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Using PVC Piping for Creative Classroom Solutions

Teachers are thrifty individuals who use creative thinking to provide the best learning opportunities for their students in the classroom.  In previous posts, I have written about low-cost and free resources that teachers can take advantage of in the classroom.  Another one of these low-cost tricks is to use PVC piping for a variety of classroom needs.  PVC pipe could be for practical purposes as an assistive technology device or it can be used to create interactive games and activities for students.  Examples include using it to create stands, frames, simulation devices or as a play phone, tee-pee, or marble maze.  PVC pipe can even be used to make instruments!

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PVC pipe is made of plastic and is typically used for plumbing, sewers, and protecting wiring.  Since it is made out of plastic, it is highly durable and long-lasting.  Many different pipe diameters and joints can be adjoined together to make complex curves and shapes. PVC piping can be purchased from the local hardware stores and is relatively inexpensive.

Below are great resources to help you get started with PVC pipe designs in your classroom.

Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource System (FDLRS) – PVC Idea & Instruction Booklet

FDLRS provides an entire workbook of resources for PVC pipe assistive technology devices for special needs students.  This resource is very extensive and a great first-timers resource.  They provide a detailed explanation of the tools that will be needed to construct the various assistive devices, provide detailed materials lists and diagrams, along with how the device can be used in the classroom.  They have over twenty different devices including stands, assistive writing tools, frames, easels, and organizers.  Each device has a level associated with the directions to determine the length of time and difficulty it will take to build the device.

If you are not a handy construction-minded teacher, this is one way that you can get fathers involved in volunteering at the school.  Many fathers always want to help, but don’t know how.  This would be a great way to get them involved in the classroom while building such useful devices for the students.

Bright Eyes Learning – PVC Pipe for Activities

Bright Eyes Learning provides ideas, examples, and instructions on how to build PVC pipe toys and activity centers for the classroom.  Some of the activities are definitive, the PVC pipe is used to build a particular toy for a particular purpose, and other activities with the PVC pipes allow the students to explore in free-play activities.

The examples from their site include making play phones, a tee-pee and a marble maze.  These examples have direct instructions including materials needed and models of what the project will look like upon completion.  The abstract examples from the site include using the PVC pipe in activities where students use them as ‘building blocks’, as a sensory device, or as a tube for exploratory games.

To make PVC pipe into an exploratory device,  you can fill a clear PVC pipe tube it with colorful nick-knacks like marbles, feathers, or glitter and then cap off the ends.  Then students can use this during play-time or to learn about colors or textures.  To explore further, the piping could be used to allow students to run various ball objects through the tubes to see what will come out first.  It could also be used as an imaginary telescope.

The ideas and uses of PVC pipe in the classroom are endless.  Have you used PVC pipe as a learning aid or tool in your classroom?  Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below!

Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture by dcJohn

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Low-Tech Classroom Aids for Special Needs Students

Making adaptations for special needs students in your classroom does not always have to be high-tech.  In a blog post from last year, I shared several low-tech options for teachers to use in their classroom to make the curriculum more accessible.  There are many other low-tech tools besides special pencils and grips, post-its, and highlighters.  This post will focus on a few more pocketbook-friendly tools that you can use with your special needs students that can be found at your local craft and office supply stores.

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Soothing & Calming Tools

The school day can be a stressful time both academically and socially for all students and even more so for some students with special needs.  Offering students opportunities for soothing and calming experiences can help them to control or manage their stress and emotions.  Providing students with soothing sensory items that can be taped or stapled under their desk can be a creative solution.  At a craft store, you can purchase different items like feathers, felt, Velcro, or foam.  These different tactile feelings provide an outlet for students to calm emotions and refocus on classroom tasks.

Students with cerebral palsy or some students with autism may have difficultly controlling saliva.  Providing a sweat band they can wear on their wrist can help them to wipe their mouth area.  This can help the student to feel more confident about interacting with other students in the classroom and provide them with one less thing to worry about.

Accessibility Tools

One tool that I use a lot in my computer classroom is book rests.  This helps the students to lean the textbook up while completing their computer-based assignments.  This can also be very helpful in the regular classroom.  I’ve purchased actual book rests from the local office supply store, but you could also use frame holders that can be bought at the craft store for perhaps a lower price.  This provides a physical prop for their books to help raise them up where it may be either a better position for the student to read or more accessible for them to turn the page.

