English Dutch French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish


Know and Support Students

Share This Page


Self-Determination Youth Credo
This Self-Determination Youth Credo video states beliefs of youth with disabilities, created during the 2008 Self-Determination Youth Summit in Roanoke, Virginia.
Visit the Virginia Department of Education to learn more.


We created the Accessing Inquiry clearinghouse website to provide guiding strategy (including Universal Design for Learning) and an array of particular tools to support diverse learners in History, Civics, and Social Sciences. This page can help surface the overall needs of your students and point to tools and approaches to support their diverse learning needs. 

Empower Student Voice

When students partner with teachers to build upon strengths and develop new skills and knowledge, everyone benefits. Learning directly from students what they want and need is the ideal. The "I'm Determined Youth Credo," a 4-minute video (see above) made by students at a Virginia youth summit for students with disabilities, is explicit about what students want adults to do–and not to do. We begin with this video to honor the principle of the Disability Rights Movement, "Nothing about us without us."

This principle applies to all communities, including the community of multilingual learners.

Learn About Your Students

Students with disabilities represent a broad array of students in school. As many as one in five children between the ages of 3 and 17 have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.) These tools offer suggestions and background information. 

  • Learn about the demographics of students who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) nationally and by state. See the Office of Special Education Programs Fast Facts
    Disability Categories - Fast Facts
  • View 5th grade teacher Eric Crouch in this video as he relates his journey as a learner and teacher who uses Universal Design for Learning to empower all his learners through student-led inquiry. View on the website
  • Dyslexia simulation - Gain some appreciation for the challenge many students face. 
  • Making mental health a topic of open and non-stigmatized discussion benefits all students. A 2019 Teaching Tolerance article, Demystifying the Mind, describes instances in which schools have integrated mental health literacy into the curriculum.
  • The Personalized Learning fact sheet from the National Center for Learning Disabilities offers "Policy & Practice Recommendations" for school and district leaders. The guide provides classroom teachers with insights on best practices in the support of Students with Disabilities. 


There are English Learners among all other sub-groups in school. At least 25% of students who are deaf come from non-English-speaking households. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights assembled fact sheets on English Learners in Gifted and Talented Programs (where they are underrepresented), English Learners with Disabilities (high percentages in some states, low percentages in others), English Learners Who Are Black, and English Learners and Homelessness.



Focus Vocabulary and Literacy Instruction

The key to learning social studies for many struggling learners is seamless integration of literacy instruction with learning the key historical thinking skills, including, "Ask meaningful questions." "Analyze sources from multiple perspectives." and "Make and support claims with evidence and good reasoning." Many students with disabilities and English Learners require focused support to unlock the essential vocabulary and modes of discourse (at word/phrase, sentence/paragraph, and document levels). 

Vocabulary Instruction

  • Emerging America employs the "Bricks and Mortar" Vocabulary strategy to prioritize three or four disciplinary and general academic terms for each lesson. 
  • Essential, common supports for vocabulary instruction include word walls and word banks. There are many arcane terms in the social studies that can be "given" to students, possibly even for exams. Creating personal vocabulary workbooks builds student ownership of terms. 
  • Focus vocabulary instruction tools on the terms students need to truly understand a lesson. Useful tools include: 


Strategies to support and supplement verbal comprehension


Deploy Assistive Technology

Assistive technology is a general term used to describe technology tools that are used to help people with disabilities accomplish tasks.  Many can be useful to a wide range of students, including English language learners. The most common used forms of assistive technology are speech input software, screen readers, and screen magnifiers.  

It is vital to connect and work with the Special Education, ESL, and other specialists in your school district. They know the students, and they bring tremendous expertise to the work. It is essential to find out what tools and strategies the district already deploys. These may include free or subscription services such as Don Johnston or Microsoft. What tools do students already know how to use? How can you extend student capacity? 

Screen-Reader-Friendly Documents

More and more people use the automated tools that allow printed text to be spoken aloud and scanned for key words. Organizing and formatting a document so that it is easy for a listener to navigate is a newly important skill for teachers to learn. "Accessibility Checker" software can be useful, especially for writing text that appears on a web page. 

Advice to teachers (from tips for using the course-management software Canvas) includes

  • not using the same text in the title and the top heading (the reader will read the same phrase twice, confusing the listener)
  • using informative headings, not "teaser text" (like: "I couldn't believe what I learned about the Middle Ages!")
  • don't use "Click Here" for links, and instead attach the link to a descriptive word or phrase.


Make Slides Visually Accessible

Free Tools to Make Text More Accessible

  • - Rewordify offers a wealth of tools. Assess lexile levels. Simplify difficult vocabulary–or give students the option to get definitions and hear difficult terms pronounced. Highlight parts of speech, and more. 
  • - Wordsift creates a variety of word clouds that highlight academic terms by subject or difficulty. It offers a visual thesaurus showing relations between terms. Select a term to see it highlighted for every use in a text.  
  • - Gives pronuciation of terms by native speakers of English. 
  • offers descriptions of core American documents. 
  • offers current events and core American documents at multiple reading levels. 


