One of the things that I absolutely love about working in the schools is the opportunity to build community with my students and advocate for them with their teachers and peers. One of my favorite ways to do this is through our school social/emotional curriculum called Pride. I’ve mentioned Pride in a past blog post and promised to share lesson plans I was working on over the summer for differences, disability awareness, and empathy. The wait is over! I’ve compiled a list of children’s books that cover these topics and provided lesson plans at the end of this post.
Explaining special needs and differences can be a tricky subject, but in my experience, children are more curious than judgmental. Often, negative treatment of students with disabilities stems from fear of the unknown more than anything else – and this is true of adults as well as students. In an effort to educate and advocate for students with disabilities, this school year we held disability awareness presentations in each grade-level. In some cases, parents presented and discussed their child specifically. When parents were unable to present or uncomfortable presenting, I spoke with classes about specific disabilities and – when parents provided permission – specific students. The results were overwhelmingly positive! The students were attentive and engaged during the presentations and asked great questions. They demonstrated their curiosity and empathy, and everyone – parents and teachers AND students – felt much better after having these class-wide discussions.
So how do we start these discussions? Reading a book is a great starting place for a discussion about treating others with respect and being friends with others, even if they are different from ourselves. The list below offers some great suggestions for covering topics like disabilities, differences, respect, empathy, and friendship.
Books on Differences and Disability Awareness for Early Elementary
Special People, Special Ways
by Arlene Macguire
Ages 4-7, Grades K-2
It’s Okay To be Different
By Todd Parr
Ages 4-7, Grades PK -1
The Pirate of Kindergarten
By George Ella Lyon
Ages 4-8, Grades PK – 3
What I Like About Me
By Allia Zobel Nolan
Ages 3-8, Grades PK – 2
Books on Differences and Disability Awareness for Upper Elementary
The Bravest Boy I Ever Knew
By Lisa Eichlin
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7
The Alphabet War: A Story About Dyslexia
By Dianna Burton Robb and Gail Piazza
Ages 6-9, Grades 2-5
My Friend with Autism
By Beverly Bishop
Ages 7-9, Grades 2-4
These lesson plans were designed to be used during Pride morning meetings at my school. Pride is a school-wide initiative to promote student success by addressing social and emotional needs while building a sense of community within our school. During the first 20 minutes of each school day, teachers cover topics addressed by the Pride curriculum. Weekly, the schedule typically looks like this:
Monday: Check in and announcements for the week
Tuesday: Pride Lesson
Wednesday: Pride Lesson
Thursday: Health and Wellness activity
Friday: Recap and reflection, cover any topics remaining from Tuesday and Wednesday Pride Lessons
The differences and disability awareness lesson plans were designed to cover 2 weeks of the Pride curriculum. They are broken into 4 lessons designed to take 20-30 minutes each.
Lesson 1 (Week 1, Day 1 of Pride)
Materials needed: book selected from list below, chart paper, marker
Today, we are going to learn about being a good friend, even when someone is different than us. During the next two weeks, we are going to learn about some key words: (write on chart paper, leaving space for definitions) differences, unique, and inclusion. We are going to think about some key questions: (write on chart paper leaving space for answers) Is it okay to be different? Is everyone unique? How should we treat people who are different than ourselves? What does inclusion mean?
To begin learning about this topic, we are going to read the book _______________
- K-2 books
- It’s Okay To Be Different
- Special People, Special Ways
- What I Like About Me
- The Pirate of Kindergarten
- My Friend Has Autism
- My Friend Has ADHD
- My Friend Has Down Syndrome
- My Friend Has Dyslexia
- The Alphabet War
- The Bravest Boy I Ever Knew
- My Friend With Autism
Share whole group, with a partner, or individual written reflections on the questions:
- Is it okay to be different?
- Is everyone unique?
- How should we treat people who are different than ourselves?
Have students sign poster that reads “It’s okay to be different! In our class, we are good friends to everyone!” and post in room (or pod area if you do these activities as a grade-level.)
Lesson 2 (Week 1, Day 2 of Pride)
Materials: Chart paper from previous lesson, marker
Yesterday we learned all about differences and being a good friend to those who are different. I told you we were going to be learning about 3 key words: differences, unique, and inclusion. Today we are going to focus on the word inclusion. The word inclusion comes from the word include. Can anyone describe what the word inclusion means? (Whole group share or share with a partner.) Inclusion means everyone is involved with the group. No one is left out. Everyone is included, even those who are different or unique. (On chart paper, define inclusion using words from class discussion) Today we’re going to talk about what inclusion looks like, why it is important, and how it feels to be included and not be included.
Whole Group, Small Group, or partner share
- Have you ever been left out of a group? What happened? How did it feel?
- Describe a time when everyone was included in the group. What happened? How did you feel? How did everyone else feel?
- Courtney is a first grader in Mr. Grant’s class. She is a little different than her friends. She doesn’t talk very much, but sometimes she makes loud noises, even when the teacher says everyone is supposed to be quiet. Mr. Grant says it’s important for everyone to be included in class activities. The class is practicing poems and is going to present them to their parents. Should they include Courtney in this activity?
- If yes – why? If no – why? How is Courtney going to feel if she is included or if she isn’t included? How will the rest of the class feel?
