Writing for learners with special educational needs

The MaWSIG PCE in Brighton features five talks on Writing for the World. Here, Romulo Neves introduces his talk on materials writing for learners with special educational needs.

Writing for the ELT world is such a demanding task, especially if we take into account the diversity of pupils in any classroom and the numbers of ways in which pupils learn. We must make sure our materials are designed for all so that all students can actually feel motivated, engaged and part of the class. But does this really happen worldwide? Or do we focus on mainstream students and expect those who learn in different ways to adapt to the learning process?

I am aware that this is not an easy question, and it is even harder to find an answer. Yet I argue in favour of a good balance between following publishers’ guidelines and taking into account learning differences.

OK, get your last piece of writing, read this abridged checklist and … best of luck.

Media. Is my editor aware of this? It is best to use matt paper rather than glossy and to prefer a soft pastel colour as background instead of white. Avoid text in block capital letters and make sure all pictures are helpful.

Layout. Is it too dense? Avoid narrow columns and long sentences, and I prefer line spacing of 1.5.

Font. Is it friendly? There are special fonts designed to make reading easier. By applying innovative techniques, the font is made accessible for everyone by clearing the way through the digital letter landscape.

Information. Are there text, pictures, boxes and tables all stuffed on the same page? Be aware that visual stress does exist, and if too much information is put on a page, a large number of students will struggle to focus on what is really important. That can happen because they get lost in all those words that seem to rotate and jump and move on the page. In addition, remember to provide as many opportunities as you can to review previous work and offer a wide range of multisensory practice activities, too.

Instructions. Are they too long? Many students waste a lot of time reading instructions, so try to write simple instructions and explanations. For example, can you replace ‘Draw a line’ with ‘Match’? As far as explanations are concerned, prefer bullet points and numbering rather than long sentences and texts.

Tasks. Consider chunking tasks in order to help students to focus and complete longer tasks one step at a time.

Italics. It’s great to highlight parts of a text, isn’t it? The truth is that italicised texts are more difficult to read, because the letters lean and have a jagged line compared to non-italic fonts. It’s always best to prefer other techniques, such as colour coding or underlining, or even bold.

Of course, many more bullet points could be added to this checklist. My aim is to raise awareness and to invite you to reflect on a topic that is discussed more and more in the ELT world.

Whether you feel the need to rewrite that chapter you have just reviewed or you just need a twist in your writing techniques, always make sure that you do your best to make learning a truly rewarding experience for everyone!

I can’t wait to see you all at the next MaWSIG PCE in Brighton!



Rom Neves is the Secretary of the newest IATEFL’s SIG about Inclusive Practices & Special Educational Needs. He has been an EFL teacher for some years now as well as a teacher of Special Educational Needs. He is the author of several text books and grammar books and he is keen on adapting mainstream course books to all learners. Rom is a dreamer and he strongly believes that he can always do more and better! Currently, he is based in Madeira Island, Portugal.

4 thoughts on “Writing for learners with special educational needs

  1. Hi Clare, thank you. In fact, it is so simple to accommodate different learners. As I mentioned, it’s just a twist in the writer’s techniques and by doing so one is writing for the world! It will be my pleasure meeting you!

  2. Excellent article, Rom. The ideas are very practical and easy to implement. I think mainly older adult learners aged from 60 to 85 and all of the ideas are relevant to materials for older learners. In fact, I’m just finishing my slides for my talk at IATEFL on maximising the language learning of older learners. I’ve got of the same ideas and I’d add the following :

    – Use sans serif fonts e.g. Verdana, Arial, Helevtica, Century Gothic
    – Use bold type
    – Minimum of 14-point for printed text (published ELT materials usually have a maximum of 12-point print which is too small for many older learners)
    – 50 to 75 characters per line
    – Good contrast between the foreground colour and the background colour

    I’m sure your talk at the PCE will be great!

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