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Teaching Strategies to Build Self-Advocacy

Janelle Cox

Teaching strategies that bring about self-advocacy skills are a must for all students, not just those of that are labeled as learning disabled. Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself and learning how to make your own decisions. It’s being able to problem solve, knowing when to ask for help, and having the ability to listen to others. It requires students to have knowledge of themselves, their interests, as well as their wants and needs. The focus on developing these important skills should be on students who are transitioning to middle school and high school. This is when students’ lives are changing, and they need to be able to help themselves get through it. Usually these skills are magnified for students with disabilities. However, every child, regardless of her ability, needs to be able to successfully self-advocate for herself. Here are some teaching strategies and ideas on how you can teach your students to self-advocate.

Teaching Strategies: Getting Started By Asking Questions

In order to teach self-awareness and self-advocating skills, students need to know a few things about themselves first. To help make students more aware, you can start by asking them to answer the following questions.

  • What are your biggest strengths?
  • What are your biggest weaknesses?
  • What does being self-aware mean to you?

Once students answer these questions, you can discuss them as a group and see how their answers compare to theirs of their classmates. Next, challenge students to dig deeper into themselves and answer this set of questions.

  • What are three things that you do well really well at in school?
  • What are three things that you need to improve upon in school?
  • What a few things that you like doing at school? Why?
  • What are a few things that you dislike doing at school? Why?

Again, come together as a class or in small group and have students discuss and compare their answers. By doing so, students are gaining confidence in themselves (by sharing) and learning that they are not alone (by hearing their classmates’ thoughts).

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Understanding How to Self-Advocate

Any easy way to teach students how to self-advocate is to give them a real-life scenario that they can connect to and understand. This will help students understand what self-advocacy really is all about. Here is an example that you can share.

Alexa just got a pair of glasses to help her see far away. However, Alexa is still getting used to them and feels she needs to sit in the front of the classroom. One day Alexa came to school and her teacher had switched her seat to the back of classroom. Alexa stayed after class to talk to her teacher about moving her seat to the front of the classroom.

After you have read this scenario to your students, ask them the following questions to make sure they are understanding why Alexa had to speak up for herself.

  • Why was it important for Alexa to talk to her teacher after class?
  • Did Alexa do the right thing?
  • What would you have done if you were in Alexa’s situation? Why?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where you had to self-advocate?
  • Did you find it difficult to speak yourself? Why or why not?
  • How did standing up for yourself impact your future?

Once you discuss these questions with students, have them gather into small groups to discuss self-advocacy. Challenge groups to come up with five places or situations where they would have to self-advocate. Once students are finished discussing, invite each group to share aloud.

Implementing What Students Learned About Self-Advocacy

Now that students understand a little bit more about themselves, and what self-advocacy is, you can have them refer back to the questions that they answered about themselves in the beginning of the lesson. Challenge students to figure out a few ways that they can improve upon their weaknesses and the things they don’t like in school.

Next, place students with a partner and challenge them to create a story about someone who needs to self-advocate for themselves. Make sure that when they are creating this story that they are able to answer the following questions.

  • What is your character’s name?
  • What does your character do well? What do they not do so well at?
  • What does your character struggle with at school? What are they doing to help themselves?

Students may draw a picture to go along with their story or even a short comic strip. Once they have completed their task, invite the groups to share with the class and answer any questions their classmates have for them about their story.

One thing that really needs to hit home with students transitioning to middle or high school is that their role as a student is changing. They are becoming more and more independent each day, and with that comes challenges. Students need to have self-awareness and self-advocacy skills so they are better able to deal with any situations or challenges that come up in everyday life. By having students partake in these activities, you are ensuring that they will be their own successful advocate.

Do you teach your students self-advocacy skills? If so, what types of teaching strategies do you like to do with them? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and WGU.edu/Hey Teach! She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.