Essentials of a Special Ed Resource Room

I’m so excited to be back in the classroom this year! After 14 years as a special education resource teacher, I changed gears to work in the capacity of an Instructional Coach and Special Education Coordinator in high needs schools. Although this work over the past 4 years has been rewarding, I’ve missed the direct, daily contact with students.

After I accepted my new position as a K-3 Special Education Resource Teacher, I quickly got to work in planning out my new classroom. I considered student need, layout, materials, and decor to prepare my room. I’m thrilled to share these 3 essential components of my new classroom with you!

1. Strategy-Based Bulletin Boards and Learning Centers:  I set up strategy-based bulletin boards that are being used to support and enhance district curriculum.  My students are already in love with all of the strategy animals!  Our strategies provide excellent interventions to use with any curriculum as they strengthen HOW students learn,  and do not necessarily change WHAT students learn. Here are some specific examples of how I incorporate our strategy animals into the curriculum.

Using the Wilson Language System, I incorporate our Sally Sounding-Out Slates or Charlie Syllable Slates to provide additional visual cues and practice to spell and decode words in isolation. These can also be used to focus on specific words in connected text to practice sounding out the phonograms. It not only makes learning fun, but it also helps struggling students who need additional support. This intervention uses the same content and Wilson instructional method, but provides a different format for practice and student response. Using the Slates and accompanying graphic organizers also provides a structured space for written dictation. Using our reading strategy animals along with a systematic, researched-based curriculum such as Wilson enhances motivation and investment, which is incredibly important for reluctant readers.

Reading Roost Photo

Our math strategy animals fit in perfectly with the district curriculum. Students are expected to solve 2 or more word problems as part of the daily lessons. I introduce each of the Problem-Solving Pond strategy animals systematically as they correlate to the standards and concepts. As students become proficient with one strategy, I introduce another. After all strategies are introduced, students learn how to pick the most efficient strategy for the problem. Upton the Understanding Fish is used daily to help students complete the seven problem solving steps, explain thinking and justify solutions. Just as with Wilson, using these strategies does not alter or modify the curriculum in any way, it just enhances it and presents it in a way which students can grasp it more easily by making the concepts more concrete. Student connect with the strategy animals and are motivated to use various strategies to solve the problems. It also relieves math anxiety and builds independence by providing a toolbox of “animal friends” students can use to solve problems.

Problem-Solving Pond 2

There are 5 animal strategy characters which teach the writing process stages and 5 animals who focus on mechanics and conventions.  Writing can be especially difficult for students with special needs.
The strategy animals help eliminate writers’ block and encourage students to persist with writing stamina.  Because each animal has a specific job, it forces students to pay greater attention to each critical part of the writing process.

Writing in the Wild West


2.  Reading Corner: I set up an inviting and comfortable reading corner which has books organized by level and topic. My students love the Beanie Babies sitting on the bookcase.  They get to each pick one to read to on Fun Fridays to build fluency.  My favorite part of this area is the multi-sensory syllabication charts featuring Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk.  I attached pipe cleaners to the charts so students can practice chunking words into syllables.



3.  Sensory Support:  Knowing that many of my new students would need support with sensory issues, I prepared various options for them.  I have flexible seating arrangements using wiggle cushions, exercise balls, and lap desks.  Also, I put together a sensory basket containing Play-Doh, squeeze balls, Legos, Unifix cubes and a timer for 2 of my students.  Lastly, I signed up for a Go Noodle account and we use this for brain breaks. 

Essentials Collage

The first few weeks of school have been amazing!  I’m so glad I followed my heart and returned back to the classroom.  Helping students with special needs truly is my calling.  I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into my new resource room. I’d love to hear about how you set up your resource room too!  Please comment below.

See our strategy animals in action in this short video!


How to Use Elkonin Boxes and Sounding-Out Slates





















“I’m Sally the Sounding-Out Snake.
S-s-say, have you heard?
Stretch out all the sounds that you see in a word.
Blend sounds together, it’s really quite nice.
S-s-smooth out the words. That’s my advice.”

Sounding Out

Sally the Sounding-Out Snake is one our decoding strategy animals in Hazel’s Reading Roost. Sally motivates students to practice critical early decoding skills. Read more about Sally’s strategy below…

WHAT is sounding-out? Sounding-out, or decoding, is the process of translating print into speech by rapidly matching a letter or combination of letters (graphemes) to their sounds (phonemes).

WHY is sounding-out important? Sounding-out, or decoding, is important because it is the foundation on which all other reading instruction builds. Proficient readers need to be able to segment words and hear individual phonemes in words. If students cannot decode words their reading will lack fluency, their vocabulary will be limited and they will struggle with reading comprehension.