Even in my 7th grade classroom, some students are not tall enough to reach the floor when sitting in the chair.  Especially when teaching about computer ergonomics and keyboarding, I provide them with a FREE resource to help them be more comfortable when sitting – a phone book!  They can use this as their foot rest and helps them to be more comfortable in the chairs during class and helps them to focus on the academic lesson.

Academic Tools

Academically, there may need to be physical accommodations employed in order for students to be most successful.  Some low-tech strategies can be easy solutions for simple accommodations.  One example is if a student is struggling to keep their paper on their desk because of limited use of their hands or arms, you can use magnets or tape to hold down the papers on the desk.

During reading assignments (both silent or group), if a student has a hard time following along on which line they are one, they can use a clear colored ruler to use as a guide.  After each line the student would move the ruler down as they continue reading.

For math assignments, large key calculators may be more appropriate than the small scientific kind.  You can find these types of calculators almost anywhere including office supply stores or even the grocery store.

Students who have difficulty gripping art supplies can benefit from supplies that are larger in size and easier to grip.  Craft stores sell larger crayons, which are typically used for toddlers and pre-k students, however they work great with older students with difficulty gripping.  Thinking beyond just crayons, paint brushes, paint tubes, scissors, and glue all come in larger sizes and can be found at the craft store as well.

There are many low-tech cost-effective tools that you can use in your classroom to help students to be socially and academically successful.  Do you have any favorites that you use in your classroom?

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Liz (perspicacious.org)

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“Top” of 2010 – Resources for Students

Many websites this week are reflecting upon the past year including top movies, events, and people.  From an educational standpoint, there are also many top ten lists that can help to inspire your creative lesson planning.  Some examples would include top websites for students or education, top educational apps for the classroom, or even top blog posts on MangoMon for 2010.

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Top Websites of 2010

Time Magazine has a tradition of making “top” lists at the end of the year.  On their website this year, they have a top 50 list of websites.  Many of these websites can be great additions for classroom use including Sesame Street, National Geographic, and Read Print.

PC Magazine’s “top” list of websites includes both classic websites, websites that have been around, and undiscovered websites, which are websites that were new in 2010.  They also include information about the trends of web surfing for the year, which would be a great addition for teaching in a computer course.  The easy to navigate top 10’s make finding educational connections easy.  When I reviewed the “Classics:  Apps” section I found that over ½ of the websites I have used in teaching this past year.

To find a day-to-day list of the most popular websites, you have to check out www.mostpopularwebsites.net.  This site follows the page hits on a daily basis to rank the top websites.

Top Apps of 2010

PC Magazine also has a list of the free Top Apps for 2010.  They have this section broken down by device including all of the top smart phones.  Many of the apps included for the iPhone/iPad on the list have education connections including iBooks, Bing, Dragon Dictation, DropBox,  Evernote, Google Earth, and Skype.

IEAR, a website based for the review of educational apps, has their top list of apps for 2010. Their list includes the virtual frog dissection, NASA, and many that were mentioned above.  This site has a  handy feature is that it includes a brief explanation of the app along with the curriculum connection.

Top Blog Posts on MangoMon

This past year, the top blog posts for MangoMon have been about the incorporation of the iPad in the special education classroom.  Any blog post that mentioned the iPad, iPhone, or related apps was always a big hit with the readers.  Tech tools for the special education classroom were also very popular with readers whether it was low-tech or high-tech.  For easy searching all of the top viewed posts, a tool can be found on your left-hand side of the browser page.

Incorporation of Top 10’s in the Classroom

With students coming back from break, an easy transition lesson would be to incorporate the concepts of top 10’swhile reflecting upon the past year and looking toward the future.  There are so many different ideas of what the top ten’s lists could be about and sharing them with the class would be a great kickoff to the New Year.  This idea could also incorporated into history by comparing their top 10’s to previous year’s top 10’s or even start off a lesson on past generations.

