How to Set Up Your Self Contained Classroom

Monday, June 27, 2022

Setting up your classroom can be a daunting task as a Special Educator. With various behavior modifications, intervention plans, and skill levels - it’s easy to get overwhelmed (and that’s totally normal!)

But - creating a class structure provides the necessary support your students need to engage in learning, manage their own behavior, and communicate appropriately. As adults, we use various schedules, calendars, and routines to help navigate our daily lives. Your students are no different!

Self Contained Classrooms in Special Education

What Is A Self Contained Classroom?

A self-contained classroom is a type of special education model that focuses on the idea of smaller groups, personalized instruction, and one-on-one support. Self contained models typically cater to a specific group of students with similar learning disabilities or a mixed group with unique abilities or similar learning levels. In a nutshell, self-contained SPED teachers provide additional support and structure for students whose needs are not met in a general education classroom.

How Is Self-Contained Different From Inclusive Classrooms?

Although both models support special education students and follow FAPE Special Education guidelines, these two types of classrooms are extremely different in many ways. Here are a few high-level differences -

Size: One of the biggest differences between self-contained and inclusive classrooms is the number of students. Self-contained classrooms typically support 3-10 students while inclusive classrooms support 15-30 students on average. Fewer students give the self-contained teacher the time and space to provide specialized interventions and support.

Peer Interaction: Inclusive classroom settings give special education students the opportunity to socialize and interact with others who have a wide variety of abilities and learning levels. AKA - these students learn alongside their gen-ed peers for much of the school day. In a self-contained classroom, students remain in the small group setting to receive instruction and support for most of the school day.

Instruction & Content: Special education students in an inclusive classroom typically follow the same curriculum, standards, and pacing as their gen-ed classmates - but are pulled out of the classroom as needed for more personalized support and to receive appropriate accommodations. In a self-contained setting, students may be working at various academic levels with different content and curriculum - depending on their specific needs and IEP goals. A self-contained teacher provides multiple levels of support and differentiation to ensure that individual needs are met.

Tips for Setting Up An Inclusive & Supportive Self-Contained Classroom

Although it may require some effort and planning, you’ll be happy that you went the extra mile for your extraordinary kiddos. Here are some easy steps to get you started!

Establish Classroom Procedures & Expectations

From center rotations to behavior modifications - there can be a lot going on in a self-contained classroom. That’s why it’s extremely important to establish some sense of routine from day 1. According to experts, simply having a predictable routine and schedule can “help prevent problem behaviors and minimize daily frustrations.” Here are some guiding questions to help you create procedures that work for your students!

  • Where do my students go and when? (schedule)
  • How will I gain my students’ attention?
  • How will students wait in line?
  • How should students safely use equipment and materials?
  • What will students do to clean up their area?
  • Where will students place their personal belongings?

Create Visuals & Cue Cards to Reinforce

Want your classroom to run like a well-oiled machine? Introducing - visual reminders and cue cards! Create simple visual reminders and display in various locations around the room that students can reference throughout the school day. We recommend labeling each section of your room and displaying your daily schedule, expectations for how to handle materials, etc. 

Block Off Areas for Instruction, Movement & Self Regulation

Fewer students means that you have the ability to plan various learning areas and centers around your classroom - so, let’s get creative! To get started, make a list of all the space you’ll need and draw a map to guide you during set-up. We recommend setting up the following learning spaces -

  • Small Group Instruction - It’s likely that your kiddos will have a variety of learning levels and needs - which means that small group centers are your new best friend. Choose a large space in your classroom and arrange desks or tables appropriately so that students can collaborative but also have an ample amount of personal space.
  • Conference Center - A self-contained classroom thrives on personalized support and attention - so it’s important that you create a semi-private space to work with individual students.
  • Calm Down Corners - Also known as “calming corners,” these designated areas help students practice identifying emotions to manage stress, self-regulate and control impulses. Choose a quiet, comfortable area in your classroom where students will be given some privacy and include a variety of self-regulatory exercises (meditation scripts, brain break cards, student affirmations, etc). Having a variety of options will ensure that students are able to choose an activity that works best for them. 
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  • Alternative Seating - Arranging different types of seating options around the room will help students manage their need for movement and body sensation - plus, foster creativity and collaboration. It’s a win-win! Plan 2-3 small spaces around the room and add various seating equipment - like cushions, bean bag chairs, therapy balls, and stools. Your students will be grateful for the freedom of choice!
  • Movement - Don’t forget! Your students will need to actively navigate around the classroom and transition to designated areas throughout the day - so be sure there is enough walking space to get from Point A to Point B. If your room is large enough, consider blocking off an area where students can stretch, wiggle, and take a break!

Create Work Bins or Task Boxes To Support Independent Practice

In a self-contained setting, students are often working to master different skills and objectives. Because of this, individual work bins are absolutely essential to ensure that students are allowed an ample amount of practice time. These bins should focus on a specific subject or skill and directly align with students’ IEP goals.

TARA Tip: Laminate task cards and independent work activities so that they can be reused throughout the school year. TARA’s SPED Resource Bank comes with 100+ ready-to-use task cards - sign up for your free trial today!

Physically setting up your self-contained classroom can be an intimidating task… but doing it right the first time will save you from future headaches and frustrations. So - create a plan, grab a group of teacher friends, and have fun with it!

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