In The Classroom

The Year of the Visual Schedule – Part 3

In my last two posts (read here and here), I talked about the benefits of visual schedules, why I think they work, and how to create them. In part 3 I would like to share how I implement the schedule.

The first thing I do when getting started, is get the student excited about their visual plan. I present it to them by sharing a social story all about their plan, and the importance of following it.

The social story looks something like this:


Once we have read the social story together, I show them the actual schedule and model how we move the visuals around as we complete tasks throughout the day. The younger kids really like this part, so I usually let them play with it for a bit.

After, I let them know that once we get started, they can move tasks over to the right side as they complete them, but that the adults decide the schedule and they are not allowed to change that part themselves (the adult sets the schedule on the left side, as pictured below). I remind them that as mentioned in the story, their job is to follow the plan that the adults set for them. I assure them that there will be lots of fun activities in the plan throughout their day.


Now, they are ready to start using  their plan. I’m going to be completely honest in sharing that the first day (actually, usually the first few) can be a challenge, particularly if the schedule is being used for behaviour reasons. It is important to be available (or assign an available adult) to work consistently with the student until they get accustomed to following their plan. This sometimes means setting aside our own schedule for a few days, which can be tough, but laying the groundwork is the most important step and it will pay off in the long run. How much time this takes really varies from one student to the next.

The adult always sets the plan, but the student should be involved in moving the finished tasks over to the right side of the folder. Typically I break the day into 4 parts (arrival – recess, recess – lunch, lunch – recess, recess – home time), and I only display one part on the front of the folder at a time.

Troubleshooting scenarios:

Scenario A

Johnny’s plan indicates that he should be doing Math first and then playing Lego. Johnny shouts that he isn’t going to do his math.

Adult Response

“Johnny, the plan says “First Math… then Lego,” and we must follow our plan (while showing him the plan).”

Regardless of Johnny’s response or reaction to this, I would simply wait at this point, and not engage verbally or through eye contact with the student. Wait, wait, wait! Even if the child is stomping around, misbehaving, or even if he rips the visual off and throws it away, remain neutral, avoid eye contact, and wait. I’ve waited for upwards and onwards of 45 minutes and had to replace many visuals. The message  you’re trying to give here, is that no matter what, you will always follow the plan. Eventually the student should come around and decide to follow the plan. If lots of time has passed by this point, I may shorten the activities left in the plan in order to fit them all in.  This shows the student that the plan still stands. If recess is nearing and I am working one-on-one with the student, I will sometimes delay recess until the student works through their plan and then get them outside after. Some students will delay certain tasks until recess thinking they can get out of them. It usually only takes delaying recess once or twice for them to realize that you are not following the bell, but rather their plan.

Scenario B

Johnny’s plan indicates it is time for music class, but Johnny says he doesn’t want to go to music class. He refuses to go, and instead starts playing with his toy cars.

Adult response

“Johnny, I can see that you seem interested in playing with your cars. That is not in our plan right now, but if you would like to play with your cars, I can make some time for that later in your plan. Right now the plan says music. We must follow the plan and go to music.”

Other tips and pointers:

  • Celebrate their success often with other adults. Because most students who need a visual schedule, are usually still at a developmental age where they are seeking adult praise and approval, this step is important. I stop any adult nearby and enthusiastically share our good news with them. “Guess what?! Johnny is doing a great job following his plan today!” Or, we visit the principal or vice-principal to share the good news!
  • Don’t negotiate the plan, even during preferred activity time. For example, it comes time to play Lego but Johnny wants to draw. This seems harmless, but it gives the message that sometimes we don’t follow the plan. We don’t want that.
  • Re-read the social story everyday and several times a day in the beginning and anytime the student doesn’t follow their plan properly after that.
  • Allow fresh starts. It’s easy to get frustrated and give up. When things go completely awry, have a chat with the student to talk about how things went. “Following the plan didn’t go so well this morning. Do you think we can take a break and have a fresh start after recess?” Send them out for recess and have a fresh start right after.
  • Completely disengage when they are not following the plan. Often our teacher’s instinct is to try and talk the student into doing something. This provides the student with attention (albeit negative). Remaining neutral and waiting (although tough) is way more affective.

This post isn’t called The Year of the Visual Schedule for nothing. It really has been (and I think will continue to be) THAT year, and quite possibly my most important learning this year. I have encountered and troubleshooted many other scenarios than what I have shared, so please, if you encounter other problems or hiccups, share them in the comments below and I will comment if I can help! Happy scheduling!

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