Planning Instruction

Specially Designed Instruction

Specially designed instruction, also known as SDI, is purposefully creating lessons and activities for students based on their specific needs. A well-written IEP will give you all of the information you need to successfully plan and teach your SDI. Keep reading to find some tips and tricks when writing IEPs and planning Specially Designed Instruction.

What is Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)?

Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is instruction that was intentionally designed for a specific student in mind. I like to think of it as, “What am I doing for that child(ren) that no one else is getting?” Maybe the whole class is using magnets to practice blending sounds, but Zoey is using unifix cubes. Or, maybe the class is watching an educational video on line, but Serina and Issac are learning the exact same concept in a small group setting. SDI is critical to the success of a student with an IEP, because it allows them to receive instruction in a way that is most beneficial to them.

Deciding on an Instructional Delivery Method

In my district, the instructional delivery method is directly stated on the IEP in the services section. It’s a really great idea to include it, if you don’t already state it. Examples of instructional methods are things like whole group, small group, 1:1 settings, virtually, in the gen ed classroom, out of the gen ed classroom, etc. You’ll want to consider student needs and performance as well as goal areas. Some goals will be able to naturally be met in the general education classroom. Other times,, it may not make sense and it may be more appropriate to pull the child for a small group or 1:1 session.

Co-Teaching and Inclusion

I get asked this alot. Yes, SDI can (and should) occur in the general education classroom. But does it always? No. If you’ve been here a while, you know how I feel about embarrassing students with below grade level work. So, I really try not to teach my fifth grade students CVC words in the gen ed classroom. And, if I do, I make sure that I’m very discreet about it. But, you can always look for natural ways to incorporate SDI in the classroom. A big takeaway for me, is that SDI is designed with a particular student in mind. But, it doesn’t have to be used with ONLY that student. So, if you design a math lesson for Serina but then realize that AJ, Toni, and Sienna also could use that strategy – make it into a small group!

Finding Materials for Specially Designed Instruction

Obviously, Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and Google are my go-to’s for teaching resources. Other times, I simply modify the provided curriculum to meet the needs of my special education students. I have really worked hard on keeping my digital files organized, so that it’s easy for me to find exactly what I’m looking for.

My favorite way to do this is by using DropBox. I keep all of my files stored on DropBox, so that I can access them from literally any device. And, you can even make files available offline, if you are planning on going somewhere without internet. DropBox allows files to sync between devices, so as I’m working on my blog on my laptop, my images are all automatically being synced to my desktop computer!

Click this link to use my referral code to sign up for DropBox and stop worrying about losing files!

I have everything I’ve bought from TPT in a special folder in my DropBox. I have that folder sorted by subject area, then by topic, and then the individual products It’s super easy to find what I’m looking for!

Using a Digital Planbook

Here’s the thing: we know that IEP goals drive instruction. They are what you use to determine what to teach and what skills to work on with students. But, if you don’t know the goals how do you plan? My caseload is normally around 16 students, with about 4 goals per student. That means, 64 total goals to know. And, I’m a lot of things, but a good ‘remember-er’ is not one of them.

I’ve tried several different strategies over the years, but by far my favorite is using a digital plan book. I personally like using With a little bit of tweaking, you can get it to show your goals right in your planbook. Seriously, I just had to copy and paste the goals in once, and now every time I have “Z” for math class, it will automatically put in her goal in the bottom! In the top section, I can make a quick note of the activity we will be doing.

The top section lists what she will be doing (common core sheet page). In the bottom, I have her IEP goal automatically inserted!

Delivering Specially Designed Instruction

I deliver 80% of my instruction in a 1:1 setting. Occasionally, I may pull another student working on the same skill and work in a 2:1 setting. If it makes sense, I will provide instruction during the general education lesson. For instance, if my student had the goal above about solving multiplication word problems and that is what her gen ed class was doing, I would provide the instruction in that setting. Whatever you do, make sure it is what is best for the student and you are keeping documentation.

Tracking Services Provided

It’s really important to track services that you are providing. Thankfully, I’ve never been in litigation, but I’ve heard stories of districts being sued for not providing services. Find a way to track services that makes sense to you. At minimum, you want a space for the day, time, and activity completed. These service logs will help ensure that you are providing SDI. Don’t forget, when writing an IEP you can indicate who can provide the services – and it doesn’t always have to be the special ed teacher! You can also indicate that it might be an instructional assistant, the gen ed teacher, etc. Regardless of who is providing the services, make sure everyone helps to keep track!


IEPs are often written with academic services considered to be specially designed instruction. One of the amazing (and overwhelming) parts of special education, is that every student is getting exactly what they need. Whether you teach in a self-contained or inclusion setting, it’s easy to implement specially designed instruction once you have a plan in place.

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