Instructional Strategies for Teaching Students with Traumatic Brain Injury / Acquired Brain Impairment

There is a range of inclusive teaching strategies that can assist all students to learn but there are some specific strategies that are useful in teaching a group which includes students with Traumatic Brain Injury/Acquired Brain Impairment.

In considering alternative forms of assessment, equal opportunity, not a guaranteed outcome, is the objective. You are not expected to lower standards to accommodate students with a disability, but rather are required to give them a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.

Ways Faculty Can Help Students with Traumatic Brain Injury/Acquired Brain Impairment


First Day of Class


  • Have copies of the syllabus ready no less than six weeks prior to the beginning of the semester so textbooks can be transcribed to tape in as timely a manner as possible.

  • Invite students to self-identify on the first day of class by making a public statement such as: "If you're registered with Disabilities Services please contact me to discuss disability accommodations. If you haven't registered for services yet go to Starr 313 to start the process."

  • Include a disability access statement in the course syllabus.

  • Keep instructions as brief and uncomplicated as possible. Repeat exactly without paraphrasing.

  • Assist the student in finding effective notetakers from the class.

  • Clearly define course requirements, the dates of exams, and when assignments are due. Provide advance notice of any changes.

Lectures and Other Teaching Sessions


  • Present lecture information in a visual format (e.g., overheads, PowerPoint slides, handouts, etc.). Use visual aids or examples to illustrate key points. Videos, diagrams, practical and experimental activities also help to explain abstract concepts.

  • Provide hand-outs (preferably electronically) in advance of lectures and display main points to be covered in each session.

  • Use more than one way to demonstrate or explain information.

  • When teaching, state objectives, review previous lessons and summarize periodically.

  • Allow time for clarification of directions and essential information.

  • Provide study guides or review sheets for exams.

  • Provide alternative ways for the students to do tasks.

  • Introduce new concepts and vocabulary explicitly. Provide an overview of topics to emphasize the underlying structure and show how new material fits in with other parts of the subject.

  • Keep diagrams and slides clear and uncluttered, with limited content and in 'plain English' where possible.

  • Encourage the use of assistive technology, such as tape recorders or laptops, if students are eligible for the accommodation. Allow audio-taping of teaching sessions wherever possible to assist comprehension and revision.

  • Give any instructions or explanations in a clear sequence, orally and in writing, and explain the purpose of whatever is to be done.

Writing Assignments and Examinations


  • Allow the use of spell-check and grammar assistive devices when appropriate to the course and if a recommended accommodation.

  • Focus feedback on content and structure and encourage computer use to improve presentation. Penalizing poor spelling or handwriting increases anxiety students with TBI/ABI.

  • Provide assistance with proofreading written work or refer to the Writing Center.

  • Stress organization and ideas rather than mechanics when grading in-class writing assignments.

Strategies Specific to Attention/Concentration


Many students with brain injuries find it hard to pay attention or concentrate, especially over an extended period of time. They may not remember the question that was asked or all the parts of the homework assignment. A task may not be finished, because the student is distracted easily or moves onto something else. Strategies for improving attention and concentration can include:

  • Reduce distractions in the student's work area (i.e., have the student remove extra pencils, books)

  • Divide work into smaller sections (i.e., have the student complete one section at a time; suggest times and expectations for completion)

  • Ask the student to summarize information orally that has just been presented

  • Use cue words to alert the student to pay attention (e.g., "listen," "look," "name")

Strategies Specific to Memory


This is the ability to mentally record and store information and recall it when needed. Yet short-term memory often is affected by a brain injury. Strategies for teachers to help improve students' memory skills include:

  • Frequently repeat information and summarize it

  • Have the student carry an assignment sheet to each class and check that it is correctly filled out

  • Encourage the student to use devices such as post-it notes, calendars and assignment books as self-reminders

  • Teach the student to categorize or chunk information to aid retention

  • Demonstrate techniques such as mental rehearsal and use of special words or examples as reminders

  • Link new information to the student's relevant prior knowledge

  • Provide experiential presentations of instructional materials

Strategies Specific to Organization


The ability to arrange information, materials and activities in an orderly way is essential to learning. Otherwise, the student may seem hopelessly lost and unable to sort things out. When organizational abilities are affected by brain injury, teachers can help by providing the student with:

  • Additional time for review

  • Written checklists of steps for complex tasks with instructions for checking off each completed step in an assignment or task

  • Written schedule of daily routines and reinforcements for referring to schedule

  • Written cues for organizing an activity (i.e., first you do this, next you do this)

  • Practice sequencing material

  • Outline based on class lectures

  • Suggest the use of color-coded materials for each class (i.e., book, notebook, supplies)

Strategies Specific to Following Directions

Formally defined as the ability to execute a series of steps to accomplish a task or assignment, following directions is critical for completing class assignments and homework. Teachers can help the student who has difficulty in this area by:

  • Providing oral and written instructions

  • Asking the student to repeat instructions back to the teacher or a peer

  • Underlining or highlighting significant parts of directions or written assignments

  • Rewriting complex directions into simple steps

  • Giving directions, asking student to perform the task, checking for accuracy and then providing immediate feedback

  • Slowing down the pace of instruction

General Ideas


  • When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her as privately as possible without drawing attention to the student or the disability.

  • Give reading lists in advance, preferably annotated or with guidance to identify essential texts. Give exact references for research articles.

  • Offer help with time management and give plenty of warning of deadlines.

  • Encourage the student to understand and build on their own strengths and ways of learning

  • Make sure coursework involves learning the skills needed to complete the course successfully

  • Help students to develop note-making skills and encourage them to work in pairs or small groups after lectures to pool notes and review topics. Refer the student to the Academic Support Center for further assistance.

  • Give the student time to think before answering questions in class, and enough time to read information before being expected to use or discuss the material.

  • Contact Disabilities Services for general ideas to help individual students.