Inclusive Classrooms: A Primer for Teachers

An inclusive classroom is a general education classroom where students with and without learning differences learn together. Inclusive classrooms are welcoming and support the diverse academic, social, emotional, and communication needs of all students. Learn more about what inclusion is, how it can benefit all learners, and how to implement an inclusion program in your classroom and school-wide.

Multiracial group of elementary children holding hands

When inclusion is done well, everyone in the class benefits. It strengthens the ability of all kids to work together, understand and value different points of view, think critically, and be successful learners.

Inclusive classrooms also reduce stigma. Imagine this kind of learning community:

"Inclusive classrooms are filled with diverse learners. That lets kids talk about how everyone learns in their own way. They may find that they have more in common with other kids than they thought. This can go a long way in reducing stigma for kids with learning and attention issues. It can also help kids build and maintain friendships." (Understood)


Understanding inclusion

What inclusive classrooms look like

There Is No Place Called Inclusion
Inclusion is a belief that ALL students, regardless of labels, should be members of the general education community. The philosophy of inclusion encourages the elimination of the dual special and general education systems, and the creation of a merged system that is responsive to the needs of all students.

Is it inclusion?

This chart, developed by inclusion expert Nicole Eredics, can help you understand what inclusion is and isn't.

Child spends the majority of the day in the general education classroom. Child spends the majority of the day in a special education classroom and goes to a general education classroom for one or two periods.
Child's desk is included with the other groups of desks in the classroom. Child's desk is away from the other desks in the classroom.
Child has access to and is included in classroom lessons and activities that are adapted or modified to meet his/her special needs. Child works on his/her own curriculum.
Child attends outside activities with the class including assemblies, field trips, enrichment classes, and recess. Child is given alternate activities and options with other special education students.
Child is an independent, valued, and respected classroom member. Child is looked upon as helpless, needy, and dependent.
The child's paraprofessional facilitates access to the curriculum and classroom activities. The child's paraprofessional determines access to the curriculum and classroom activities.
The paraprofessional encourages child to complete work as independently as possible, while providing support when needed. The paraprofessional does not provide many opportunities for the child to complete work independently and "hovers."
Child receives specialist support (therapy, speech, and language) with minimal disruption to the class routine and program. Child is pulled from the classroom lessons and activities for specialist suport without consideration for what the child will miss.
The teacher can identify your child's strengths and areas for improvement. The teacher refers to the specialists and paraprofessionals to identify child's development.
Child can name classmates and has many common classroom experiences. Child does not know classmates and does not have many common classroom experiences.

The trend toward inclusive general education classrooms

Can special education students thrive in general education classrooms? Watch Carl Cohn, a former superintendent, talk about the trend toward inclusive classrooms (also called inclusion classrooms). Hear his tips on what to ask if a school suggests your child should be in a separate, self-contained classroom. Learn more at Understood, 4 Benefits of Inclusion Classrooms.

Read about a New York City public school program called ASD Nest in this article from The Atlantic: What School Could Be If It Were Designed for Kids With Autism.

Inclusive Learning: Everyone’s In

This video, “Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child,” overview is part of the Edmonton Public Schools’ Inclusive Learning: Everyone’s In initiative. The District was selected as a change agent for Alberta’s Action on Inclusion initiative — to share information about best practices to welcome, include and support students' needs in the classroom and community. (Edmonton Public Schools, Alberta, CA) View all of the "Inclusive Learning: Everyone’s In" video >

Inclusive classrooms: getting started

Teacher working with group of third graders on cooperative project

Learn the basics about inclusion, characteristics of inclusive classrooms that work, and things you can do to implement inclusion principles right away — including setting up your classroom, creating effective learning groups, and adapting your curriculum. Learn about inclusion and what you can do in your classroom >

Literacy in the inclusive classroom

Small group of elementary students discussing read aloud book with teacher

With thoughtful planning, literacy instruction can be adapted to meet the needs of every student in the classroom. Get ideas to help you design an inclusive language arts program, including tips about your classroom library, integrating technology, visual supports, read aloud strategies, teaching comprehension, and more. Learn about inclusion in teaching reading and writing >

Peer support and social inclusion

Group of elementary students holding hands in cooperation

When children feel accepted and supported by their school community, it builds a solid foundation where all students can learn and thrive socially, emotionally, and academically. Discover ways that educators can create a culture of inclusion in their classrooms, school-wide, and for school activities that take place outside of the regular curriculum. Learn about peer support and social inclusion >

Accommodations and modifications

Elementary student using audio accommodation to support reading

Accommodations remove learning barriers in the classroom to provide every child with equal access to learning, such as providing visual supports and assistive technology. Modifications are changes to what a child is taught and expected to do in class.  Learn about accommodations and modifications >

Assistive technology

Elementary students using assistive technology in the classroom

Assistive technology is any device that supports the independence of a person with a disability. Assistive technology can be something very simple and low-cost such as pencil grips or text highlighters, or something more sophisticated, such as a computer station with speech-to-text tools. Learn about assistive technology > 

Universal Design for Learning

Two students at smartboard in in UDL classroom

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. This approach offers flexibility in the ways students access material, engage with it and show what they know. Learn about Universal Design for Learning >

Sensory-friendly spaces

Elementary student working in sensory-friendly classroom space

Learn how to adapt your classroom to help students with sensory issues feel comfortable and ready to focus on learning and socializing with peers. You'll also find information about innovative ways public places such as museums and performing arts centers are creating sensory-friendly experiences. Learn about sensory-friendly spaces >

Books about inclusive classrooms

Books for teachers about inclusive classrooms

Browse this list of recommended books about how to create and sustain inclusive classrooms that support the social, emotional, and academic growth of all students. See the booklist: The Inclusive Classroom: Books for Educators

Websites, blogs, and media about inclusive classrooms

Teacher in the busy hallway of her inclusive school

Stay informed about best practices in inclusive education by subscribing, bookmarking, and visiting the blogs and websites we list here. See a list of websites, blogs, and media about inclusive classrooms >



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