Tools on the Library of Congress website 

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped: NLS has been the nation's chief resource for blind and physically handicapped Americans since 1931. NLS at the Library of Congress offers braille and audio reading materials for magazines as well as for books and music resources. Read about how the Braille Officer of the Library of Congress makes use of the collection herself, and information she wants to share with teachers, in her August 2018 post.

Screen Magnification- High resolution images on the Library of Congress site allow all students to zoom in on the details of a visual.  Students are often looking for clues to solve a historical puzzle. The magnification tool allows students to see all parts of a primary document with incredible detail.  Students with vision problems will benefit from this tool as well.

In this example, students can take an up close tour of Blackwell, Ward, and Randall Islands using the magnification tool.  

Model Lesson:  Try using the magnification available with a variety of documents with our sample lesson, Nellie Bly 1887: Exposing Treatment of Those with Mental Illness

ZoomText Screen Magnification- The Library of Congress has digitized many different types of text documents.  Students sometimes have difficulty reading the text of densely printed books and articles. ZoomText allows students to zoom in closely on particular passages and also display plain text by clicking “show text.”  These options make it easier for students to access the material.…

In this example, students are able to zoom in on picture captions and particular selections from the article.  

Model Lesson:  See this tool used with a variety of documents with our sample lesson, Reformers and Gangsters in American History from Antebellum to Prohibition.

Voice Output- Using ReadSpeaker, the Library of Congress provides text-to-speech overviews of primary source sets.  

In this example, the Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938 features a text-to-speech overview for those with disabilities or whose oral language comprehension outpaces or supports reading comprehension.  

Model Lesson:  See this tool used with our primary source set, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: Social, Political, and Religious Change (1800-1860)

Multilingual Library of Congress initiatives

The Library of Congress has holdings in many languages, collecting both multilingual US documents and resources from around the world. The Library's international collections include millions of items, in hundreds of different languages and scripts, which focus on societies and cultures around the globe. Librarians in this section also collect resources related to diaspora communities in the United States, and highlight history and cultural resources of relevance to US citizens with ties to various language communities, nations (including US tribal nations), and countries - for example, the connections between Haiti and African American histories of slavery

For Spanish-speakers, several of the Library's starting pages, including Información GeneralPreguntas Frequentes (FAQs), and Haga su pregunta (Ask a Librarian) offer information in Spanish. The international collections' Hispanic division includes a focus on the United States Spanish-speaking communities as well as those in other countries. The Palabra Archive contains nearly eight-hundred recordings of poets and prose writers participating in sessions at the Library’s Recording Laboratory in Washington, DC and at other locations around Spain and Latin America. Herencia, the Library’s Spanish-Language Crowdsourcing Project was the first crowdsourcing transcription in Spanish as part of several planned initiatives to make documents more searchable and accessible online.


Supports for English Learners

¡Colorín colorado! and have published essential introductions on teaching ELLs: 

Dismantling Barriers for English Language Learners in Middle and High School (Edutopia): Offers a set of equity-focused tips and resources for teachers as they plan for meaningful inclusions of multilingual learners across classroom learning opportunities.


Academic Supports for English Learners

In addition to supports within your school district, there are many curricula and aids to support English Learners in History and Social Science classrooms. 

Go To Strategies: Scaffolding Options for Teachers of English Language Learners, K-12 - Project EXCELL - A trove of 78 activities and tools, with guides to support choosing the best strategy for a given circumstance. 

¡Colorín colorado! offers relevant support for teachers in teaching academic disciplines.

Sentence stems are a powerful tool to support English Learners.

Leveled Text and Thinking Questions

Thinkport Teaching with Primary Sources Inquiry Kits and Research Learning Modules have been developed to support K-12 educators and students. For every United States Inquiry Kit Unit, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) specialist Ann Morgan has provided paraphrased text for one primary document. The paraphrased text is presented at four different reading levels, each with appropriate questions. This allows every student in the class to have a meaningful experience with a primary source, but at their own pace. Paraphrased text is designed to be placed alongside a copy of the original document, accessible through a link on each page.

Unit 1 | Unit 2 | Unit 3 | Unit 4 | Unit 5 | Unit 6 | Unit 7 | Unit 8 | Unit 9 | Unit 10 | Unit 11


Support for Students from Immigrant Families

Learning for Justice posted an excellent guide to Serving ELL Students and Families

Learning for Justice also posted a guide to supporting students from immigrant families. The guide includes curricula and supports teaching controversial topics. 

The Parent and Family Digital Learning Guide is currently offered in English and Spanish

Guide to Protecting Immigrant Students' Rights to a Public Education - Southern Poverty Law Center, home of Learning for Justice. 


Supports for Students during School Closures

This article from Learning for Justice, written in April 2020, provides valuable informations and links for supporting students with disabilities during school closures

Find resources related to teaching virtually, supporting students during remote learning, and more on our Emerging America compendium post: Resources for Education During a Pandemic. 

Upcoming Workshops

Fully Online: Course runs January 14 - February 23 , 2022. Social Studies and Humanities pose distinct challenges for struggling learners. Extensive discipline-…
Fully online. Five modules delving into the techniques that makes History's Mysteries students' favorite part of the school day.   "It was so fun to see each…
What is fascism? Where did it come from? How does it impact human rights? What is anti-fascism and how did it arise? How did ideology shape the Spanish Civil Wa…