Advice for Teachers with Students With Cochlear Implants

Teaching a Deaf Student with a Cochlear Implant in the Mainstream Classroom

Suppose you are a teacher, and a deaf child with a cochlear implant (or a hearing aid, as much of this advice also applies to deaf and hard of hearing children with hearing aids) will be joining your class. This child was at a school for the deaf, but is now ready to be mainstreamed into your classroom. How can you prepare for the child's arrival in your classroom?

Before Implanted Child's Arrival

Even if a deaf child with an implant can hear and speak, that child is still deaf.
To ensure social acceptance in the classroom, explain to other children about the cochlear implant and deafness before the child joins the class. (Guide comment: I cannot emphasize this enough. When I was a child, my mother became upset with a resource teacher for the deaf for failing to prepare the class for my arrival. As a result, the other children did not accept me.)

A teacher should prepare by becoming acquainted with the child's support services team, by getting training on hearing impairment, learning the use of the cochlear implant, and learning effective strategies for teaching a child with hearing loss. The support team may include a teacher of the deaf. The teacher of the deaf can provide advice and give the deaf student academic support (such as in a resource room or in class). (Someone else who may be in the child's support team is a classroom aide. The aide can help by pre-teaching vocabulary so a deaf child can keep up, and assisting with the cochlear implant equipment.)

Even the classroom the child will be placed in should be checked in advance. The room needs to be quiet enough for the implanted child to be able to hear well. Turn on all the heating and cooling equipment in the classroom with the classroom empty, and check the noise level. Any background noise then heard in the empty classroom is called ambient noise.

Implanted Children in the Classroom


Classrooms can be noisy environments (classroom noise can get as loud as 50 decibels) that make it difficult for a deaf or hard of hearing child to hear with a cochlear implant. An implanted child needs to be seated in the classroom as far away as possible from noise sources. If the teacher is trying to talk one on one with the child and it is noisy, the teacher and child should either wait for the noise to stop or leave and go to a quieter location (as long as an aide is there to watch the class).

Three additional environmental factors to pay attention to are:

  • Sound pressure level - Sound pressure level is the sound of the teacher's voice at the student's ear.
  • Reverberation - Reverberation is the sound bouncing off surfaces. This can be minimized by using noise absorbent materials like carpeting.
  • Signal to noise ratio - A signal to noise ratio is the difference between the speech signal and background noise. Deaf children need a signal to noise ratio of at least 15.
  • Classroom size - It is easier to hear in a larger room than a smaller one.

The teacher has to continuously be mindful of how to communicate with a deaf or hard of hearing child. For example, because a deaf child with an implant may read lips, so a teacher can not have anything in his mouth while teaching, such as gum or food. Likewise, a teacher should not put anything in front of his face while talking to the class.

If a child has only one cochlear implant instead of two (bilateral), that means the child can only hear out of that ear and can not tell where sound is coming from. (Guide note: For example, I can hear someone cough, but I can not tell if the cough is coming from behind me or next to me.) Teachers must be careful to stand on the side of the child's head that has the implant.

When talking to the child, a teacher may have to repeat or rephrase things (don't use the exact same words over and over) if the child does not "get it" right away. A teacher should also use a normal speech rate without exaggerating their speech, sprinkle into their language leading terms that cue the deaf child's listening, such as "Now we will...," and use visual clues to give the deaf child some extra information. (Guide note: A teacher with a mustache may want to consider removing it.)

Groups can be challenging for the child with an implant. When the class works as a group, the children should sit in a circle, and only one child should speak at a time. The teacher can also help the deaf child by pointing to the current speaker or using another cue like saying the name of a speaking child.


A child with a cochlear implant needs a ready supply in the classroom of extra batteries and associated equipment. Teachers may have to check to see if an implant is working, particularly with a younger child. Water and static electricity can harm speech processors, so teachers will have to avoid exposing a deaf child to both. In addition to the cochlear implant, the deaf child and teacher may use an FM system to bring the sound of the teacher's voice directly to the child.

Video Materials for Teachers

The Described and Captioned Media Program (registration required) has a 16-minute captioned video (available as a DVD and also streamed online), Teaching the Kids with High-Tech Ears, that discusses teaching and accommodating a deaf child with a cochlear implant.

Sources:, Recommendations for students with cochlear implants in mainstream educational placements., Educators Guide to Cochlear Implants., Cochlear Implant Packet.

Continue Reading