- How is Courtney going to present a poem if she doesn’t talk very much?
- She could play a recording of a poem, she could hold up signs with the words on them, she could act out a poem, she could draw a picture about the poem and share that instead
- What if Courtney is loud during the presentations?
- Everyone can just keep going, if it’s hard to hear over Courtney’s noises, everyone can talk louder, repeat a part of the poem.
- Alex is a 4th grader at Green Grove Elementary School. He loves to play sports and is really good at throwing and catching. Alex has a hard time remembering the score and sometimes he can’t keep track of how many points each team has. Some of the other boys in his grade said Alex can’t be the quarterback because the quarterback has to know the score. They said Alex can watch them play, but he can’t play if he can’t remember the score.
- Are these students practicing inclusion? Why or why not?
- What is unique about Alex?
- He is good at throwing and catching; he has a hard time remembering
- How does Alex feel when he isn’t included?
- How could the students change their game so everyone is included?
- Someone else could say the score, they could just play for fun and not keep score
Extra Challenge Activities
- Role play scenarios showing inclusion and when someone is left out
- Have students write their own scenario questions
- Have students do a journal entry using inclusion reflection questions
Lesson 3 (Week 2, Day 1 of Pride)
Materials: Depends on activity chosen from link below – see link.
Choose a disability included in this packet to cover with your class: https://speechiekate.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/disability_awareness1.pdf
If you choose “Mental Retardation,” please use the terminology “intellectual disability” as this is the language that is currently considered appropriate and respectful.
Introduction: Last week we learned that it’s okay to be different and how to include everyone in the group, even if they are different. We learned about 3 key words: differences, unique, and inclusion. This week, we are going to focus on some differences called disabilities. We’re going to talk about a couple more key words: disability and empathy. Every single one of us has our own strengths and challenges. We are all good at something. We also all struggle with something. Think of one thing you are really good at, and think of one thing that is really hard for you. (Whole group, small group, partner share, or think in your head). Today, we’re going to learn about how some people are born with challenges that are given a special name. One of those challenges is called ____________
Read description of disability from packet and complete activity and discussion.
Lesson 4 (Week 2, Day 2 of Pride)
The last lesson of our Pride curriculum was designed to introduce a school-wide essay contest. If you want to use this lesson, hold an essay contest or essay writing activity in your classroom. If not, you can still read and discuss the essays provided here without having your students also write essays.
Today is the last day we are going to talk about differences, inclusion, disabilities, and empathy. Our school is going to hold an essay contest. Students who write about differences, inclusion, disabilities and empathy can submit their essays for a chance to win. The prompt is “describe how someone with a disability has inspired you.” Today we’re going to read some essays other students just like you wrote and won the contest in their state. The first essay is by a 3rd grader named Kyle W. in Massachusetts. He won first place.
First Place Essay
By: Kyle W. from Massachusetts
New England Disability Awareness Essay
My friend Matt has Autism. These are some things that are hard for him: making friends, science, art, and physical activity. It’s hard sometimes to be his friend because he interrupts people. Physical activity is hard for Matt because he doesn’t always behave or follow directions.
When you get to know Matt he can be really nice and kind to you. Matt is just like a normal kid and always goofy and funny. He really likes me because I’m goofy too. Matt is a good friend of mine.
Matt is good at so many things too. Matt is great at the piano and math. Matt is really smart and talented. He is the best at math in the class. When I’ve heard Matt play the piano, he concentrates a lot and makes beautiful music. I could never do that.
Matt has to go with special teachers and work even harder than I do. Matt has to get taken out of classes to go to other classes and learn additional subjects. This year he even had to move schools for his special work. That must have been really hard for him because he misses his friends.
Matt inspires me because his life can be unfair sometimes, but he keeps trying and never gives up. He teaches me to always try and never say I can’t do it. Matt is my friend and I’m proud of him that he keeps going forward. I miss him a lot.
- What differences did Kyle write about in his essay?
- How is Kyle’s friend, Matt, unique?
- Does Kyle have empathy for Matt? How do you know?
The Next Essay we are going to read is by a 2nd grader named Dillon.
First Place Essay
By: Dillon N. from Massachusetts
About My Brother
My twin brother, Mason, has a disability. It is his cleft lip and palate. He also has a prosthetic eye. His old eye had to be removed because it had no pupil and didn’t work. He is also deaf in his left ear. He is great because he sometimes helps me spell words. He is also great because he is a wrestler. We are on a wrestling team together called the Black Flies and I sometimes wrestle him at practice. He is one of the smallest kids on the team. One time during a “King of the Hill” competition, he beat five boys in a row, including me. At the end of the match, all the big kids lifted Mason up off the ground and onto their shoulders. They carried him around the gym while everybody cheered. I felt good that he beat five kids. I think he was really happy, too. He surprises a lot of people that he can wrestle with one eye and ear. I love him a lot.
- What disability did Dillion write about?
- How is Dillion’s brother, Mason, unique?
- Is Mason included in group activities? Give an example.
- How did everyone feel when Mason was included in wrestling? How do you know?
I hope this list of resources and lesson plans is useful to you. If you cover these topics in your classroom, I would LOVE to hear about your experiences! Thanks for reading!