Selecting Appropriate Text for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

by Karen Grammas

Students with significant cognitive disabilities require individualized accommodations, modifications and supports in order to access standards-aligned, grade-level content. Determining the most important literacy skills to teach is just one of the challenges teachers face when planning instruction for this population of students. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, we have access to Alternate Eligible Content for English Language Arts for literature and informational text and writing that prioritize the key skills and knowledge from the standards for our students who take the alternate assessment (PASA). Providing access to the general education curriculum includes grade-appropriate instruction that matches the grade level content but targets achievement at a reduced depth and breadth. Follow these steps for preparing adapted literature so that students with significant disabilities can access and meaningfully participate in instruction:

1. Summarize the story in the form of an outline to be used as a framework from which the adapted text will be built.
2. Identify the key themes of the text and provide opportunities across contexts and materials to emphasize these themes.
3. Choose the key vocabulary to target for instruction. Use vocabulary that is chosen based on individual needs of students that include personally relevant and core vocabulary.
4. Identify the key events in the story and include as much detail as is appropriate for the student.
5. Write the adapted text using a flexible format such as PowerPoint or Google Slides that allows for maximum access for the student.
6. Choose pictures that supplement the text and can be used repeatedly across several pages.


Planning Lessons for Students with Significant Disabilities in High School English Classes; Apitz, M., Ruppar, A., Roessler, K., Pickett, K.; Teaching Exceptional Children; Vol 49, Issue 3, pp. 168-174;

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): Visual and Environmental Considerations; and Alternative Communication (AAC): Visual and Environmental Considerations)

Pathways to Learning for Students with Cognitive Challenges;

Types of Texts Used in Reading Instruction: Picking the Right Tools for the Job;

Rate This Post:

  • There are no comments currently available

Leave Comment

  • You must be logged in to comment.

Please use the comments for discussion and to contribute your reviews, perspective and thoughts. Your colleagues and other visitors will appreciate it! If you need help, please contact us. Requests for help will not be answered in comments.


  • Pam Kastner
    Reading, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS/RtII)
  • Dawn Durham
    Reading, Paraprofessionals, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS/RtII)
  • Andra Bell
    Reading, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS/RtII)
  • Wendy Farone
    Reading, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS/RtII)
  • Marianne Dudek
    Reading, Mathematics, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS/RtII)
  • Jeanie Hertzler
    Reading, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS/RtII)
  • Mindy Bramer
    Reading, Paraprofessionals, English Learners
View All Consultants »