Adding structure to your small group lessons with schedules

Many of use a schedule to help our students navigate through the day. Schedules are so helpful in building independence as well as decreasing problem behaviors. If students know 1) what is coming next, 2) how long it will last, and 3) what the expectations are things ten to run much more smoothly. In addition to class schedules, I also found schedules for how the group lesson was going to run was also incredibly helpful. Here are some tips and some free schedule cards to download that go with many of my activities.

1. Spend some time familiarizing your students with the schedule cards

Before you start using schedules for your actual lessons, you will want to make sure your students are familiar with the pictures, symbols, words, or even objects you will use to indicate what activity is about to occur. You could work these into a social story, or as a daily review in your circle time or morning meeting. Making sure your students understand what activity goes with each schedule card is helpful before jumping in.

2. Be consistent

Since consistency and repetition is the name of the game in many of our classrooms, this is easy to establish. Many of us do the same activities in various lessons. We may read a book, do a worksheet, do a craft, etc. regardless of if we are teaching math, science or social studies. In reality, it is often structured the same. There is just different content.

3. Decide if you want to use one schedule or individualized schedules

So this will depend upon the makeup of your students. I have done it differently over the years. Sometimes you have students that are on such different learning levels that they need a schedule right in front of them. Some have such challenging behaviors that having their own schedule to manipulate can give them some sense of control and lessen anxiety. Even if I had individual schedules going, I still had a master schedule for the group that I could manipulate.

4. Display the relative time of each activity

I never wanted to be held to a stop watch while I was teaching, so I never used exact amounts of time on my schedule. But, I did feel it was important and helpful for students to know if each activity would take a short, medium, or long time. Some years I used colored backgrounds as shown below.

  • Green was a short activity
  • Yellow was a medium activity
  • Red was a long activity
Example of adding color coding for time frames

5. Using the schedule

Once the schedule was set up, I would go over the activities we were going to do. As we completed each activity, either I or a designated helper, would remove the card. For some activities, I had several choices, and I wanted the students to decide what we would do. For example, when doing our vocabulary card or board review activity, there are a ton of choices. Once the students were really familiar with all the different games and how to play them, I would let them choose which particular activity they wanted to add to the schedule that day. By the end of the year, I was allowing students to pretty much plan the entire flow of the lesson.

If you read my previous blog post, Awesome Activities to do with Vocabulary Boards (click HERE), I wanted to offer everyone a free download with a picture card you can use with each activity. They are in two sizes as well as being in color and BW You can download them by clicking HERE (no email needed).

I know much of this is second nature to many of you. Hopefully, there was one “aha” moment in here for you. Finally, if you need some general schedule cards to go with your lessons, then click the button below for all the other schedule cards (besides the vocabulary ones above) that I found helpful and correspond with most of the activities found in my units on TPT.

Jump into Spring with these 10 fun activities

The weather is getting warmer and your students are likely getting antsy. Why not embrace this season and integrate some of these fun activities into your daily lesson plans? Plus download a free activity for your parents to use at home at the end of this post.

1. Taking it outside

With the warmer weather, you can just take your materials and your students outside to teach a lesson. Yes, there will be some distractions. It may be challenging to keep your kiddos contained, but there is a lot to learn from just being outside. Try to set up the area with clear boundaries so students understand where they are supposed to stay. Use either physical items like chairs, carpet squares, or a blanket. You can also use visual cues like drawing chalk lines if you are on a solid surface. Make sure to remember to bring:

  • any visual schedules or behavioral picture cues you normally use
  • communication devices
  • all your materials

Make sure you look in the Free Resource Library (see tab at top of page) for some FREE vocabulary cards you can download and use for a Spring lesson that would be perfect outside.

2. Go on a scavenger hunt

Spring is the perfect time to go on a scavenger hunt. There are so many changes happening in the world and clues that spring is here. I just wrote a blog post about going on a scavenger hunt, including a FREE hunt for spring you can download for spring. Be sure to read all about it HERE.

3. Plant a class garden

This is the perfect time to plant your class garden. If you plant it now, by the time Earth Day comes around, you will have some things already coming up out of the ground. This is a great way to get those sensory needs met. Play in the dirt. Let the seeds run through your fingers. Have a large bucket of water students can plunge small cups into to water the newly planted seeds.

4. Incubate some chicken eggs

This was always one of my favorite spring activities, although it didn’t always go that well. There were years when none of my eggs hatched. That was a bummer. But, for the years it did work, it was great!! I have a companion unit in my store that goes great with this classroom activity. You can check it out HERE.

5. Go on a field trip

It seems like everyone is going on a field trip this time of year. Why should our kids be left out? I wrote a great blog post about making the most of a field trip (with some free downloads of course). Read about it HERE.

6. Make a collage

I love doing arts and crafts even though they may get a little messy at times. Spring is a great time to make a collage. There are several ways to do this so ALL your students can be involved and work at their own level.

