Meeting 9 of the Inclusive Science Education group (ideas to take away and try)


The inclusive science group is made of interested educators from all phases and sectors who have an interest in teaching students who have additional support needs or special educational needs. It is organised by Rob Butler from the ASE and Jane Essex (ASE and RSC member), who both have an interest in this area of science education. Membership of this group is open to anyone, and attendance at the meetings is optional. Notes taken during the discussion will be shared with the whole group. You can join by filling in the form at

Meeting 9

This meeting was first of two meetings on the same theme. The first meeting was intended to share good practice that could be taken away and tried in your own setting. The follow-up meeting will ask teachers to share how that went.

Rob opened the meeting by reminding those present of the importance of consistency in all aspects of teaching. Consistency in dealing with behaviour, either in the way you deal with it or by using a seating plan (seating plans can change for different activities) so that learners consistently sit in the same places (or the places you want them to sit in) Teachers who aren’t consistent often have trouble with behaviour, but also more anxious and neurodiverse learners know what to expect rather than experiencing anxiety where the teacher is not consistent.

Routines and organisation are a part of a consistent approach. Having a routine for practical activities is good for all learners and removes anxieties/ambiguities over who does what when getting things out or putting equipment away. Organisation is keeping your equipment in clearly defined places (maybe labelled) so that learners know where to find them)

Many learners don’t like uncertainty and familiar, predictable routines remove some of their worries about science. One of the participants went on to explain how she structured her lessons to have three familiar components with a corresponding symbol on the screen. Clear signposting within lessons, maybe with timing (when transitions happen, for example from talking to doing) so that learners know what is coming and when an activity/lesson will end.

Jane reminded us that we can learn from our learners if we are open. We can all feel anxiety on occasion and can help us understand how they feel. Jane put together guidance for her colleagues at Strathclyde which she is willing to share if you get in touch. Academics, who weren’t used to working with learners with additional support needs, learned a lot about teaching and several have changed the way they teach as a consequence. Attendees reminded the group that listening to learners about what works is never a waste of time (many schools include this in pupil profiles).

Another delegate shared a technique that worked with dyslexic learners. Introducing the BBC Bitesize video on monoclonal antibodies which contains a lot of information and terminology that can be difficult to assimilate. The teacher wrote key points on a mini whiteboard and asked the learners to draw pictures to show the key facts but the learners still didn’t get it (but was nearly there) The next stage was to use a physical model to act out the stages of injecting a mouse to get antibodies produced.  To complete the learning cycle, our teacher played the video into Google Docs (works with Microsoft Office too) to get a transcript of the video, and then highlighted the key words in bold and asked the learner to read through the text. The learner was asked to summarise the key points into a revision card. From being unable to understand the video at the start, the learner had a good grasp of key points. This helped removed the barriers associated with auditory processing. Having two devices makes the process simpler, and although it might sound relatively low tech you get better results by playing on one device and recording on the other. Another teacher had experienced success using voice memos on devices can help capture student thoughts and ideas when they have difficulty writing. 

The same tools can be used by learners to dictate text when they have difficulty writing (they can even dictate punction, for example full stop) There is another useful feature in Word if you go to review and read aloud, word will read back what you have written which can be useful when proof-reading or preparing a talk. 

Practical work was discussed, one attendee told the group that you need to be brave and do lots of practical work, but be aware as it takes a while to get used to doing, or for the teacher to learn the adaptations needed, but it did lead to better learner with their learners. Sensory gardens with scented herbs and bee-friendly plants were good for outdoor learning.

One teacher spoke about her learners not being able to picture themselves doing practical activities. The teacher gets them to tell her what to do and she acts these things out, sometimes exaggerating the things are wrong, and this seems to have helped learners to picture what to do and iron out mistakes.

One of our delegates couldn’t be there in person but sent several resources and ideas including a video on Makaton for all learners, a simple symbolised worksheet for recording findings and an open invitation to engage and share on Twitter (link below)

One delegate spoke about a family member who struggled with uncertainty and knowing what is going to happen can help our neurodiverse learners. Resources like Books Beyond Words can help with engagement. There are lots of good resources linking stories to science including those on the Ogden Trust website and story books written by Jules Pottle (the Molliebird and Jasper the Spider)

Learners in one of the schools had difficulty accessing the science lab because it is different to the other classrooms, both in terms of what it looks like, what it’s like to be in there and how it smells. Trying to make the science lab more like the other classrooms in the school has only had limited success. One teacher suggested putting sensory activities in tuff-trays that will engage and entice them in, so they feel comfortable in the room (ideas include water play, magnets, connecting things, Duplo) Another teacher did something similar with a friction ramp and different surfaces for learners to engage in science play. Photo frames that let you record sound clips could also get them in to the room and starting to engage in learning.

The next meeting

The next meeting will be a chance to discuss some of the things you have tried and how these went in a supportive group. A reminder will be sent out closer to the time – so get experimenting with your classes.


