RNIB supporting blind and partially sighted people
Effective practice guide
Teaching Science to pupils with vision
About this guide
This guide focuses on teaching Science to pupils with vision
impairment. It covers some of the basic challenges and suggests
some useful approaches, as well as looking at essential
equipment, safety, and resources.
This guide is part of our Teaching National Curriculum Subjects
series. At the end you will find the full series listed, and details of
where to find them.
2. Key issues for teachers
5. A teacher's experience: modified chemistry experiment
6. Further guides
Science is a fascinating subject for all children. Visually impaired
pupils are not always able to gather information as readily as
sighted pupils, so it is important that they are encouraged to use
their senses to explore as far and as fully as possible. Science
provides numerous opportunities for this.
The intellectual skills developed through studying science
encourage inductive and deductive reasoning – skills such as
interpreting new experiences, establishing relationships and
drawing reasonable conclusions from incomplete evidence. All of
Registered charity number 226227
these skills have direct relevance to visually impaired children who
need confidence in their grasp of the world.
Though science is taught largely through visual information, sight
is not central to understanding and demonstrating skill in this
subject. With careful preparation and adaptation, children who are
blind or partially sighted can enjoy and be challenged by their
2. Key issues for teachers
Relevance of curriculum content
Science is concerned with the study of the physical world, and all
of this is just as relevant to a visually impaired pupil as to any
other. No element of the curriculum should be omitted, but where
necessary alternative means of interpretation should be designed.
It is important that visually impaired pupils observe as much as
possible, making use of other senses where appropriate:
Listening carefully (not always easy in a noisy classroom) can
be used to detect the production of gas in some experiments.
Touch enables the detection of temperature changes in
exothermic and endothermic reactions.
Smell should only be used with great care and under close
Dilute hydrochloric acid on copper carbonate is an effective way to
demonstrate temperature change to a visually impaired pupil. It
provided sound clues (fizzing), tactile clues (vibration) and a very
strong colour change from a green powder to a bright blue
Before any lessons begin, visually impaired pupils should be given
mobility and familiarisation lessons in the science classrooms and
laboratories they will be using. Ideally this should involve a mobility
officer as well as a science teacher and teaching assistant. Pupils
should be made familiar with the layout of the room and be able to
move about safely. Contents of cupboards, drawers and shelves
should be made known and time given for pupils to identify and
handle the items.
Procedures and techniques for collecting and returning equipment
need to be learned and practised. What is safe and possible in an
empty laboratory is not the same as in one filled with other pupils
and procedures should take this into account. Consultation with all
concerned should take place so that everyone knows what is
expected, and procedures should be reviewed regularly to make
sure they are effective.
Seating requires careful thought according to the individual needs
of pupils. The availability of an electric socket for use with
specialist support equipment may mean installing additional
sockets to avoid hazardous leads across commonly used
pathways. Being close to water taps helps and can reduce
spillages. You may need space for a teaching assistant to work
alongside the pupil but it is essential that they are still part of a
normal working group so that they are fully included in the social
as well as academic learning situation.
All chemicals used in the laboratory should be labelled clearly in
large print and, for a blind pupil, a vertical braille strip for reading
with the right hand. Hazard labels should also be clear for partially
sighted pupils and a simple tactile code used for blind children.
Where it appears particularly difficult for a visually impaired pupil to
undertake a science activity, it is important to be clear about the
purpose of the activity. What is the concept that pupils should learn
from it? Is this experiment the best way to teach this concept to
this pupil? If an alternative approach is possible, would this also be
of value to other pupils in the class? Often it is possible to adapt an
experiment to make it more suitable for visually impaired pupils.
The substitution of a mixture of sugar and lentils for sugar and
sand is a useful strategy in an introduction to separation
techniques where pupils are asked to separate the two materials
by hand. This enables blind pupils to use touch to take part in an
exercise which would have been entirely visual in its original form.
Organisation of practical lessons
The organisation of practical lessons requires forward planning.
Time is often in short supply and making sure that the pupil has
access to the necessary support and equipment to participate fully
is not always easy. The role of a teaching assistant can be vital
here, and a few minutes of discussion between teaching assistant
and teacher is important to ensure that a visually impaired pupil
enjoys an equivalent experience to other pupils and achieves the
same outcomes. Involving the assistant in this way, especially if he
or she does not have a science background, will considerably
enhance the effectiveness of the lesson.