  • Take items you find outside (maybe from your scavenger hunt) and glue them on a sturdy piece of cardboard.
  • Take some magazines and find pictures of spring things to make a colorful picture.
  • Using those same magazines, for students who are readers, have them make a collage of all the spring words they can find. They can even spell some words out by cutting out letters.

7. Write a story

There are so many things happening this time of year that students can write about. Writing prompts are one of my favorite tools to give students a chance to express what they like and don’t like on their own. I have a great new product in my store that contains 15 Writing Prompts for Spring. Check it out HERE. If you are not sure how to use writing prompts with your students or don’t think they can do them, read more HERE (and download a free prompt to try.)

8. Take a nature hike/walk

So this is a little different (in my mind) than a scavenger hunt. In one of my schools, we had these great trails behind the building that went through the woods and down to a creek. Taking a hike during each season was a great way for students to see how things in nature changed. We had one particular spot where a student would stand and we would take their picture. We could compare how the colors changed, how the height of the plants changed, how the ground covering changed, etc. with each season. It was such a fun activity! If you want to make it more structured for your students, read how to do that in my blog post on structured walks HERE.

9. From caterpillar to butterfly

Similar to incubating the chicken eggs, creating a habitat for caterpillars and watch them grow, make cocoons and hatch into butterflies is something many students are doing this time of year. I have a unit that has some great supporting activities for this if you plan on doing it in your classroom this year. Check it out HERE.

10. Get your parents involved

I don’t know about you, but I always need a little extra help getting out of my winter rut at home. Your students’ parents are probably feeling the same way. You can download this great family involvement activity below that gives your parents lots of great ways to get outside and enjoy this warmer weather. You can set this up as a contest, a homework assignment, or just a helpful handout to send home. I always did one of these at Christmas time and they worked really well. Click the button below the image to download this free activity.

Family Involvement Activity

5 New Ways to use a Scavenger Hunt in special ed

I love finding more than one way to use the same activity. Not only does it cut down on the amount of activities I need to create, but it also allows students to use the same skills across different settings, with different people, using different stimuli. Generalization. Yep, it is important and can take some time and strategy to implement. Here are 5 ways to use a scavenger hunt to not only build up that generalization of skills, but save you some precious time as well.

Plus, I have a free scavenger hunt you can download for Spring to try it out.

1. Going Outside

This is probably how most of us use scavenger hunts. We give the kids a list of things to find, and off we go. Of course with some of our kiddos, we need to use pictures rather than words. And for some, we may need to even use real photos. I also like to think about HOW kids will mark their list once they find an item. I try to mix it up and find cool or fun ways to mark their boards. You can try:

  • stickers
  • post-it notes
  • dot markers
  • hole punch

You also need to decide if each student will carry their own list, or will you just take along a class list. Depending on the makeup of my class, I have done it both ways.

2. Watching a Movie

If it is too cold or wet, you can always do a scavenger hunt with a movie. I have found this sometimes increases engagement, as the students are really watching for things on their list. On the other hand, you can have students who become so involved with the movie, they totally forget about the scavenger hunt. I like to use movie related markers to keep them focused on the list as much as possible. You can try:

  • small candies, like skittles or gummy bears
  • popcorn
  • movie tickets (you can a roll really cheaply at the dollar store)

Special note: If you happen to watch a movie following one of my novel units, you can actually use the vocabulary board as your scavenger hunt list. 😉

3. Reading a book

Just like watching a movie, you can create a scavenger hunt for a read aloud you are planning to do. It will not only increase engagement by provided a clear purpose to listening to the story, but will also reinforce and generalize vocabulary you may be working on from that book. For markers, I like to use:

  • small, novelty erasers
  • post-it notes
  • dot markers

Special note: If you happen using one of my literacy units, you can actually use the vocabulary board as your scavenger hunt list. 😉

4. Exploring the School

Just doing a scavenger hunt around the school or even just in the classroom is a great back to school activity. You can work on all types of behaviors and expectations in all different areas of the school. Again, because there is a clear purpose to the exploration, students are more likely to stay engaged and follow the rules.

Special Note: You can check out my blog post on Structured Walks
for a scavenger hunt that is really structured and pre-planned (click HERE). This works really well for students who are new to you or at the beginning of school. The post has a free guide as well as a free walk you can download.

5. Going on a field trip

If you are planning a field trip, why not also included a scavenger hunt? Again, giving an additional layer of purpose to the trip will increase student engagement. Reviewing the list before hand will also front-load your students with information to make the trip more meaningful to them.

Special Note: Check out my blog post on Having a Successful Field Trip (click HERE) for even more tips on making the most of your outings.

There are so many ways to use scavenger hunts in your lesson plans. I know they take some work to put together, but once you have one, you can use it year after year. You can even use the same scavenger hunt multiple times in multiple settings. Finally, just think about all the IEP goals you can likely target while doing this activity. I found them to be one of my most favorite things to do with my students.