Top 10 List Ideas

  1. Top concepts/lessons/ideas they learned the past year in your class (or combined)
  2. Top school memories from the past year
  3. Top websites they have used for school
  4. Top apps that have used for school
  5. Top list of what will make them a successful student
  6. Top list based on goal setting
  7. Top lists of books they would like to read

 

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Pink Sherbet Photography

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Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 – Classroom Usage

Dragon Naturally Speaking version 11 just hit the market this month.  I have written about this great product that allows individuals to use voice commands to control the computer and as a text input device to search the web or create documents.  This new version of the program includes faster processing times, increased accuracy, and an easier interface.  Using this program takes the place of using a mouse, keyboard, or touch screens.  This is a great product for individuals with physical disabilities that would make it hard to use any of those devices.

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With version 11, students should find it easier to train.  When the users first begin to use the program it will learn and adapt to their inflections or accents through a training process.  This process is touted to take less time with fewer errors.  The new version also includes a status indicator if there is poor reception due to a faulty microphone or too much background noise.

Users are also able to speak faster and have the product respond quicker.  Students can now move quicker through commands and to be able to dictate homework assignments, papers, and searching the Internet faster.  They have also included more short cut commands to also increase the speed and accuracy of the use of the program.

The new interface includes a side-bar pop up screen of most frequently used commands.  This can help students to learn the program and also students who may have a combination of physical and academic struggles.  There are also help features that include videos and visuals to help students to learn the program.

They have also added easy to use user profiles to the program.  This is great for classroom use.  This way the different students can create their own profiles, train the program to work with their voice, and then process more quickly while using the computer.  When another student comes to use the program, they would just select their profile, and continue on.  This is one of the best enhancements to this product for classroom use.

Enhancements have also been made for easier web surfing.  When a user wants to click on a link, they say click and the phrase.  This will process has been made easier where the program is able to tell if the reader is saying a phrase on the site or if the user wants to select the link.

Lastly, the program is now easier implemented on netbooks, which is definitely useful in schools that have purchases these inexpensive tools.  The program has also been upgraded to be fully functional with both Office 2010 and the newest version of Open Office.

If you have room in your school budget to add or upgrade this program in your special education classroom, this would be a great product to add.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By San Jose Library

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Enabling Devices – Product/Company Spotlight on YouTube for Students

Searching through YouTube one morning, I stumbled across a company called Enabling Devices.  The videos include demonstrations of the various technologies and tools that they offer at their company for individuals with disabilities.   Some of the videos also incorporate students working with the various devices.   Enabling Devices, a New York based company, prides themselves on creating “affordable learning and assistive devices” for individuals with physical, emotional, or learning disabilities.

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Check out their videos demonstrating the various toys and tools listed below.

Compact Activity Center

In this video, a special education student plays with the Compact Activity Center along with her teacher.  As her teacher guides her, the student learns about different textures, colors, feelings, and songs while discussing her feelings and input about the various activities.

Adapted Guitar Hero

A video posted just last week included an interview of an individual with cerebral palsy who was the first individual who used their Adapted Guitar Hero.  He was so excited that he was able to play this fun and interactive guitar hero.  He stated how easy and fun it was to play.  Another video shows this individual actually playing the Guitar Hero using the adapted keypad along with a mouth piece tap device.

7-Level Communication Builder

The 7-Level Communication Builder is one of their top communication tools.  This video is hosted by a technical support individual for Enabling Devices.  In addition to describing the product, he also provides a step-by-step process of setting the product up.  This device can load various pictures and frames that can have audio recorded to correspond with the pictures.  This device would help a non-verbal student to communicate.

The Buddha Board

The Buddha Board is an adaptive art product that allows students to paint leaving no mess.  It has a built in easel board and water tray.  Using the special board, students are able to paint and create designs using water.  The image will disappear after it dries, typically 3-4 minutes later.  This allows the student to then create another painting.  This reusable device is great for art therapy sessions.

You should also check out the main website for Enabling Devices.  They have a new blog that they are now posting to, including their videos and information about new products.  They also have a great online catalog that is easily searchable based on need.  For classrooms, they have special package deals already created that can be purchased using the Federal Stimulus dollars that have been infused into your school.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By San Jose Library

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The First Days Back – Setting up Classroom Expectations

The first days back at school with your students will set the tone for the entire year.  Establishing classroom procedures and expectations helps to create an environment filled with learning and success.  For special education, these rules and procedures should be clearly displayed in the classroom and referred back to frequently especially when the behavior can be modeled.  These rules should be discussed and established as they pertain to each new activity in the classroom.  Here is my top five list of must-do’s within the first days with your students.

