Classroom Activities for Teaching about Disabilities through Literature

Literature is a powerful way to educate children about disabilities, but the choice of related classroom activities is also important. Building on my previous post, here are four activities, three of which are adapted from Teaching About Disabilities Through Children’s Literature by Mary Anne Prater and Tina Taylor Dyches.

Activity 1

The purpose of this activity is to recognize the strengths of people with disabilities. This recognition is important to teach that a disability is just one trait a person can have. While reading a piece of literature, ask students to tell what things the character with a disability can do. After reading, have the class draw or write three of the featured character’s strengths and three of their strengths (Prater and Dyches 56).

Activity 2

The purpose of this activity is to minimize the effects of bullying on students with disabilities. While reading a story where a character with a disability faces bullying, ask students to describe the character’s feelings and how the bullying stops. After reading, have the class reenact the story with puppets, and then in groups, write and perform a puppet show about making friends with someone who is different or defending yourself against bullies. These shows may be based on students’ real experiences. Together, plan how students will stop bullying when they see it (Prater and Dyches 57).

Activity 3

The purpose of this activity is to increase children’s understanding of people with ADD or ADHD. Two simulations comprise this activity. For the first, explain that you’ll say a list of tasks students must complete in order but that they must wait until you say the whole list to begin. The list should be of 10 tasks, such as:

  • Put your hands on your desk.
  • Scratch your ears.
  • Put your math book on your desk.
  • Untie your left shoe.
  • Write your best friend’s name on a piece of paper.
  • Stand up.
  • Raise your left hand.
  • Put your reading book on top of your math book.
  • High-five someone.
  • Stomp your feet.

Talk about how hard completing the tasks in order was because students couldn’t remember all the directions. Then say that people with ADD and ADHD can feel this way when they hear simple directions.

For the second simulation, give the class a short reading passage, and give just one of the following written instructions to each student:

  • Read the paragraph. After two minutes, be ready to summarize it.
  • Read the paragraph. In two minutes, write down all the nouns in it.
  • Read the paragraph. In two minutes, count how many letter ts there are.

After two minutes, have students write the answers to all the following questions on the backs of their sheets of instructions:

  • What is the passage about?
  • What nouns appear in the passage?
  • How many letter ts are in the passage?

Talk about the class’s frustration, and explain that some struggle with schoolwork because they don’t always pay attention to what they should pay attention to (Prater and Dyches 89).

Activity 4

The purpose of this activity is to show the power of language to include or exclude people with disabilities. Find several sentences that use unacceptable language, such as retard, to describe people with disabilities. Ask students to revise the unacceptable language.


These four activities will help students connect literature about people with disabilities to their lives. Students need to be understanding of these people and use appropriate language to talk about them.

Work Cited: Prater, Mary Anne, and Tina Taylor Dyches. Teaching About Disabilities Through Children’s Literature. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2008. Print.

Photo: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Flickr Creative Commons


Darla Word

About Darla Word

I'm a writing tutor and editor from Michigan. My favorite subject to write about is writing because making better writers is my calling. I also enjoy reading, singing, swimming, and cardmaking.

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