Here is a scavenger hunt for Spring you can download and try. Click button below image.

Please note that it can take up to 24 hours for your email to be processed and your scavenger hunt sent to you. Can’t wait? Email me at, and I will send it right over it at all possible.

Taking a successful field trip with your special ed class

Taking a field trip is never easy. But, if you teach in a special education classroom, then it can be especially challenging. Here are some ways to make sure you not only have a great field trip, but a safe one as well. Plus, I have some free downloads included to help you out.

Before the trip

There are some things you can do before the trip to make the day less stressful for you, the students, and chaperones.

1. Get as much background information as you can about your destination.

So this is the step that many regular education teachers do not have to worry about so much. If you teach students with significant needs, this is the step the will make all the difference. The more you can familiarize yourself and your students with the location, the better your chances for a smooth and pleasant experience. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you need to know if it is handicap accessible ?
  • What is the general layout?
  • Are there places to take a break or de-stress if needed?
  • Do the people who work there know you are coming, and what the general make-up of your class is like? (This can be very helpful if you have students with behaviors that may seem disruptive or even rude if people are not aware they have a disability).
  • Is there are shelter from the sun or rain?
  • Are snacks and drinks allowed?

The most successful trip I ever took was also the one I took with my most challenging student. I actually went to the park ahead of time and took lots of pictures. We used those photos to familiarize all the students with the location. In addition, they helped the other adults see where the potential issues and triggers could be. It allowed the entire team to come up with a really good plan. Finally, it lessened this one student’s anxiety about visiting an unfamiliar location.

2. Review the rules and expectations with your students.

As always, being very clear in your expectations when it comes to behavior is critical. I would be reviewing these daily for about a week ahead of time. Remember repetition, with some variety, is key for students to begin making those rules part of their own internal dialog. I have a few social stories you may find helpful with this review. Just click on the titles below to check them out.

3. Create and review a detailed schedule of events.

Using whatever learning level is most appropriate for your students, create a schedule of how the day will run. It may be a picture schedule, a simple checklist, or even an object schedule. It is great if you can make multiple copies so that each student has their own. In addition, each chaperone should have a copy as well. I would laminate these or put them in a page protector to minimize wear and tear.

Day of the Trip

1. Make sure your chaperones are prepared physically and mentally.

This cannot be over-emphasized: you need to make sure everyone is on the same page. Keeping in mind confidentiality issues, you want to make sure any adults that are coming are also prepared for any issues that may arise. This includes:

  • Things that could trigger problem behaviors, like loud sounds, crowds, animals, bright lights, crying children, etc.
  • Behavior plans that are currently in place. Specifically the de-escalation procedures for students who may be in their group.
  • Method of preferred communication for each student in their group including how to use any devices.
  • Any allergies or food restrictions.

2. Gather all your materials.

I have come up with a free checklist you can download to help get organized. Of course there will be some student specific needs you will have to consider, but this is a place to start. Just click the HERE to download it. (no email needed)

3. Have an emergency back-up plan.

We all know the best-laid plans can be undone in a heartbeat. I always had a backup plan in case things just went totally off the rails. If fact, I often had 2 plans. Plan 1 was in case just a few (or one) students were not able to hang with the rest of the group. I wanted a way for the rest of the class to continue on with the trip and get the full experience. Plan 2 was in case something happened which derailed the entire trip in general. Many of our students have so much trouble with change. Having to cancel a trip for something out of my control is always a possibility, so I tried to have some back-up “safe” location. This was never the preferred option, as many of the students were expecting to go to location A, but at least going to location B was better than not going anywhere at all. I usually had a local park or local school playground set up as a back-up. That way I didn’t have to do a lot of prep. It was a safe, known location to me that I felt we could handle with little upfront work.

4. Review the schedule and expectations.

Before heading out, review the big points one more time. It may be reading the social story as part of your morning meeting. Or, it may mean handing out power cards your students made to take with them as portable reminders. Despite the likely chaos of the morning, make sure to review the expectations one more time.

After the Trip

Whew! You made it and hopefully everyone had the best time. Go home and celebrate and re-energize. But, the next day you want to start thinking of what types of activities you can do to extend and build on that experience. Maybe you want your students to write a story about their trip. I have a FREE writing prompt you can download below. Although I do include pictures for students to use, it may be more beneficial to use some material you have that is more specific. If you took a lot of pictures, put together a slide show. You can even create a simple scavenger hunt students can do AFTER the trip. Have them mark all the things they found the day before. Finally, review those expectations one more time. But, this time make sure you point out who did what well. So if the rule was “I will stay with my group,” be sure to praise all the students who did this really well. Reinforcement is such a powerful tool, make sure to use it.

Field Trip Writing Prompt

I hope this post had at least one ah-ha moment for you. Hopefully there was something here that will make your next field trip a little less stressful. Let’s face it, most teachers dread field trips. They are A LOT of work and take A LOT of preparation. But for some of our kids, this may be the only way they are able to get out in their community.