Unit 3: Strategies to Support Visual-Spatial Processing Needs

ETAP 623 Fall 2019 (Zhang) | Amber Ho | Supporting Visual-Spatial Processing Needs in a Mathematics Classroom

Encourage students to highlight and color-code text to support visual-spatial processing


  • The participant will identify strategies used to support visual-spatial cognitive needs
  • The participant will compare and contrast examples of strategies for certain activities in a mathematics classroom
  • The participant will reflect on strategies they are interested in using in their own lessons and classroom

How to Support Visual-Spatial Processing Needs

Below are a variety of ways to support visual-spatial processing needs in a mathematics classroom. These supports can be adjusted to meet the needs and criteria of a variety of classroom levels.

Hands-on manipulatives are a great way to support and encourage students with visual-spatial processing needs


  • Provide clear and concise verbal instructions for tasks, assignments, or activities
  • Write directions in a different color from the rest of the assignment (color code tasks in general)
  • Utilize visual/concrete manipulatives during oral explanations
  • Consistently check in with students about their current level of understanding and academic confidence
  • Encourage students to ask questions when they are confused or feel lost in the content
  • Use speech-to-text assistance technology (if applicable and available)
  • Teach students to self-talk as a method of problem-solving
  • Provide copies of notes during or prior to class (potentially preview content before whole class instruction)
  • Use graph paper to line up math questions and solving processes
  • Build in time to summarize the important information from each lesson
  • Provide uncluttered handouts with few to no unessential images
  • Provide a slant board (or three-ring binder) in order for students to bring work closer to their visual field
  • Use highlighting or sticky-note flags to draw student attention to important information on worksheets
  • Copy math problems with a colored marker but have students complete work in pencil to differentiate their work from the problem
  • When using visual demonstrations or models, be prepared to move slowly and repeat demonstrations as needed
  • Break spatial tasks into component parts and provide a verbal set of directions to match each part
  • Provide a model to which the student can refer to when completing tasks
  • Explicitly write out steps to complete general tasks
Allowing students to wear noise-cancelling headphones can help create a quiet and productive work environment


  • Use preferential seating to reduce visual distractions
  • Post visual schedules, but also read them aloud
  • Minimize florescent lighting to decrease light sensitivity
  • Colored glasses to reduce intensity of florescent lights
  • Quiet work time to allow for focused processing (headphones may be used to support this)
  • Allow short breaks during moments of frustration


  • Use assistive technology
  • Provide extra time to complete tasks, assignments, or any other forms of evaluation
  • Provide the option of oral examination rather than written
  • Provide a lot of space to write answers or show reasoning
  • Allow students extra paper to write or show answers
  • Reduce visual distractions by folding a test or using blank pieces of paper to cover parts of the page

For more information, visit the following sites:

Specific Examples

Read through each example below and watch each video that is paired with each example. As you browse through each example, think about the following questions:

  1. How would you describe the strategy being used/discussed in your own words?
  2. How is this strategy beneficial to student learning?

  • Kinesthetic Long Division

This video demonstrates an example of an elementary student describing the steps to completing 16 ÷ 5. The student talks, and literally walks, himself through the problem. This strategy allows students to develop an "inner voice" in connecting visual math symbols to what they represent. Encouraging individuals to talk through or mouth out words while reading is a helpful life-long skill for those who lack visual-spatial processing skills.


  • Reading and Memory

Though this is not a specific example of a teacher implementing one or more of the strategies listed above in a mathematics classroom, the presenter discusses an important aspect of teaching that should be considered when working with students with processing deficits. Although the focus of her presentation is on reading and spelling, the instructional strategy she is discussing can be used in the same sense for a mathematics classroom, specifically encouraging students to use mathematical language in their verbal discussions and writing.

Test Your Knowledge

The following video below shows one strategy to teach fractions to elementary students using LEGOs. Watch the video below and consider the provided questions:

  1. How are the LEGOs beneficial to students with visual-spatial processing deficits?
  2. How could only using LEGOs as a teaching tool be challenging for a student with visual-spatial processing needs?
  3. If using this strategy, what other tools or instructional techniques would you incorporate to better support students with visual-spatial processing deficits?


Compare and Reflect

After reading through the list of potential strategies and supports a teacher can use to meet the needs of students with visual-spatial processing deficits, as well as browsing through the provided specific examples, reflect on the following questions in the Discussion:

  1. What strategies have you tried using in your own classroom? How would you evaluate their effectiveness?
  2. How did the specific examples provided relate to the list of possible strategies and accommodations?
  3. What are some strategies or accommodations you would like to potentially incorporate into your classroom in the future?
  4. What are some remaining questions you may have about strategies and accommodations for students with visual-spatial processing deficits?

What's Next?

In the next and final unit of this mini-course you will have the opportunity to develop your own strategy or accommodation for a particular lesson or topic you plan on teaching in your own classroom.

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Next Unit: Unit 4: Implementing Strategies to Support All Students