What is Motor Planning?

A year never goes by when I have to explain to a teacher what motor planning is what they can do in class to support students. I hope this information helps you find something you can use in your classroom.

Motor planning is the ability to conceive, plan, and carry out a skilled, non-habitual motor act in the correct sequence from beginning to end. Incoming sensory stimuli must be correctly integrated in order to form the basis for appropriate, coordinated motor responses. The ability to motor plan is a learned ability which is generalized to all unfamiliar tasks so a child does not need to consciously figure out each new task he or she faces. The child with motor planning difficulties may be slow in carrying out verbal instructions and often appears clumsy in new tasks.

Motor planning difficulties are caused by problems processing sensory information and poor neural connections in the brain. In order to have efficient motor planning, an individual must be able to organize sensory input from his body, have adequate body perception and be able to move around his environment. Difficulty with sensory processing can lead to poor motor planning for fine, gross, and oral motor tasks (such as handwriting, jumping, and forming words, respectively).

A sensory integrative approach is often used when treating a child with motor planning difficulties. Children rely on adequately interpreting sensory information from the tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular, visual, and auditory systems, in order to develop body awareness. Children with motor planning difficulties often have a poor body scheme. By providing your child with sensory information to help organize the information he receive form his environment, he can develop a better body scheme and his motor planning can improve as a result.

  • Before doing a task encourage the child to:
    • Visualize the task;
    • Verbalize before doing the task or repeat instruction;
    • Verbalize end result;
    • Assess whether plan worked- if not work out why not for next time.  
  • Help the child identify steps needed to begin and accomplish the task.  Have the child repeat directions and, if possible, write down the steps.  
  • Timing and sequencing are important to introduce into activities.  Sequencing may include getting from one position to another or remembering which movement comes after which. 
  • Giving a short assignment so that the child can feel instant success in completing a task. 
  • Giving one direction at a time.  After one action is successfully completed, add another direction. 
  • Helping the child physically move through the action.
  • Minimizing visual distractions.  Check for clutter in classroom environment. 
  • Reviewing how to play a game before actually playing it.  Demonstrate and verbalize actions.
  • Review what has been taught on a regular basis. 
Ideas to assist organizational skills:
  • Ensure a clutter free environment.
  • Have instructions written down in simple sentences.
  • Ask child to repeat instructions- gradually increasing the number and complexity of instructions.
  • Discuss with your child their time plan for the day, e.g.: ‘What will you do this morning?’ ‘What will you do after lunch?’  A daily planner on the wall at home will prompt items required for the day. 
  • Gradually withdraw the amount of help you are giving your child and encourage them to develop their own strategies for planning and organizing e.g. making a list, putting out reminders.  
Motor Planning Activities:
  • General tactile (touch) and vestibular (movement) stimulation are important for motor planning.   Include regular visits to play parks with rides on swings and slides. 
  • Brain Breaks
  • Activities involving sequences of movement are particularly useful in developing motor planning. Start with simple sequences, gradually make them more complex.  Where possible involve the child in making up patterns.  

What is Mental Math?

For me mental math plays a huge part of building number sense and a students ability to work math in their heads. Some days most of my math block is spent doing mental math and other days it may only be 3 minutes of an activity. I have listed some for my students favorite. They work great for interventions and RTI.

Mental math is the main form of calculation used by most people and the simplest way of doing many calculations. Research has shown that in daily life at least 75% of all calculations are done mentally by adults. However, unfortunately due to the emphasis on written computation in many classrooms, many children believe that the correct way to calculate a simple subtraction fact such as 200-3 is to do it in the written form.

Through regular experiences with mental math children come to realize that many calculations are in fact easier to perform mentally. In addition, when using mental math children almost always use a method which they understand (unlike with written computation) and are encouraged to think actively about relationships involving the particular numbers they are dealing with.

