Help Signal

Non-Verbal Signal, Silent Communication, S-O-S

UDL 6.4

Help Signal is a communication tool in which a student displays an unobtrusive signal on the desk or table (e.g., a help flag, color coded cup, green/red sided placard) to alert when help is needed while working independently, and selects an alternative related assignment to work on until assistance is provided. Once a teacher selects which Help Signal system to use, the strategy is introduced to inform the teacher when students are feeling “stuck,” and reduce off-task behaviors (e.g., “giving up” on the task and sitting passively, distracting others). The teacher prepares multiple copies of content-related activities for students to access during independent work periods (e.g., supplemental math practice sheets reinforcing previously taught content, articles, short stories). While other communication tools signal for teacher support, Help Signal uniquely encourages students to engage in productive academic tasks while waiting for support to be provided.

Implementation Tips

Designing A Help Signal Method
Design a Help Signal method that is eye-catching and can be seen from afar. Use materials that are visibly raised, such as a small flag, [[ | a folded placard with one green side and one red side ]], or [[ | green, yellow, and red colored cups ]] to signify levels of needed support.
Preparing Alternative Assignments
Prepare content-specific alternative assignments for students to choose from. Use [[ | Free Scholastic News Articles ]] or other short stories for reading, practice handwriting or grammar correction sheets for writing, and math practice activities, such as these [[ | free printables by grade level ]].
Introducing a Help Signal
Explain to students, “When you are working independently and become “stuck,” post your Help Signal and select an alternate related activity until help can be provided.”). Clarify that alternate activities are only chosen if students cannot continue any other part of their current assignment.
Making Alternate Assignments Accessible
Create Help Signal work folders (e.g., separate folders for reading, writing, math) that contain the supplemental activities. Make sure that students know where to access these in the classroom. Use bold subject area labels to guide students in selecting content-related activities.
Promote Self-Awareness
Tell students to check over their current work after posting a Help Signal to see if there is other work that can be completed before selecting an alternative assignment while waiting for assistance. If a student approaches you for help, redirect them to use the the Help Signal procedure.
Peer Support
Allow students that are finished with their assignments, or are “experts” in a specific content area, to offer support to student Help Signals. Instruct peer helpers to deliver supportive and constructive feedback to peers, without exposing answers (e.g., model prompts and questioning strategies).
Embedding Help Signals in Daily Routines
Invite students to use Help Signals during any independent work period. During these times, remember to scan the room periodically (e.g., looking for Help Signals and monitoring if students are accessing the alternate assignment folders) to gauge which students might need assistance.


Productive Independent Work
While conferring one-on-one with a student while the rest of the class engages in an independent reading assignment, a teacher becomes consistently interrupted (e.g., students calling the teacher’s name, walking up to the teacher to ask for help). To help students remain engaged academically while waiting for adult assistance, the teacher introduces the Help Signal strategy. The teacher explains, “When you feel “stuck” and need help or clarification, post your Help Signal. Check if there is any other work you can complete on your current task. If not, select an alternate related activity until a teacher can meet with you.” The teacher models how display a Help Signal and then distributes them to each student.
Help Signal - Peer Support
During independent writing, a teacher decides to pull a small strategy group. Since this small group work will make it difficult for the teacher to provide individualized support for students that get “stuck” or have questions while completing their independent work assignments, the teacher selects two “expert” students in the class to help guide classmates that display a Help Signal (e.g., a student that places a [[ | red cup on top of their green cup ]]). Helpers are encouraged to periodically monitor the classroom status. If they are already helping someone, the student in need follows protocol and selects an alternative assignment until peer assistance can be provided.

Related Strategies