for good books for story time, I use the library! Read about how I use the library to “research” my books before I buy them for my class. I’m documenting my picture book “research” through my blog! So far, I have 3 weeks of Back to School Books I love and next I will be doing Apple books for our Apple Theme.

2. Get students excited about books with the element of surprise. 

This is something new for me. I read about it online at this website and fell in love with the idea. My students LOVE unwrapping gifts (who doesn’t). I plan on writing different school staff on the tag throughout the months of August/September so we can use that as a learning experience. For example, the first book we read will be “from” our principal. We will be briefly talking about WHO our principal is and what she does. Thankfully, I can easily pull up our school website and we can view her picture. I might even plan a quick visit with her after story time is over so she can ask the students how they liked her book. I think this routine will really get the kiddos excited about story time!

3. Review Print Concepts during EVERY Read Aloud.

We work on these ALL.YEAR.LONG.

Sample Questions:
Where is the front of the book? Back of the book?
Where is the title?
Author? What did he/she do? (wrote the book – briefly look through and point to the WORDS on the pages)
Illustrator? What did he/she do? (drew/took the pictures – look through the PICTURES of the book)

For the following questions, I always make sure I have visual supports for my students to point to, such as the ones pictured below for Pete the Cat.

WHO/WHAT do you see on the cover of the book?
Predictions: WHO do you think this book is about? WHAT do you think this book is about?

4. Use Visual Supports.

I use visual supports for EVERYTHING, especially for story time. For those of you that have Boardmaker, Symbolstix, or Smarty Symbols, pulling up visual supports for books can be easy! Another option is to use google as a quick reference on the iPad and pull up visuals on google. I also have visual support packs for my favorite back to school stories in my TPT store right now if you are looking for something easy to print and use right away.

5. Use a Story Map to Review Key Details about the story.

Once we finish the book, we complete a story map. We complete and discuss this map EVERYDAY in our class. The repetition is key for my kiddos, plus they LOVE the routine. Below is the poster board we use in our classroom. I have velcro in each section, so it’s easy to put up key details for each story we focus on. Best of all, IT’S FREE FOR YOU!

6. Get Books into Students’ Hands.

For a while, I was SUPER over protective of our class books. Bottom line is, if our students love something, they look at it daily. Daily wear and tear will happen and you just have to let it go and be HAPPY that your little friends are loving books! If I know a book is going to get lots of use, I buy the paperback version, take it apart, laminate the pages, and then put it back together. This makes the books more durable and will save you money down the road. Below is an example of how we prep books for our reading center.

Here’s a look at our reading center from last year.

7. Spread the weekly Literacy Theme throughout the whole classroom.

We love using whatever our weekly theme for story time in all other subjects and centers. See below how I incorporated Pete the Cat into various different activities we did throughout the week, as well as in different stations such as workboxes.

Starting next weekend, be sure to join me every Sunday for Story Time Talk for details about how I’m planning our upcoming week in literacy!

I’d LOVE to hear about the literacy routines you use daily in your classroom.
Please share your ideas in the comments below!!
Until next time,


  1. Stephanie Kelley on August 16, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    I love this and noticed that you use Unique. I would love it if you would share how you incorporate that curriculum into your daily routibe by sharing your schedule or classroom routine with me! Stephanie

  2. Lauren Leuzinger on August 21, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    I agree with Stephanie; I would love to know how you incorporate Unique into your daily schedule. I plan to use it this year and want to make sure I am maximizing the potential of the resource. Also, thank you for sharing the books you use for the Back to School theme. Would you consider doing this for other topics as well? I would like to expand my classroom library with books that are appropriate for my students. Thank you!

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