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1. One of the first things that I suggest is actively model and explain the flow of movement in the classroom.  I have my students line up at the door on the first day of school.  I greet them, ask them their name and one fun fact about them, and then direct them to their assigned seat.  This way I get a face to face meeting to help me learn names, along with setting up the expectation for an orderly entry into my classroom.   When everyone has entered, I then explain that they should line up at the door and wait for me to have them enter at the beginning of the period.

Every day at the beginning of class I have a short activity the students complete to help them switch gears to focus on my class.   I will then begin the lesson for the day or have the students continue to work from the previous day.  At the end of the period, they wrap up what they are working on, clean up their area, and push in their chair.  When this is completed they stand by their chair indicating that they have completed all of the tasks for the period.  They then wait for the class to be dismissed.  This makes for an orderly transition between periods.

Within the first days of school you should also establish guidelines for other movement in the classroom like when or how to ask permission to use the restroom, sharpen a pencil, get a book, turn in an assignment, or retrieve their work from the printer.

2. Establish a short, but clear list of classroom rules.  The list should typically be between 4-6 major rules.  One fun activity at the beginning of the year is to have your class help you with coming up with the class rules.  Establishing the rules as a class will allow the students to take ownership of the rules and students will begin to monitor each other’s adherence to the rules.  Education World has a page where they have a variety of different activities where you can work with your students to setup classroom rules.

If you establish a rule or procedure, you must be willing to follow through with it.  If you aren’t going to follow through with it, then do not establish it as a rule.  If a student breaks one of the rules, there must be consequences that fit the action.  All students should be aware of the consequences of breaking rules and what the consequences will be if the student continues to break the rule.   Keep a check list and a written record so that communication between the parents, administration, and the student is seamless.  Here are examples of behavior checklists for a variety of age and learning levels.

3. On the first day of school, students are very interested in what they will be learning in your class for the year.  I try to give an overview of the major ideas and projects that they will be completing for the year.  If you have been at a school for a few years, then students and parents come to expect the fun and fact filled projects that you have done in the past.  This way, everyone is informed about the subject area expectations for the year.

4. The students should also know how they will be graded.  Explain the grading scale and what the expectations are for their homework, quizzes, tests, projects, and group work.  Make sure this policy is written so that the parents are aware as well.  I send home my syllabus and ask for a parent signature that they have read it.  This is then kept in the front section of the students binder for us to refer to if needed during the school year.   Here is an example of a middle school syllabus.

Also be sure to set up expectations of how long home learning assignments and assessment preparation should take.  This way the parents know when to except homework or time devoted to preparation for you class and can ensure the student will follow through.

5. Much of the information you will cover in the first few days of school is procedural and requires formality and lacks fun and interesting connections.  However, it is very important during this time that you build personal connections with the students.  Try to learn their names as quickly as possible.  Students are definitely offended when you call them by the wrong name, call them by their sibling’s name, or don’t remember their name at all.  One fun way to learn their names, along with a fun activity to break the ice, is to have the students create a collage about themselves that they can present to the rest of the class.  The students get to know each other along with you getting to know them.  In the past, my students have included items like their favorite food, sport, subject in school, TV shows or even pictures of their family vacation or sleep away camp from the summer.   I also create a collage to help them get to know me better.  There are many other ice breaker activities that you can check out on this site.

Many of the ideas that I have given you here have stemmed from reading The First Days of School.  This is definitely a book you should read if you are a new teacher or even a veteran will benefit from reviewing it.   This book provides information about establishing classroom procedures and expectations to have a fun-filled and educational year.

Final Tips

  1. Model the behavior you want displayed by the students
  2. Have a method set for how students should ask questions
  3. Have a plan for how students who were absent will get their work
  4. Setup guidelines for technology use in the classroom

Article By: Laura Ketcham

Photo By: Editor B

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Accessibility with Office 2010 – Collaboration for Students

Office 2010 was released last month.  One of the benefits of the new version of Office is that it combines the best features of Office 2003 and 2007 along with web collaboration features.  This is great for the classroom use for peer editing and collaborative projects in the classroom.

