Special Delegates: Model United Nations for Special Education

Last month, Erik Leiden and I visited Awsaj Academy in Doha, Qatar, to teach Model UN to special education students in middle school and high school. I had previously worked with individual students with special needs, but this was my first time working with an entire group of special needs students.

This was one of the most challenging groups I’ve taught — and yet one of the most rewarding.

Students had lower reading and writing skills relative to their stated grade levels, making research and resolution writing particularly difficult to teach. Several students didn’t understand social signals or social conventions like not interrupting someone when they’re speaking. ADD and maturity levels made it very easy for students to get distracted. Just learning to take notes was a challenge.

But this group, more than any I’ve found, really wanted to learn about the UN and global issues, and have their questions answered. They were able to do basic research on country policies. They got up and made speeches, which was a really big deal for most of them. They wrote simple resolutions.

And all of them completed their first ever Model UN simulation.

I really enjoy teaching Model UN at the middle school and primary levels because the learning outcomes are so impactful at that age. But now I think Model UN for special education is especially impactful.

Model UN seems to be particularly engaging to special needs students because the activity is about issues they’re naturally curious about. Doing research, making speeches, and writing resolutions is challenging for special needs students. But giving them the proper guidance, helping them through the process, and showing them they can do it does wonders for their self-esteem and confidence. The structure of a Model UN simulation helps special needs students learn social skills and social conventions, like not interrupting each other.

And what special needs students share in common with any other student is that they want to learn about the world’s biggest challenges — they want to have their questions answered — they want to make an impact.

To that end, Model UN is a wonderful way to introduce students to the world.

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Special thanks to Emmy and the teachers and administrators of Awsaj Academy for inviting Erik and me to your school and working with your students!

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If you’re a special education teacher interested in creating a model UN program, contact me. I’d love to do more to create Model UN for special education.

Ryan Villanueva
Co-Founder & Education Director

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