In order to be effective Mental Math sessions should:

  • occur on a daily basis (5-10 minutes per day)
  • encourage ‘having a go’ on the part of all students
  • emphasize how answers were arrived at rather than only whether they are correct
  • Promote oral discussion
  • allow students to see that there are many ways to arrive at a correct answer rather than one correct way
  • build up a dense web of connections between numbers and number facts
  • emphasize active understanding and use of place value

Following are some possible activities for K-5 classrooms:

Fill the Hundreds Chart:

On day one display a Hundreds Pocket Chart with only 5-6 pockets filled with the correct numerals. Leave all other pockets blank. Select 3 numerals and 3 students. Ask each student to place his/her numeral in its correct pocket and to explain the strategy they used to help them complete this task. Repeat the above with 3 numbers and 3 students per day until all pockets are filled. Take note of students who use a count by one strategy and those who demonstrate an awareness of the base ten patterns underlying the chart. Select numbers based on your knowledge of individual student’s number sense (e.g. you may select a number immediately before or after a number that is already on the board for one child and a number that is 10 or 11 more than a placed number for another child who you feel has a good understanding of the base ten pattern).

Possible questions to involve other students:

Yesterday we had __ numbers on our number chart and today we added 3 more. How many numbers do we now have on our number chart? How do you know?
If there are __ numbers on our number chart how many more numbers do we need to add to fill our chart? Ask several students to explain the strategy used to solve this problem.
We now have ____ numbers on our number chart. If we continue to add 3 numbers every day how many more days/weeks will it take to fill our number chart? Explain your thinking.

Today’s Number is… 

Select a number for the day (e.g. 8) and write it on the board or chart paper. Ask students to suggest calculations for which the number is the answer. Write students' suggestions in 4 columns (addition examples, subtraction, multiplication and division). After 8 or 10 responses, focus in on particular columns or types of responses that you would like more of. For example,"Give me some more addition examples", "Give me some ways which use three numbers", "Give me an example using parentheses" etc.

What's My Number

Select a number between 1 and 100 and write it down without revealing it to your students. Have students take turns to ask questions to which you can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Record each question and answer on chart paper. For example:

Is it greater than 30? No
Is it an even number? Yes
Is it a multiple of 3? No
Does it have a 4 in the ones place?...

After 3 or 4 questions ask, “What is the smallest number it could still be? What is the largest? Discuss why it is better to ask a question such as "Is it an odd number?" than "Is it 34?" early in the game. To ensure that all students are involved have them use individual laminated 100 charts with dry erase markers to mark off numbers after each question is asked. Keep going until the number has been named correctly. During the game you may also want to keep track of how many questions are asked before the number is named. Next time you play challenge students to guess the number with fewer questions.

'Friendly' number activities
Give a number less than 10. Students must respond with an addition fact that will make the number up to 10. For example, if today's target number is 10 and you say 6 the student must respond with "6 + 4 = 10". Vary the target number e.g. 20, 50, 100, 200, 1000 etc. to suit students' ability level.

Oral Language Acquisition

Since moving to a small district there are fewer questions from teachers when they are working with students who are learning English as a second language. Though it is a beginning, have students in a group or a classroom talking is important--it builds social language skills first but it also helps build academic language. (Academic language takes students longer to wrap their heads around.) I find these ideas a step. One that is important for all students.

Oral Language Acquisition and Learning to Read and Write?

There is a very strong relationship between these, which really develops when students are proficient at identifying words, and helps them a great deal in reading and listening comprehension.
“Oral language is the foundation on which reading is built, and it continues to serve this role as children develop as readers.” It is very important for students to be exposed to and develop strong oral language skills before they even come to school, and these skills must continue to be expanded. Strong oral language skills also link to strong phonemic awareness skills, which research has shown to aid in learning to read and write. Since oral language acquisition is “the foundation on which reading is built,” special considerations must be made for ESL students, as they must expand their English oral language skills as they learn to read.

How powerful is this relationship?

Oral language is one of the main foundation needed in order to teach a child to read and write. ESL students come into the mainstream classroom lacking this fundamental foundation, at least in the English Language. If students are not able to understand directions or what the teacher is saying, and if they are not able to mirror “book Talk” in their reading and writing, the student will not be able to think in ways that will lead to elevated thinking and proficient.


