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Ideas to Structure Routines for Special Ed Students

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 9/11/2012

Daily routines and timetables are an important part of teaching in any classroom. For special needs learners, daily routines offer predictable ways to structure aspects of the day that will help you manage challenging behaviors. This is especially helpful when a student has a 504 plan.

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    Why Have a Routine?

    A routine gives structure to your day and can be an important teaching tool for you as well as a learning tool for your students. Just ask a new teacher how important a daily routine is after they have let theirs fly out the window at the first disruption or learning issue!

    A daily routine basically means having a set time and place in the day for each activity and ensuring students are well aware of when and where various activities will occur. This can be very important when managing the behavior of a student with a 504 plan. By avoiding surprises, students are given a predictable and knowable structure over which they feel they have control.

    Daily routines help to:

    • Avoid challenging behaviors that can present if a student does not have the security of knowing what to expect during a day
    • Make an association between an activity and its graphic, pictorial or text representation
    • Allow for planning of support staff during a day, so that the necessary support is available at the right times
    • Allow parents or family members to plan their lives around activities, and to know what equipment is needed and when
    • Give a structure and predictable shape to the day
    • Provide reinforcement and motivation to help students deal with less liked activities, or to complete tasks
    • Focus and direct attention and behavior
    • Reduce acting out or disruptive behavior brought about by lack of security or knowledge of what is happening during the day
    • Allow the teacher to complete necessary tasks during a planned 'down time' (getting bags packed, writing in communication books, making phone calls, writing notes on behavioral records)
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    Literacy and Numeracy Links

    Daily routines can be linked easily with literacy and numeracy skills. Try these activities:

    • Make a personalized book with ring bindings for easy page turning so a student can see a picture of what is happening during each day.
    • Create a weekly calendar to help students learn the names and sounds of the days of the week.
    • Use a switch with a pre-recorded message of what is happening next, so the student can press the switch and prompt their memory for the next task.
    • Use an egg timer to give a visual cue as to how much longer an activity will run.
    • Use a black-and-white checkerboard piece of material to place over the top of desirable activities (often on the computer!) to remind students that this activity is 'finished' for now.
    • Structure your day so it begins with a process of organizing velcroed cards onto a board so everyone can see what is happening and when.
    • Help students to write simple sentences about their daily activities (eg. I like it when we...).
    • Avoid overloading students with too much visual input around the room, as this can detract from important learning.
    • Use a template of the week with space for writing messages about activities, as this can save enormous time when writing messages home about news and events.
    • Write a class newsletter at the end of the week using the same template approach, so families can see photos and read about student learning during the week and share this important information together at home.
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    Give Daily Routines a Try

    Daily routines are well worth using in many special education settings by making them a focal part of your wider teaching program. Daily routines can cover many aspects of the curriculum in special education and can be a great way of avoiding challenging behaviors from occurring in the first place, rather than simply managing them after the event. Give a daily routine a try!

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    Source: author experience

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