When you walk into a classroom environment you may see many teachers supporting students by displaying a visual schedule for the day so students know what to expect next (i.e. breakfast, morning circle, reading, math, lunch, recess, music, centers, dismissal). For students in smaller classrooms or for some inclusion students you may also see individualized schedules which include when they receive related services such as OT, speech, and PT. These visual schedules help students transition from one activity to the next and decrease stress or anxiety because they know what to expect. On a smaller scale, using a visual schedule in a therapy session is a powerful tool to support emotional regulation and establish expectations for the session.
Visual schedules should include pictures along with text to help students of varied reading abilities visualize what it is they will be expected to complete in a given session. The pictures can be of the actual item (i.e. picture you took of a therapy tool printed out), pecs (picture exchange communication system), or even hand-drawn if you are in a rush. Two simple visual schedules I frequently use in therapy are ‘First/Then’ boards and ‘To Do/Done’ boards.
Depending on the nature of the activity you could embed controlled choice by allowing the student to decide what they want to do first, next, then, last out of the visuals/activities you have pre-determined as the therapist. For small groups, I have used wheelofnames.com to determine who gets to choose first. For some groups/sessions, it may also be helpful to establish a routine where the first thing you do is always the same (i.e. zones/engine level check-in). Other times it may be helpful to incorporate a ‘free choice’ or ‘reward’ visual at the end of the session that students can choose as you are going over the schedule so students can look forward and work toward that. Using velcro and allowing the students to move the visuals to ‘all done’ encourages independence and motivation. Praising students for successfully completing an item on the visual schedule and acknowledging their success in transitioning to the next item supports students’ ability to plan and sequence actions and build self-confidence.