Structured Choice Schedule to Improve Participation

  • Situation

    I have a 3rd grade student in my Learning Support class who needs extra help with most academic subjects.  She becomes very resistant when I try to work with her on a one-to-one basis.  If I do get her to work with me, she only lasts a few minutes before she starts asking when we’ll be done or she refuses to work altogether.  How can I get her to focus and work cooperatively?

  • Summary

    Try a “Build Your Own Schedule” strategy, allowing your student to choose the order of the tasks you would like to complete during her time with you.  This strategy gives the student control over the sequence of activities but still within your parameters.  Providing structured choices within a framework like this can help students be more receptive to completing non-preferred activities.

  • Definition

    The “Build Your Own Schedule” strategy lets students choose which task to do first, second and third – from a set of picture cards or printed word cards.  She builds her visual schedule from these  cards and removes the picture or word when finished.  The student is referred back to the visual schedule she created if she should question when she’ll be done working.  As the last step provide a choice card so the student can pick a preferred activity as a reinforcer for completing work.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    ability to follow a simple visual schedule

    ability to make choices

    picture cards or word cards for each task with velcro

    visual schedule grid with velcro

  • Process

    1. Decide on three short tasks you would like the student to complete during her one-to-one time with you.  (NOTE:  You may decide to do fewer tasks initially to increase her positive associations with one-to-one sessions.)

    2. Create a set of picture cards or word cards that represent each task (i.e. read paragraph and answer question; write definition for 3 vocabulary words; highlight sight words in passage).  Adjust wording to suit her abilities (i.e. “read”; “write”; “highlight“).

    3. Explain the process to the student when you meet.  Tell her that you have three things that need to be done, but that she gets to choose the order.  She can also choose a preferred task/activity once the work is completed.  Show her the picture or word cards and the grid and ask which task she wants to put first, second and third.  Enthusiastically talk it up to create “buy-in” on the student’s part.

    4. Once she’s created her schedule, ask her which task she put first.  Throughout the session, keep encouraging her to access the schedule, and to remove the picture or word when the task is completed to promote “ownership” of the system.

    5. Provide sincere reinforcement throughout her session with you to increase her receptivity to the process.

    6. If successful, you may decide to increase the number or length of tasks gradually.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    work schedule template (PDF)


    work schedule template (Word document)


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