BBC Bitesize on monoclonal antibodies

RSC – making the most of practical videos

Makaton for all learners

Books beyond words

Sarah Bearchell on Twitter

A  great resource highlighting the importance of making Instructions really clear & easy to follow –

British sign language glossary

Lynne Castle works in a special school in London and she has tons of ideas on Twitter. Here is a video of her in action at BeTT

Explorify Zoom in and Zoom out activities


A reminder that by being a member of the ASE that you support our wider advocacy and charitable work. You can find out more about membership by clicking the link

Meeting 8 of the Inclusive Science Education Group (vocabulary)


The inclusive science group is made of interested educators from all phases and sectors who have an interest in teaching students who have additional support needs or special educational needs. It is organised by Rob Butler from the ASE and Jane Essex (ASE and RSC member), who both have an interest in this area of science education. Membership of this group is open to anyone, and attendance at the meetings is optional. Notes taken during the discussion will be shared with the whole group. You can join by filling in the form at

Meeting 8

We were fortunate to be joined by Dr Susie Nyman (@DrSusieNyman on Twitter) who teaches at the Sixth Form Collage, Farnborough.  Susie came to share some of the ideas she presented at the ASE’s International day. Susie has put together a toolbox of strategies and resources to help teachers of learners with special educational needs.

Susie opened with pen portraits of her learners. She told us of one learner who needed a giant A1 graph of the menstrual cycle using strawberry laces to help visualise it in his head. Another learner needed to break down words into components and to relate the learning to them and their prior experiences. A whole class activity is playing the weakest link using mini-whiteboards as a show and share activity to test if students have learned. There are lots of ways to teach science, it isn’t just textbooks and classic experiments.

Glossaries of terms are really useful to learners, Susie has them at the start of each student’s book but they need to be actively used. You can use post-it notes with these glossaries to group and self-test words for example.

Science terminology can be quite challenging for learners. We can break down challenging words into prefixes, roots, suffixes which can help learners make sense of complicated words. For example, chloro means green, photo means light, poly means many etc. These can help students understand words, and understanding can also help them select the correct terminology to use  such as hypo/hyperglycaemic.  There are lots of words that can be made easier to understand through the etymology, for example arthro (joints – arthropods, arthritis –osis means process as in osmosis)

When teaching new terminology Susie suggested the following strategies

  1. Speak and use the words out loud
  2. Write words on interactive and mini white boards
  3. Break down words into parts e.g.o-eso-pha-gus and write them down on coloured Post-It notes using different coloured pens.
  4. Repeat the words a few times.
  5. Discuss the etymology of the word for example from the Greek “stoma” which means mouth.
  6. Give an example in a sentence.
  7. Regularly revisit the terminology using games e.g. Bingo or playing the “weakest link”.

Susie refers to ‘onion teaching’ in which you give core information which you add to and let students build layers upon the top. Susie shared strategies she had experienced success such as modelling the structure of leaves with alternative materials. Playdoh is a really good material to model digestive system because it stimulates all of the senses. A typical sequence of activities might look like this

Susie has a giant mat of the heart which can be used in different ways, labelling parts, modelling flow of blood, explaining the vocabulary etc. Using little aids to memory (you try before you buy) can help students remember sequences (tricuspid before bicuspid). Susie has made models of body parts out of clay but you could use foam or similar to help students remember the parts.

Tactile/multisensory strategies included modelling DNA by using double-ended zips (available from John Lewis) to help students understand what is happening during replication. Susie also used card sorts to match circuit symbols to their names so students could remember them and strawberry laces to plot distance-time graphs on pre-created axes. 

Relating science to real-life situations does help learners understand and remember, for example using toys in physics when learning about momentum. Susie extends this theory, relating sand castles to surface tension, using words like cohesion and surface tension (and explaining what they mean in the context of making sand castles)

You can make the periodic table of elements tactile by using large shower curtain or physical pottery models that they can interact with. You can extend this by physically modelling electron configuration using marbles, and model organic compounds using lollipop sticks (useful to show the double bonds). You can make paperchains to link a sequence of alkanes together to help learners remember their names.

Susie reminded teachers that assistive technology is incredibly powerful, whether that is reading/scanning pens or using software like Read & Write Gold or Dolphin Easyreader. 

Exam technique can be important and Susie prepares her learners to complete exam questions (using her Exam question task board) to walk learners through basics like reading the exam question, unpicking what is required and walking the learner through answering the question. These are available from Ooka books.

Susie concluded by reminding those present that learners need to believe in themselves with the phrase “If you can believe, you can achieve”

Take-away messages

  • Some students learn best with a multi-sensory experience. How can we build those into our teaching?
  • How can we relate learning to real life?
  • What strategies can we use to help learners understand and remember?