Having a clearly defined working space in a quiet area of the room
enables pupils with sight problems to work more effectively and
safely. Blind pupils are able to work more independently if their
apparatus is contained in one tray and they are able to set up and
do their experiment in a second tray. They will also need space to
record their results on a laptop or brailler. Partially sighted pupils
may like a white or coloured screen behind their apparatus to
enable them to see more easily. Appropriate lighting can be of
great importance to some partially sighted pupils and this should
be adjusted so that they are able to work independently and safely.
Safety is of prime importance in the science laboratory and
anything that can reasonably be done to improve this is valuable.
A set of procedures should be agreed with visually impaired pupils
in mind. All practical activities in science must comply with the
requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and
science teachers must carry out risk assessments of any hazards.
If a blind or partially sighted pupil is to be in a class these risk
assessments will have to take this into account and it may be
helpful to consider the following areas.
Spillages will occur from time to time and are not always noticed
by visually impaired pupils. Support from their sighted peers
and a readily available spillage kit and supply of paper towels
will help to minimise damage. The school's normal procedures
for reporting and dealing with accidents should be followed. In
all matters relating to safety a visually impaired pupil should
accept the need to follow instructions from the class teacher or
teaching assistant. This should always take place in the context
of encouraging pupils to be as independent as possible.
Clamping apparatus makes it less likely to be knocked over.
Care should be taken that equipment set up for experiments is
stable when a visually impaired pupil first touches it, since the
first contact is often the most important.
If razor blades or scalpels are used, extreme caution is
required. Good illumination and/or magnification is often
necessary in such situations.
Whenever possible, pupils should set up experiments involving
heat or chemicals in advance, to minimise the amount of
movement and visual co-ordination needed to complete the
experiment once begun. Apparatus should also be set up and
examined without heat or chemicals initially so they can build up
a mental picture and relate to the processes involved.
Role of teaching assistant
The main aim of a teaching assistant should be to let a visually
impaired pupil do as much as possible for themselves. The
purpose is not to carry out experiments for them, but to enable
them to participate as fully as possible as part of their working
group, taking a turn as far as possible in every detail of the
processes involved. A teaching assistant has a responsibility to
minimise potential hazards and to keep a visually impaired pupil
informed about what processes other pupils are carrying out. They
may give general help to a group of pupils or the teacher, rather
than working constantly with the visually impaired pupil. It may not
be necessary for an assistant to be present during many theory
Ensuring full inclusion in classroom activities
It is important that a visually impaired pupil plays a full part with
other pupils in the setting up, performance and clearing up of an
experiment. Most schools organise science lessons as group
activities where a visually impaired pupil can work alongside
sighted peers. This could slow the group down if the blind or
partially sighted pupil is expected to do everything, so a sensible
approach must be taken with tasks shared out. For instance,
although a pupil should be encouraged to collect equipment and
materials for themselves, there will be times in a crowded room
when this may be dangerous, and alternative strategies must be
employed. It is important that a variety of activities are encouraged
so that a visually impaired pupil takes part over time in all aspects
of the work.
When giving demonstrations, the teacher should talk through what
is happening, but individual explanation and commentary from the
teaching assistant to a visually impaired pupil may be required.
Alternatively, sighted pupils may offer a running commentary.
Assistance with recording
As far as is reasonable, pupils should record results of
experiments and notes on practical work in an appropriate
medium. However, because the pupil is likely to work more slowly
than others in all activities, there may be occasions when time can
be used more efficiently if a teaching assistant undertakes some
recording tasks on behalf of the pupil. Such work must be
undertaken under the direction of the pupil, so that it is the pupil's
(and not the assistant’s) ideas which are being recorded. The basic
consideration in deciding whether this approach is appropriate is
that the pupil must learn the skills of recording independently, but
need not demonstrate these on every occasion.
Choice of medium for recording
A visually impaired pupil's normal method of recording and
reporting should be employed as far as possible (handwriting, word
processing, braille etc). However, many braille note-takers have
limitations when using braille science notation, as in the writing of
symbol equations, and a Perkins brailler may have to be used. It is
important that the pupil is introduced to specific scientific notation
as and when it is appropriate (see below on resources).
A digital recorder can be used as a method of recording during
experiments, providing an accurate account of what is reported.
This method is particularly appropriate for ecology work in the field.
Data collected in science is often presented in the form of tables
and graphs. There is no reason why a visually impaired pupil
should not record in this way unless the table is too large to fit on a
sheet of braille paper, in which case it is better to record
descriptively. Techniques for recording tables using technology
such as braille note-takers can be time consuming and difficult.
There are, therefore, some circumstances in which it may be
advisable to record descriptively as above.
