A learner’s ability to self-regulate in the classroom allows them to focus on their schoolwork and gain knowledge and skills from their teacher. The outcome of self-regulation is easy to see: learners sitting at their desks, listening to their teacher, asking questions and collaborating with peers. The path to self-regulation is often more difficult to see. Behind the end result, there are 4 key factors that influence self-regulation in the classroom.

Classroom Environment

The classroom environment for a learner plays a huge role in their ability to self-regulate. Students with unique needs require unique environments. It is important to take those needs into consideration when choosing their classroom environment.

  • Consider in what size group the student is best able to learn and design classroom areas to accommodate that size.
  • Try to foresee any areas of distraction in the classroom and place students who are easily distracted away from those areas.
  • Set up the classroom environment so that visuals are easily seen by all learners and develop individualized visuals for those who need extra help with self-regulation.
  • Create classroom incentive charts to keep students focused on positive behaviors and help them control their impulses.

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning skills are often more difficult for unique learners to manage. It is important to use evidence-based strategies to support their executive functioning in order to allow them to self-regulate.

  • Use visual schedules and task trees to keep a student focused in the classroom and help them make independent transitions within the classroom environment.
  • Prepare the learner with video modeling and social narratives to help them be prepared for more challenging situations in the classroom.


When a student is engaged in learning they are more likely to use self-regulation skills to stay in their learning environment. All unique learners have special interests and many go above and beyond to learn everything they can about certain topics. Teaching with interest-based materials will help keep individual students engaged in lessons.

  • News-2-You offers high-interest newspaper articles with coordinating activities once a week as well as Breaking News articles as they happen.
  • SymbolStix PRIME also offers the ability to create symbol-supported activities and includes templates and symbols to create relevant and supportive learning materials quickly.

Sensory Processing

Most unique learners have sensory processing needs. Taking into consideration a learner’s sensory needs is a great, proactive way to support them in the classroom.

  • Classroom supports like weighted lap bands, wiggle seats, rocking chairs, and light diffusers can make a huge difference in the learner’s ability to self-regulate.
  • Keep in mind that some sensory needs might need to take place outside of the classroom. Consult with an OT about setting up a sensory schedule and develop opportunities throughout the day for learners to participate in sensory-based activities.

Being proactive about students’ self-regulation needs means avoiding the distractions that come with teaching unique learners. When learners are focused and engaged, teachers spend less time redirecting their class to pay attention and reprimanding them for negative behaviors. Anticipating these needs allows learners to stay in the classroom and prevents disruptions in instruction. Instead of spending time in the hallway, taking a break, or being sent to the principal’s office, they are in the classroom and ready to learn.

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About the Author
Jack Hans has over 10 years of experience working with students of all ages and abilities as an ABA therapist, teacher and supervisor. He currently works as an intervention specialist, focusing on working with students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, with an emphasis on including students with disabilities throughout the school environment. He earned a Master of Education degree from Cleveland State University.