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4 Ways To Help Students Through Fun & Unstructured Activities

Have you ever planned fun activities or days for your class that were anything but??  Instead of being fun, it was chaotic and full of behaviors! Not fun!! Here are some tips for helping students cope and enjoy less structured, fun based times.


4 ways to help students cope and self-regulate during fun and unstructured activities or days. These ideas are especially helpful for special education classrooms, students with autism and self-contained programs.


Many of our students crave days full of routines, sameness, repetition. The idea of holidays are exciting, but many of my kiddos have trouble with all of the novelty. Here is what has helped in my classroom:

Keep Visual Schedules

On typical days, students often have visual schedules (pictures or text). Don't take that support away. Telling them that it is just going to be a fun day can instantly trigger anxiety and worry. This puts them on the defensive and less likely to use coping and self-regulation skills. 

4 ways to help students cope and self-regulate during fun and unstructured activities or days. These ideas are especially helpful for special education classrooms, students with autism and self-contained programs.

Review Expectations or Social Stories

Students haven't always had a lot of practice being able to self-regulate and cope during less structured times. Maybe they haven't had a lot of SUCCESSFUL practice. Knowing this, we need to be preemptive and teach students what is expected, how they need to act, etc. BEFORE the party, fun day or whatever.


Add Themes & Vocabulary Into Routines

Add themed visuals and vocabulary into the activities students do on a daily basis. This will help take some of the novelty away (creating known) and help students understand concepts, vocabulary, etc. Here are some examples of how integrating fun themes into our regular tasks and lessons. We do this for every theme and major holiday. 

Here are some examples of how we add Halloween into our daily tasks and lessons. We target vocabulary, reading and math in our Halloween Unit. We also use Halloween interactive books to work on receptive and expressive language, matching, ordinal position, sequencing and more. 



Build Tolerance 

If students have never been able to get through a day of "fun", then we need to start small. I like to start with an hour. For example, on Halloween we might do an hour of Halloween fun and in the middle of our regular schedule. This allows my kiddos to be successful in enjoying the fun time. As students are successful, we add in more less structured activities. Just like anything, we take baby steps towards success and mastery.
4 ways to help students cope and self-regulate during fun and unstructured activities or days. These ideas are especially helpful for special education classrooms, students with autism and self-contained programs.


Work For Strips For Students Who Pick

We have all had that student (or students!) who can't leave Velcro alone... they just have to pick at it. It can be challenging to have a work for or token economy strip when the student has peeled off all of the functional bits. Here is an alternative that has worked really well in my classroom.

We have all had that student (or students!) who can't leave Velcro alone... they just have to pick at it. It can be challenging to have a work for or token economy strip when the student has peeled off all of the functional bits. Here is an alternative that has worked really well in my classroom.
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Our work for strips started out looking like this. We make them out of flexible binders from the dollar store. Click the picture below to read more on making your own work for strips.



The bits of Velcro slowly disappeared... as did the writing! We needed to think of something else because the strips were no longer functional and pennies were falling all the time. Here is what we came up with...


We took a slightly smaller token strip and put it inside of a photo box. The student attaches the picture of his reinforcer onto the strip and then we put it inside the box with the lid closed. As he earns pennies, we attach them to the strip. Having the staff put the pennies on the strip keeps the student's hands away from the temptation to pick.

Here's what it looks like on the desk:


If you have more than one student who needs a box to hold their work for card, you could use different colored binders to make the work for cards or you could use multi color photo boxes.

We have all had that student (or students!) who can't leave Velcro alone... they just have to pick at it. It can be challenging to have a work for or token economy strip when the student has peeled off all of the functional bits. Here is an alternative that has worked really well in my classroom.


Fall Task Boxes For Independent Work Stations

Fall is full of fun themes that can easily be integrated in your work stations. While I mostly uses these tasks during work stations, you can also use them for early finishers, review, centers, and during direct instruction or work centers.

Fall is full of fun themes that can easily be integrated in your work stations. While I mostly uses these tasks during work stations, you can also use them for early finishers, review, centers, and during direct instruction or work centers.


Some of the themes I include in fall are:






Below are some of the tasks we do for these different themes. Click on the pictures for more details:






















Fall is full of fun themes that can easily be integrated in your work stations. While I mostly uses these tasks during work stations, you can also use them for early finishers, review, centers, and during direct instruction or work centers.

Integrating Science and Reading

Integrating science and reading is super easy when you use a text to anchor both domains. While my examples are from our apple theme, you can apply these ideas to any theme.


Easy examples to help you integrate science and reading skills in your special education classrooms. These ideas are easily applied to any theme unit.

We have been studying apples all week. We have been reading books, doing crafts, learning associated vocabulary and have worked on the life cycle of an apple. We introduced the apple life cycle through our interactive book:



We then read the big book, I Am An Apple by Jean Marzollo. It is a fantastic book about the life cycle with clear illustrations to help students really understand what is happening.



Next, we wrote a group paragraph about the book on our white board.

Easy examples to help you integrate science and reading skills in your special education classrooms. These ideas are easily applied to any theme unit.

After reading the book, we started by talking about the title and author. Next, we begin writing the paragraph. Since it is early in the school year, I am writing a lot of the words. My writing is in black and students are sharing the orange dry erase marker.  

Here are some of the ways we accommodated the different skill levels of students in the group. We didn't break the group up by skill level. We wrote this paragraph with students of all different levels from working on letter identification up to students who are working on reading fluently and decoding skills.

*Have students spell words for each other... one student is practicing letter identification and the other is working on listening to a peer and writing/spelling words. 

*Have students copy words other students have already sounded out and spelled.

*Have students work together to stretch out and identify spelling patterns in words.  For example, I wrote the word 'turned' but we sounded it out together. Students identified the beginning and ending sounds in 'turn' while another student added the 2 letters that make the word past tense. 

*Integrate students with communication devices by having them use their device to spell words, to fill in blanks, to describe colors, etc. 

Read more about running group lessons with mixed groupings HERE.

Easy examples to help you integrate science and reading skills in your special education classrooms. These ideas are easily applied to any theme unit.

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