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Developing Peer Support in the Inclusive Classroom

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More and more students with disabilities are being placed in the regular classroom setting to be 'included' with all students. One of the goals for inclusion to be successful is social skills development and peer support to ensure that students with disabilities feel well accepted. Peer relationships don't just happen due to a physical placement, teachers need to provide opportunities to facilitate positive interactions to promote understanding and acceptance. When peers understand a child's disability, they often become much more supportive, willing and accepting. When peers understand, they too benefit! Here's a list of ideas to try with students to maximize the success of the inclusional classroom.

1. Have the students in your class find out 5 things about other students. This could include, favorite TV shows, size of family, favorite hobby, vacations, number of pets etc. Leave time for sharing.

2. Pyramid of Friends. Use a pyramid to let students put the most important person on the bottom line of the pyramid and keep identifying people for each step of the pyramid. For example, the smaller top line could be used to identify a support person - speech and language etc.)

3. Have students list the characteristics of good friends. Once their list is done, provide a discussion about the students with disabilities being able to have those same characteristics. This helps students realize that they can be good friends with students with disabilities.

4. 2 New Friends. Challenge your students to find 2 new friends (encouraging those with disabilities). Over a period of 2 months, ask students to keep a journal of all the friendship activities they did with their 2 new friends.

5. Use 2 columns. The first column asks students about the qualities they look for in a friend. The second column asks students why they would make a good friend.

6. Let students put together a chart of strengths and weaknesses. Compare them as a group.

7. Here's an activity to support non-verbal students. Make up a set of cards or list of the following: You need help with a task, you want to see a friend's book, you need a drink of water, somebody is bothering you, you want to work with a certain friend, you forgot your lunch, you want to know when recess is, you don't feel well and want mom to pick you up, it's pizza day and you want to order 2 slices, your shoelace is undone and you want help tying it back up, you want to go to the listening centre, you need the teacher's attention, etc. Students then have to convey one of the messages without being able to talk.

8. For vision impairments, blindfold a student and require a few tasks in the classroom for them to do like sharpening a pencil, finding their math book etc.

You want all children to feel a part of your classroom. Ongoing activities to support inclusion for all students will need to occur daily. You will be surprise at how quickly your regular classroom students support and become friends with those students with disabilities but it doesn't happen without the ongoing support of the teacher.

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