In our second subject-specific issue of SENCO Week, we consider some of the issues involved in teaching science to pupils with SEN and how teachers and TAs can support their learning

Science has great potential for pupils with SEN to learn about the world they live in. There are interesting practical activities to be done, presenting opportunities for real discovery and thought-provoking discussion. Carefully organised, the practical work in science can enable pupils to achieve in ways that are less frequently available in other subjects, and make an important contribution to a learner’s confidence and self-esteem. All too often however, pupils get sidetracked; the main lesson objective shifts from finding out about heat conduction to producing a neat and accurate table of results (straight lines drawn with a ruler; neat handwriting; no rubbing out). I have seen pupils spend the major part of a lesson copying out the title and ‘method’ in an exercise book, sweating over the drawing of equipment needed and running out of time in which to do any ‘hands on’ activity − the stuff that would actually enable them to learn and remember something useful!

Perhaps the most important point for teachers of science is to determine the lesson objective and acknowledge that this may be different for different groups of pupils. A ‘must, should, could’ approach can be useful here, with an emphasis for SEN pupils on relating any investigation to something in real life with which they are reasonably familiar − a ‘hook’ on which to hang newfound knowledge and understanding. Use child-friendly phraseology for sharing objectives. Any difficulties with the writing up of investigations, recording of results etc. can be minimised by providing writing frames/templates and/or support from peer tutors and TAs. Support developing numeracy skills as well with number lines, weights and measures charts, etc, displayed in the room.


  • Label drawers and cupboards clearly in lower-case letters and pictures/symbols.
  • Keep groups of apparatus together, eg Bunsen burners, bench mats, tripods and gauzes, to save time and minimise movement.
  • Consider setting up apparatus before pupils arrive.
  • Pupils with significant motor difficulties may benefit from adapted apparatus, eg soldering a piece of metal on to the collar of a Bunsen burner to act as a lever.
  • Additional equipment such as non-slip mats and a free-standing magnifying glass may also be useful. Measuring cylinders with large-scale readings, talking scales etc can also be considered. (See CLEAPPS − URL at the end of this ezine)
  • A digital camera is useful for recording investigations in progress and an individual’s contribution to a paired/group activity.
  • Concept keyboards, large format keyboards, tablet PC, touch screens and appropriate software (such as Clicker, Cloze-pro) can allow pupils to record their work more easily.

(For more detail about adapted apparatus − and much more, see: Meeting SEN in the Curriculum: Science by Carol Holden and Andy Cooke: a David Fulton title published by Routledge.)

Support for learning

  • Provide clear, easy to understand instructions (with pictures, symbols if necessary), with tasks broken down into small steps
  • Help pupils to plan effectively (eg provide instructions for them to sequence in the correct order).
  • Support them in remembering and being able to read and write key words and names of apparatus, processes etc. (taking time to introduce and explain new words, providing word banks). Be aware of the confusion that may arise from words having more than one meaning (eg light, solution, resistance, concentration, etc).
  • Use speaking frames to develop understanding of scientific concepts and language (listen, imitate, innovate). Allow time for checking understanding and repeating explanations/modelling when appropriate.
  • Pair less-able pupils with more-able for someactivities.
  • Use ‘DART’ activities (cloze, text marking, labelling, sequencing, true/false exercises and puzzles etc).
  • Liaise with the maths department to ensure a common approach to numeracy and mathematical concepts and avoid confusion for learners.

Tips for the teacher on working with support staff in science:

  • Try to secure the support of one particular TA who can develop knowledge and skills particular to supporting in science (consider providing some specific training/observing/reading).
  • Make sure they know about safety procedures.
  • Discuss behaviour policy and agree on how behaviour management responsibility is shared between you.
  • Give them clear objectives and details of your expectations − preferably before the lesson.
  • Help them to develop skills in preparing recording templates, etc; remember that their work doesn’t always have to be in the lab/classroom.
  • Use their knowledge of individual pupils to help plan appropriately.
  • Check with them regularly to inform your monitoring of individual pupils’ progress and find out if they have any suggestions/concerns.

Useful information and resources from:


This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.