HOW do I teach sounding-out? Explain that Sally helps readers decode unknown words by stretching the words out by sound and putting the sounds together to make a new word. Teach specific patterns to help students decode efficiently.

  • CVC: Words with the consonant-vowel-consonant pattern (e.g., run, sad, beg, fit)
  • Double consonants: Words with the double consonants f, l, s, or z pattern (e.g., puff, bell, kiss, fuzz)
  • Vowel consonant –e: Words with a long vowel sound, spelled with one vowel and one consonant and a final silent e (e.g., date, bike, cone, rule)
  • Blends: Words with a group of consonants whose sounds blend together (e.g., slim, flag, grip, crib)
  • Digraphs: Words with a pair of letters representing a single speech sound such as sh, ch, th, wh (e.g., shed, chin, math, whip)
  • Vowel –r: Words with the er, ir, or, ar, or ur pattern in which vowel pronunciation changes before /r/ (e.g., park, term, dirt, hurt)

Rather than teaching phonics patterns solely in isolation, integrate direct instruction with time for application of the skill in authentic literature. Practice many examples of each pattern to achieve mastery of that pattern before moving on to the next. In addition to using strategies such as dictation, marking words and flashcards, push students to find words with targeted patterns in literature and use those words in their writing.

We recommend using our Sally Sounding-Out Snake resources as a supplement to a research-based, multisensory phonic program that includes structured, explicit, systematic, cumulative instruction. Although we do not endorse a specific program, our students have demonstrated great success using the Wilson Language System and the Spalding Method. Read reviews of specific literary programs at What Works Clearinghouse.

WHEN should I use sounding out?
Explicit reading strategy instruction should be included in a balanced literacy program. Sally Sounding-Out Snake can be incorporated into various components of literacy lessons. Here are some specific examples of when to use Sally:

  • Guided Reading: Introduce or review the sounding-out strategy by reading the Sally Sounding-Out Poem. Read aloud your selected guided reading text and model using a Sally Sounding-Out Slates to decode unknown words in context. Call on individual students to practice using Sally’s Slate with additional words. Encourage students to use Sally Sounding-Out Snake’s strategy when they are reading independently as well.

Sally Sounding Out Snake Puppet

  • Phonics Fun: Choose several one-syllable words from a weekly spelling list or phonics word study list. Guide students through verbally segmenting, or stretching out, the sounds of the word. Then have students write each individual sound (phoneme), in one of Sally’s scales on laminated Sally Sounding-Out Slates (see below). Last, students write the entire word on the line and blend the sounds together to read the entire word.


  • Independent Practice: This unit contains a set of reproducibles for each phonics patterns, including sounding-out worksheets, flashcards and sentence writing practice. Copy and distribute appropriate materials for independent practice or homework activities. As an extension activity, direct students to find words with a specific pattern in authentic literature or leveled texts and record them on the Sounding-Out Snake reproducibles.

Helpful hints:

  • Create a class set of Sally Sounding-Out Slates. Print slates onto cardstock using color printer and laminate. Distribute to class and explain specific procedures for using the slate (e.g., write one sound in each scale; no doodling, etc.). Use the slates to provide opportunities for strategy practice and application. They are perfect for spelling words, targeted phonics patterns or syllabication practice in a whole group, small group or one-on-one setting. These slates keep students actively engaged and serve as an informal assessment.
  • Use the Sally Sounding-Out Slates as Elkonin Boxes. Elkonin boxes are an instructional method used in the early elementary grades to build phonological awareness by segmenting words into individual sounds. Each box represents one sound or phoneme of a word. On the Sally Sounding-Out Slate, each scale is a box. To use Elkonin boxes, a student listens to a word and moves a token into a box for each sound or phoneme. In some cases different colored tokens may be used for consonants and vowels or just for each phoneme in the word.


  • Incorporate multisensory components. Introduce a variety of ways to segment or sound-out words.
    • Visual: Using the Sally Sounding-Out Slate, have students draw a scoop under each scale, reading the sound (phoneme) aloud as they draw.
    • Auditory: Prompt students to clap each part of the word to segment the phonemes as they say the word aloud.
    • Tactile: Refer to the Elkonin box strategy listed above.
    • Kinesthetic: Break apart the word and jump each sound or phoneme. Demonstrate how the number of jumps is equal to the number of sounds.

Sally’s unit is perfect for general education, special education, RTI and reading intervention.  Download the complete unit here.

Microsoft Word - Sally Sounding Out Snake.Preview.doc


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