To teach ESL students to read and write, the teacher much teach the students in their native language and compare it to English. Students need to have ways of practicing their English so that they can get better and understand it more efficiently. Some ways to practice are:
  • A low-anxiety environment: This includes a setting where students feel nurtured and supported by their teacher and peers, and in turn, they feel safe to take risks without the fear of being laughed at or made fun of.
  • Repeated practice: This is just like what it sounds! Students need repeated practice hearing and using a new language. They need multiple opportunities to comprehend and express their ideas in a new language. Like with anything new that we learn, practice helps us get better.
  • Comprehensible input: This means finding different ways to make what is being said comprehensible and easier to understand. Things to consider with comprehensible input might include using speech that is appropriate for students' language proficiency, providing a clear, step-by-step explanation of tasks, and using a variety of techniques to support their understanding.
  • Drama: This is a sense of excitement and engagement, can be found in activities like Reader's Theater, dramatic play, puppetry, narrating wordless picture books, etc. All of these activities also have the other three factors embedded within them. These activities assist in the development of oral language in addition to introducing students to oral reading and rich literacy experiences and responses in a classroom setting.

Connections to ESL Students

For ESL students, learning English is like learning to speak and read all over again; the main difference is that they are not starting language acquisition as a baby, but at an older age. Students that start English Language acquisition later find comprehension of English Oral Language hard to do. Because of the “language barrier” it is important to understand that it is not that these students cannot comprehend, but it’s that they need structure to know how to begin the language acquisition again. The process is similar to language acquisition of a first language.

Stages if Second Language Acquisition

The Student
The Teacher
Minimal comprehension.
Does not verbalize.
Nods "Yes" and "No."
Draws and points.

Show me …
Circle the …
Where is …?
Who has …?
Early Production
Limited comprehension
One/two-word responses.
Uses key words/familiar phrases.
Uses present-tense verbs.
Yes/no questions
Either/or questions
Who …?
What …?
How many …?
Speech Emergence
Has good comprehension.
Can produce simple sentences.
Grammar/pronunciation errors.
Misunderstands jokes
Why …?
How …?
Intermediate Fluency
Has excellent comprehension.
Makes few grammatical errors.
What would happen if …?
Why do you think …?
Questions requiring more than a sentence response
Advanced Fluency
The student has a near-native level of speech
Decide if …
Retell …

Januray Pick 3 Linky

This month I'm highlighting 3 projects or ideas that I plan to do with my students when they come back. I have talked in the past about how my students need to work on both language skills and build their sight word and word work knowledge.

 Before going to Christmas Break, I took some time and broke about all their running records. I looked at the errors they made as well as looking at the average errors made across all the running records I made for each reading level. So, my student reading at 10s--I looked at his errors, his error average since starting 10s, and an average of how long it took him to read 10s. I then asked myself why he was doing what he was doing. After all that I created a plan and a SMART goal for January. I normally don't plan out what books a student is going to read since with Guided Reading  I let the reader determine the path we take each week. But in this case because I set a SMART goal to more each student a reading level by the end of the month, I'm creating a plan for the month and hoping students blow the goal out of the water.

The first thing I created for each of the students is a Word Work/Sight Word Folder. I love this idea because I can create different folders for each student. I have two students in a reading group that are on two very different places when looking at needs and reading levels. Using folders will allow me to easy for me to differentiate for the students. This will also help build a readers stamina. Even though the pinner uses the folders to organize Words Their Way (my schools doesn't use) but I was able to take the idea and create word work folders for my students.

So what do I put inside of my folders for my students. In this case, I went back to my running records and looked at the errors they were making. Though they are at different reading levels, the error patterns were more or less the same--sight words and vocabulary. Like the one below, I used a circle map and the vocabulary from each book. I created maps specific to the book, so that my students could cut out the pictures and place them on the circle map.

 For sight word practice I created a play on this read, stamp, and write to help students work on sight words instead. We don't use Houghton Mifflin and have a building wide sight word list that they need to master. Each list has been tailored to each student to focus on the ones they need to learn.

I hope you find one of these ideas as something you can take and use in your class. Be sure to take a look at the others who have linked up.

A freebie for stopping by:

I hope you find something you can take back and use in your classroom with your students. Have a great week.

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I'm Ms. Whiteley. I teach in the beautiful Mile High state--Colorado. This is my 13th year teaching in an rural K-6 Elementary school as a Exceptional Needs Teachers. As Exceptional Needs National Board Certified Teacher, I believe that ALL students can learn and be successful. When I'm not in school, I love to take my two Italian Greyhounds hiking 14ers and reaching for the stars. Thanks for Hopping By.

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