Graphs can be produced successfully on both enlarged graph
paper and tactile graph paper. It is important to note that a reduced
level of accuracy should be expected in both cases and that this is
accepted in national tests and examinations. Drawings can be
replaced by descriptions for a blind pupil. Partially sighted pupils
should be encouraged to use the most useful approach, either
drawings or descriptions or a combination of both.
The aim of internal and external assessment should be to provide
material, in a form suitable for the individual being assessed, that
will enable them to undertake the same task as other pupils
without giving them an unfair advantage. Many written and
practical tasks take visually impaired pupils longer than their
sighted peers and a realistic time allowance should be provided in
line with the approved recommendations.
Practical assessments should not present too many problems,
bearing in mind it is generally accepted that accuracy in measuring
tasks will be reduced. Any specific practical problems that are
encountered should be referred directly to the assessment agency
Here is a list of the equipment that many teachers recommend for
use in the science classroom. Most items discussed on this page
are widely available, and the specialist equipment is for sale in our
online shop or from the specialist suppliers mentioned. You can
visit our shop by going to the following link: www.rnib.org.uk/shop
Syringes with plungers already notched are available from RNIB,
but you may also like to buy some mainstream syringes and notch
them up yourself using a sharp Stanley knife or scalpel. Use
separate syringes for measurements such as 1ml, 5ml, 10ml or
Marking up the top of the cylinders with bright yellow tape or paint
makes them much easier to spot and can reduce breakages.
Beakers, test tubes and measuring cylinders can be marked up
with Tacti-mark. Tacti-mark is a raised form of paint that comes in
a tube and can be used to mark levels on beakers, to define the
tops of beakers etc. Bear in mind that it will melt upon contact with
a high heat.
Test tube racks, tripod legs and retort stand legs can all also be
painted in bright colours to increase visibility, reduce accidents and
stimulate residual vision
One tray (or washing up bowl) containing equipment for each pupil
with sight problems, such as scratch-free goggles, and much of the
adapted equipment mentioned above and below. This can be kept
in a safe place by the lab technician ready for the pupil to use.
One empty tray with a lip for pupils to work in a defined area,
making equipment easy to locate.
Light detectors which emit a changing tone or vibration according
to light density are useful for detecting colour changes, as in the
formation of precipitates or a bulb going on or off. They are
invaluable in light and shadow work, for detecting the needle on
some measuring instruments and even for reading a cathode ray
Invaluable for crucial timings in experiments, these are available
from our online shop. Also, you could consider using the widely
available stopwatches that beep at regular intervals (available from
shops such as Argos).
You can buy accurately calibrated auto-pipettes that can be set to
reliably deliver volumes of liquid accurate to 1% - particularly good
for pupils whose manual dexterity is poor. Available from suppliers
such as Griffin Education or Philip Harris.
Talking scientific calculator or large print scientific calculator
A combined talking and large display calculator is available from
RNIB. For pupils with less severe sight problems, try looking at the
mainstream models available to see if the displays are suitable.
Clear print thermometer
Some pupils find alcohol thermometers easier to read (but it is
worth ensuring that the temperature range is suitable for use) -
these are available in bright red or blue. Alternatively, some digital
thermometers have fairly large displays. Griffin Education produce
one that may be suitable.
Talking colour indicator
This is available from Cobolt Systems Ltd and actually tells what
colour pupils are directing it at. Bear in mind that this works on
hard surfaces only as it measures pigment, so it would be useful
for independence in, for example, pH testing experiments but not
in a titration exercise.
Graph paper and graph boards
A range of clear print and tactile graph paper, with accompanying
graph board and plotting pins will be essential. Blind pupils may
also find plastic embossing film very useful - the film rises when
drawn upon by a biro or an embossing tool, such as a spur wheel.
Bumpons are great tactile markers and are also great for indicating
levels and measurements. They are available in a range of bright
colours and shapes and provide a great contrast.
Useful for so many things, versatile Wikki Stix can be used for
plotting graphs, marking the tops of test tubes and even plotting
White screen or card
Placing a piece of white card behind any demonstrations reduces
clutter and improves contrast. In addition, the contents of test
tubes etc can often be seen more easily this way. This is
particularly useful when reading the scale on a measuring cylinder.
These can be useful to show changes of level in a test tube or
Blue and red food colouring
The addition of bright food colouring to water can make it visible,
yet it is unlikely to affect the outcome of many experiments.
Braille labeller and Dymo tape
The easy to use, hand-held braille labeller can be used to produce
braille labels on Dymo tape, without needing a knowledge of
braille. At only 12mm wide the tape is ideal for marking chemicals
in bottles, and the clear tape can be stuck on without obscuring
Gas or battery powered lighters
These lighters with long handles are much safer that matches and
provide some independence for pupils.