Links from the workshop

From the British Dyslexia Association

Multisensory teaching –

Susie’s slides

Biology word roots/prefixes/suffixes

Meeting 7 of the Inclusive Science Education Group (systemic instruction for learners with SEND)


The inclusive science group is made of interested educators from all phases and sectors who have an interest in teaching students who have additional support needs or special educational needs. It is organised by Rob Butler from the ASE and Jane Essex (ASE and RSC member), who both have an interest in this area of science education. Membership of this group is open to anyone, and attendance at the meetings is optional. Notes taken during the discussion will be shared with the whole group. You can join by filling in the form at

We were fortunate to be joined by Magdalena Apanasionok, a research fellow from the University of Warwick who investigated teaching numeracy and science to children with developmental disabilities for her PhD.  Magda has kindly shared the presentation she shared with the groups and the papers she wrote to help share her findings.

The research is built on the fact we know that attainment of students with SEN in science is of concern and yet there was very little research into using systematic instruction in the United Kingdom. 

Systematic instruction is a teaching method based on behavioural principles focused on breaking down complex skills into smaller steps and promoting generalisation. The curriculum used in the research was evidence informed and designed for learners with learning disabilities. The active components used

  • Guided inquiry – explicitly teaching enquiry skills
  • Teacher scripts
  • Stories to support each lesson
  • Explicit instruction – an active teaching method involving time delay prompting and examples/non-example procedure
  • Task analysis – breaking complex stills into smaller steps
  • Special accommodations – amending tasks to suit the learners

The research focused on a class of nine students with learning disabilities and/or autism and looked at ‘the Five senses’ unit.

Repetition featured heavily in the strategies. Students engaged well and many could remember key concepts several weeks later. 

Teachers found the following useful:

  • Pairing symbols with objects to enhance students’ understanding
  • Using the time-delay strategy (prompt/help for the pupil is delivered following a specific amount of time after the instruction)
  • Using an example/non-example procedure (‘this is…’ or ‘this is not…’)
  • Predictable structure to lessons

It was suggestions that technicians could support this approach by developing activities that can’t fail, that can support this teaching approach.

Evidence to support the approach is limited to smaller scale studies but there is lots of evidence to support the effectiveness of key teaching strategies which include repetition, carefully structed development of concepts, and frequent formative feedback e.g. Essex, 2020; Villanueva, et al., 2012).

Jane offered to link together schools who had an interest in trying out some of the resources should we be able to get hold of them (as many are physical resources) We can link schools who are interested in this.

The group was asked if they had tried any of the strategies mentioned by Magda

Linking pictures/objects to a term was a good strategy and could engage learners. If there is consistency in symbols/pictures used it can be of great benefit to learners. Symbols for prediction (before) and conclusion (after) worked well. Dominoes are one strategy that can work with these learners.

Some of the group said their learners responded to the same structured lesson format, used in across all science lessons. Whilst not all teachers found this strategy useful, the majority of teachers found a predictable approach beneficial. Jane suggested this could also help reduce cognitive load associated with the lesson structure, and teachers saw reduced anxiety when using this approach as there were no surprises to catch learners out.

Some learners didn’t engage in lessons which they felt were the same as previous lessons – this means the teacher has to make the lessons feel noticeably different. Learners at one setting would switch off if they felt they had covered the content before so their teacher has to make sure that whilst lessons are structured, they don’t feel like the same lesson over and over.

Responsive teaching is good, combined with a reflective approach, so the teacher responds to what the learner actually does (or doesn’t do) 

Some students struggle with the application, and need to see the point of what they are learning. Approaches like the Science Capital approach (Aspires project) might be of interest with these learners.

Stories were mentioned as an effective tool for learners (especially ones with no text) and these are available online. One attendee used these successfully during lockdown. Jane spoke of a storytelling approach used with learners in Scotland, which engaged the learners but also helped with assessment of what had been learned. Stories are good safe ways of exploring as they aren’t about if you are right, but you are talking about a character instead.

Concept cartoons are another way of talking about science where you talk about what the person in the cartoon is thinking rather than what you are thinking.

Links from the chat

Commercial scheme of work used in the research

What is systematic instruction

Domino generator

Texts for science

Books without words

Links to research

  • Apanasionok, M. M., Neil, J., Watkins, R. C., Grindle, C. F., & Hastings, R. P. (2020). Teaching Science to Students with Developmental Disabilities Using the Early Science Curriculum. Support for Learning.
  • Essex, J. (2020). Towards truly inclusive science education: A case study of successful curriculum innovation in a special school, Support for Learning, available at:
  • Villanueva, M.G,  Taylor, J.C., Therrien, W. J. and Hand, B. (2012) Science education for students with special needs. Studies in Science Education, 48 (2), 187-215. DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2012.737117
  • Watkins, R. M., Apanasionok, M. M., & Neil, J. (2020). Teaching science to pupils with SEND: using an evidence-based approach. Primary Science, 165.