Teaching Special Needs Language Learners

girl with a hearing aid reading on an iPad

Case Study 

Allison is an eight year old student in third grade who has hearing loss resulting in mild hearing deafness. Allison had early intervention medical assistance which reduces the severity but still retains permanent damage. Allison speech and language skills are delayed, she does have assistance by an audiologist who provides support for her earring aids. 

Teaching Strategy 1: Provide Transcripts

What is it?

Basic transcripts are a text version of speech information needed to understand the content. Descriptive transcripts also include text description of the visual information needed to understand the content. For Allison’s specific needs, a basic transcript would be the type of transcript used for our teaching strategy.

How To Use It

Technology for people with hearing impairments is available in applications for both Apple and Android operating systems. With providing Allison with a tablet in class, we are able to use an application (app) like Live Transcribe from Google. Live Transcribe uses Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology and transcribes speech into text in real-time. ASR technology picks up through the tablet’s microphone and delivers it to the screen. This app would be an appropriate tool for for Allison to read or re-read what she has missed with the teacher’s instructions. Google hails the app as ‘convenient, especially if you are having a conversation with a person who does not know sign language’ (Manalo, 2018).

Live Transcribe supports over seventy languages and dialects, bilingual conversations, and saves transcripts for three days. ‘Live Transcribe is in collaboration with Gallaudet University, the leading deaf and hearing impairment university in the United States’ (2018) and would be helpful for Allison as it is already being used in higher education and a credible source. 

Why would this strategy benefit Allison?

Language characteristics of students with hearing loss show ‘significant delay as in phoneme production, vocabulary, and syntax’ (Cawthorn, 2001). In Allison’s case, she had early interventions and her hearing loss is diagnosed as mild to moderate, therefore, she has demonstrated communicative skills that ‘match those of her hearing peers’ (p. 213). With hearing loss, students ‘rely more on nonverbal labelling techniques than would be expected in children with normal hearing’ (p. 213). Providing transcripts offers Allison an opportunity to read, or even re-read the instructions and information from the lessons. By providing nonverbal modes of communication in the classroom like transcripts, this offers Allison an ‘important starting place for developing (her) verbal language skills’ (p. 213). With reading the transcripts from the lessons, Allison is more equipped to develop vocabulary and syntax with this teaching strategy because students with hearing loss show a delay in syntax and ‘shorter sentences tend to be less syntactically complex than the longer sentences’ (p. 218). Given this, with Allison reading the transcripts, she can read through the complexity of the spoken sentences to manageable information. 

Teaching Strategy 2: Visual Aids and Techniques

What is it? 

Visual techniques incorporate a wide arrange of tool usage, including pictures, puppets, drawings, wall charts, photographs and of course flashcards and realia. There are hundreds more of course but what is important is that they are everywhere and normally easy to acquire.  Learners can associate materials presented in a meaningful way and utilize the visuals and authentic materials in the foreign language, thus audiovisual materials are a very suitable for partial deaf-learners (Gülengül Birinci, F., & Sariçoban, A, 2021).

How To Use It

Connecting visuals to vocabulary words creates concrete understandings for visual learners(p. 15). Implementation at as many points as possible, by the use of flashcards and various forms of charts and graphs, posters for their benefit. Using realia also helps connect them to their content.  Difficulties may arise when connecting abstract ideas and words to visuals but concrete nouns should always be supplemented with visuals. 

Why would this strategy benefit Allison?

With the ease of technological benefits in the classroom, visuals are incredibly easy to acquire and use. In following the notion of knowing your students and utilizing their best learning style, visuals are the strongest connection. Allison connects to her subject through realia and her most dominant learning style, we can provide strong vocabulary teaching for deaf students.  

Culturally Inclusive Classroom

The case study did not identify Allison as an English language learner (ELL), however with the use of technology with her tablet and Live Transcribe app, Allison and her teacher would be able to translate the transcriptions into her mother-tongue language if this is a strategy she would benefit from. Inclusivity in our readings related to the inclusion and integration of students with special needs and hearing impairment and the general student population. Strategies related to the teachers’ speech, class size, including an interpreter, and including a teaching assistant are helpful when there are several students who are hearing impaired in a classroom (Cawthon, 2001).

Video Presentation

Further Reading

Supporting Emergent Bilinguals with Individualized Education Plans

Evaluating English Learners for Special Education

Ways to Better Serve Often Misunderstood English Language Learners with Disabilities

Students in Special Education- English Language Learners

Challenges in Special Education Identification for English Language Learners

Special Education Assessment


Teaching with the SIOP Model


If you are an educator, parent, or grandparent and looking for practical strategies to use with children, concepts to understand, and ideas that can be easily implemented about how to create space for self and others, you have landed in the right spot.

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Children learn how to solve problems the same way they learn how to read, write, and add. Like reading, writing, and adding, there are three specific components to solving problems. These are teachable skills children can learn at any age.


Do2Learn: Educational Resources for Special Needs. (2019). Do2learn.com. https://do2learn.com/disabilities/CharacteristicsAndStrategies/SpeechLanguageImpairment_Strategies.html

Gülengül Birinci, F., & Sariçoban, A. (2021). The effectiveness of visual materials in teaching vocabulary to deaf students of EFL. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies17(1), 628–645. https://doi.org/10.52462/jlls.43

‌ Jenkinson, P. (2017, May 25). Five tips for teachers of students with hearing impairment. Media Access Australia. https://mediaaccess.org.au/latest_news/education/five-tips-for-teachers-of-students-with-hearing-impairment

(2021). Speechbuddy.com. https://www.speechbuddy.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/child-headphones.jpg

The 5 Best Apps for Transcribing Lectures & Converting Speech to Text on iPhone or Android. (n.d.). Gadget Hacks. https://smartphones.gadgethacks.com/how-to/5-best-apps-for-transcribing-lectures-converting-speech-text-iphone-android-0186399/

‌ w3c_wai. (n.d.). Transcripts. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). https://www.w3.org/WAI/media/av/transcripts/

Published by suzannemarie

Educator and published author of conflict management and children's books. Living life to its fullest. I believe in courageously honouring my truth and living my legacy. Lover of meaningful conversations, coffee, food, art, and building connections. I love writing about my fascination with culture, food, adventure, self-love, and living a healthy and fulfilled life!

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