A copy of the RNIB science braille code
The Using the braille science code publication covers the code
required up to A Level and is laid out in key stages. It has
particular emphasis on layout students will encounter during
exams. You can download the code at
5. A teacher's experience: modified chemistry
Here we illustrate the modification of a chemistry experiment to
make it much more accessible for a pupil who is partially sighted.
Investigation title: 'You are using a Bunsen burner to heat a beaker
of water. Which is hotter, the blue flame or the orange flame?'
Some basic equipment was provided: Bunsen burner, tripod,
beaker, thermometer, timer.
Use a digital or audible timer or thermometer.
Staff may wish to carry out the experiment on a time-only
basis, in which pupils monitor the time taken for water to boil,
first with a blue flame then an orange flame.
Glass beads or a milk saver can be placed in the beaker so
that a rattle can be heard when the water is boiling.
Equipment can be marked - the top and valve of the Bunsen
burner can be highlighted with a product such as luminous
enamel. The lead to the gas tap can also be highlighted,
particularly if it is a similar colour to the work bench.
The tripod legs can be painted to make them easier to spot,
and the top of the beaker and measurements down the side
can be highlighted with a product such as Hi-Mark. (For
pupils in mainstream schools, a compromise may be
needed: use enough highlighting for the pupil to access the
experiment, but without making the pupil stand out from
Adding a few drops of food colouring to the water can make
it more accessible to partially sighted pupils.
It may be worth placing a piece of coloured card behind the
beaker so that the measurements down the side are easier
Bending the gauze around the tripod will help prevent pupils
from knocking it off.
A heatproof mat should be placed under the Bunsen burner
and can help pupils locate the position of equipment. It may
also be useful to set the experiment up on a tray with a
raised lip for ease of location, and to stop equipment being
Scratch-free goggles should always be available for a
partially sighted student.
Teachers or support staff may wish to consider having a tray
of adapted or scratch-free equipment constantly available for
a blind or partially sighted pupil - it may be easiest to ask the
lab technician to keep this safe.
Clamps can be used for the beaker, or to safely clamp down
any trailing leads (for example, from a digital thermometer).
Before the experiment is carried out in class, a preparation
session with the pupil, familiarising them with any new
equipment or techniques, could prove very useful.
These simple ideas may enable a blind or partially sighted pupil to
carry out the investigation safely and with a minimum of
intervention, giving a sense of independence and achievement.
6. Further guides
The full Teaching National Curriculum Subjects series of guides
Teaching Maths to pupils with vision impairment
Teaching Science to pupils with vision impairment
Teaching English to pupils with vision impairment
We will be producing guides on other subjects in the near future.
Please contact us if you would like more details about these, as we
will certainly be able to help in some way.
In addition, you may also be interested in the following series of
guides, all of which are relevant to children, young people and
Supporting Early Years Education series
Removing barriers to learning series
Teaching National Curriculum Subjects series
Complex needs series
Further and Higher education series
We also produce a number of stand-alone factsheets, on a range
of topics, which may be of interest, please contact us to find out
what we have available
All these guides can be found in electronic form at
www.rnib.org.uk/guidanceonteaching For print, braille, large print
or audio, please contact the RNIB Children, Young people and
Families (CYPF)Team at email@example.com or call on 0121 665
For further information about RNIB
Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), and its associate
charity Action for Blind People, provide a range of services to
support children with visual impairment, their families and the
professionals who work with them.
RNIB Helpline can refer you to specialists for further advice and
guidance relating to your situation. RNIB Helpline can also help
you by providing information and advice on a range of topics, such
as eye health, the latest products, leisure opportunities, benefits
advice and emotional support.
Call the Helpline team on 0303 123 9999 or email
If you would like regular information to help your work with children
who have sight problems, why not subscribe to "Insight", RNIB's
magazine for all who live or work with children and young people
with sight problems.
Effective Practice Guides provide general information and ideas for
consideration when working with children who have a visual
impairment (and complex needs). All information provided is from
the personal perspective of the author of each guide and as such,
RNIB will not accept liability for any loss or damage or
inconvenience arising as a consequence of the use of or the
inability to use any information within this guide. Readers who use
this guide and rely on any information do so at their own risk. All
activities should be done with the full knowledge of the medical
condition of the child and with guidance from the QTVI and other
professionals involved with the child. RNIB does not represent or
warrant that the information accessible via the website, including
Effective Practice Guidance are accurate, complete or up to date.
Guide updated: July 2011