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Microsoft also strived to make Office 2010 more accessible than previous versions for users with disabilities.  One way that they have updated the software is by making it easier for 3rd party software and hardware developers to integrate the use of their assistive technology within Office 2010.  This makes the functionality greatly increased with use of compatible tools like screen readers, Braille keyboards, switches, and magnifying programs.

Accessibility Checker

Another new feature for Office 2010 is the Accessibility Checker.  The Accessibility Checker is like spell check in the sense that it checks for problems.  However, instead of checking for spelling, it checks for ease accessibility when sharing documents.  Office 2010 provides all users with a list of areas that should be reviewed and corrected before sharing a document.  This includes items such as alternate text for pictures, ensuring tables are easily readable, and other identification features will be checked before a file is shared like headers, author name, and dates.  This makes the file easily read by individuals who use screen readers, magnifiers, or evening an individual with learning disabilities.  To learn more about the Accessibility Checker, check out this blog post by Microsoft.

Office Online

The Office Live Web Apps allows users to share and collaborate with documents online.  Microsoft has also made the online resources more accessible to individuals with disabilities.  One way they have done this is by maintaining the presence of the Ribbon (the tool bar) online to be consistent with the desktop version of Office 2010.  They have also made the online version compatible with screen readers and high contrast screen modes.  The online version is also fully functional through the keyboard commands, for users who may not use a mouse.

Other features to check out in Office 2010

  1. Backstage View – allows many more options for saving, printing, sharing, and finalizing documents
  2. Video Triggers – have an effect happen on a slide in PowerPoint before or during a video you have embedded
  3. Automated Tasks – in Outlook 2010 to make repetitive processes easier – for example, to forward a message you just have to select one button in the Ribbon, which will include the users you most forward to
  4. Additional Keyboard Shortcuts – additional keyboard shortcuts have been created to reduce the need for the mouse – for example, there are now shortcuts to resize and rotate shapes along with searching through the Ribbon.
  5. More Cool Features

If your school hasn’t updated since Office 2003 or is using free software like Open Office or Google Apps, I would highly suggest checking out Office 2010. There are many features that make Office 2010 a better option not only for special needs students, but for accessibility, sharing, and for 21st century skills.  Office is still the defacto program suite used in industry and it would benefit the students to learn the program they will be using in college and beyond.

Article By: Laura Ketcham

Picture By: San Jose Library

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Cyber-Safety for Special Needs Students

Over the summer, many students will be spending more time, possibly unsupervised, on the Internet.  With the popularity of social networking, blogging, wikis, YouTube, and ‘Googling’, many children may be exposed to inappropriate material for their age.  Online safety should be a priority for teachers and parents to stress during this time.  A good time to cover a lesson on Internet safety would be the last few days of school, while other assignments, activities, and lessons are winding down.  Here you will find a variety of resources you can use in your classroom or pass along to parents to teach and inform about online safety.

Kids Online Resources

The Kids Online Resources provides links of relative information for safe surfing, blocking software, and filtered search engines.  The safe surfing links include resources from police departments, government agencies, and non-profit organizations about guidelines for use of the Internet by children.  It also has game links for students to play to actively learn about online safety.  The blocking software includes applications that can be installed on the computer to block and monitor child use of computers.  The filtered search engines include child-friendly search engines for finding research information and school-related materials.  Ask Jeeves for Kids, Yahooligans, and Animal Search are great resources for children to use in lieu of Google or Bing.  Google and Bing do not filter results for children.

The Teacher’s Guide

The Teacher’s Guide has a page devoted to Internet Safety.  This site provides information for parents and teachers about email, browsing the web, chatting online, parental control tools, and other online resources for further information.  Each of the sections of this site provide tips for why these technology tools are important and provide positive benefits for children along with their risks, tips for parents, and ways to be actively involved.  This site also includes general technology links about virtual field trips, interactive sites, online reference tools, software, and SMART boards.

Life Skills Activities for Secondary Students with Special Needs

Life Skills Activities for Secondary Students with Special Needs is a textbook that I found available through Google Books.  I found a very informative and fun lesson for middle and high school students to teach about social networking.  It includes brainstorming activities that correspond to a worksheet, discussion and extension activities, along with an evaluation tool.  The lesson encourages the teacher to lead a discussion with the students about the typical use of the social networking sites, the differences between the sites (what is appropriate where), along with site safety.  This textbook is a great resource for 6-12 students with special needs to learn skills for independence and life success.

Safe Kids

The Safe Kids website has a link for an online safety quiz.  This quiz is best suited for elementary students who are able to read.  The quiz asks approximately 10 questions about what are appropriate and inappropriate activities while on the net.  When the students finish, they are returned to the main page for the Safe Kids website.  This site contains comprehensive information about safety for children with various types of technology including computer, the Internet, cell phones, and social networking.

Online safety is an important lesson to include at all grade and ability levels.  Students should be actively involved in the learning about online safety as well as parents being informed of tips, sites, and other information about online safety.

-Article by Laura Ketcham

-Picture by iwannt

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Tools about Tools – Vocational and Occupational Flashcards

Being handy is something that really comes in handy! Knowing basic terminology of tools that can help people build and fix items are important to know. Learning relatable vocabulary terms which students can use in the real world is especially important for special needs. By practicing and reinforcing these words with interactive flashcards, these students will enjoy learning and using the words. MangoMon offers a large variety of vocational and occupational vocabulary flashcards that are free to use for school or home usage. These flashcards offer a fun and different way of learning.

Tools

These flashcards allow students to practice and learn a set of terms that describe tools. Words that describe tools and construction are important for students to learn because many of them may find careers that involve using these tools. They are also included in a set of words they may be using when doing simple tasks or helping around the house.

Each flashcard in the set consists of the vocabulary term, pictures that show the road tools, audio pronunciation of that term and examples of how they are used in a sentence. These words are great for preparing students with examples of what they might be talking about when helping around doing everyday tasks.

These terms are great for helping students remember and learn the names of tools. There are nine vocabulary terms in this set. Words like screwdriver, hammer and tape measure are some of the examples of words included in this set.

Interactive flashcards like these terms work great with students with special needs and ESL learners. Not only are students able to hear the words, they can see them being used in a sentence. They also get to see a picture of what it looks like, reinforcing their learning. With arrow keys that you can click on, students have the ability to navigate back and forth between the words.

By incorporating more than one element into the flashcards, students can better grasp the understanding of the meaning and usage of the words. Free resources like these interactive flashcards are always an added perk to any learning system for students with special needs. By integrating technology into the classroom, we can also prepare students for changes of the future.

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Watch For These Signs – Special Needs Vocabulary

Basic terminology is something that any student should be learning at school. Certain words that are used in everyday conversations are important to learn and reinforce. Learning such vocabulary terms that students can be apply and use in the real world is especially important for special needs. By using interactive flashcards, these students will enjoy learning and using these words. MangoMon offers a large variety of vocational and occupational vocabulary flashcards that are free to use for school or home use. These interactive terms will provide a fun and new way to learn terms.

Road Signs

These flashcards allow students to practice and learn a set of terms that describe road signs. Words that describe the road system are important for students to learn because many of them will be soon driving on the road and using these signs to safely get around places. They are also words they may be using when trying to find a location or giving directions to someone.

Each flashcard in the set consists of the vocabulary term, real photos that show the road sign or term, audio pronunciation of that term and examples of how they can be used in a sentence. These real life words are great for preparing students with examples of what they might be talking about when interacting with other people or getting around on an average day.

These terms can help students remember and learn the names of road signs. There are eleven vocabulary terms in this set. Words like caution, school zone and speed limit are some of the examples of words included in this set.

Interactive flashcards such as these work great with students with special needs or ESL learners. Because students get to hear the words, see them used in a sentence and a picture of what it looks like, they get extra practice of what they are learning. Clickable arrow keys allow students to navigate back and forth if needed.

By incorporating all these elements into the flashcards, students can better understand the meaning and everyday usage of the words. Free resources like these interactive flashcards are always a great addition to any lesson for students with special needs. It is also a just another way to integrate technology into the classroom or at home!

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