Consistently use routines

Early years

Resources are provided with this practice



Some students find it challenging to carry out routine instructions. They need clear predictable routines to help them understand what they need to do. This practice focuses on the importance of establishing routines.

So, what is a routine? A routine is a sequence of actions that make up a regular activity.  For routines to be effective they need to be established, taught, and used consistently in the classroom.

    Routines can include:

    • unpacking a school bag
    • packing up classroom equipment
    • going to the toilet 
    • eating morning tea/lunch.

    Using a visual checklist of the routine (sequence of actions) in conjunction with whole-class and/or individualised visual schedules, can help students to understand and follow the routine.


    This practice will help students to

    independently follow routines

    cope more flexibly with changes to routines

    follow behavioural expectations

    This practice will help teachers to

    focus on instruction

    focus on student learning

    How the practice works

    Watch this video to learn more about the practice and its application in the classroom. (Duration 2:49)

    Apply this practice with your students

    The tabs below provide information to support your implementation of this practice. The sequence aligns with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership's High-Quality Professional Learning Cycle. You can find out more about high quality professional learning in the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

    A. Plan

    Students benefit from consistent routines. This is particularly true for students on the autism spectrum. Routines help you to provide structure and consistency throughout your day.

    Consistent routines enable you to:

    • enhance structure
    • provide predictability
    • increase students’ ability to focus
    • increase students’ ability to stay on-task (your students will know what to and how to do it)

    Once the opportunity for the routine has been identified, you need to think about how it will be implemented. When you are developing the routines consider:

    • Steps – What are the steps/tasks that make up the routine?
    • Challenges – Have you considered and identified the challenges students on the spectrum may face, their comprehension levels, and other needs?
    • Adjustments - How can you make appropriate adjustments to the routine?
    • Cues – Are there any visual routine cues / checklists you can use?
    • Display – Where in the classroom will the visual routines cues/checklists be displayed? Remember, they will be most effective when presented in their relevant 'natural' settings.

    By embedding instruction within the routine, you will foster and build the following skills in your students:

    • independence 
    • planning 
    • organisation
    • communication
    • literacy
    • social skills

    It works better if you:

    • use routines are used in conjunction with visual schedules (see inclusionED practice: Consistently use schedules)
    • consistently refer to the visual routines cues 
    • prepare students in advance for any changes to routines visually, via the cues – if advance warning isn’t possible, the changes should still be shown ‘in the moment’

    It doesn’t work if you:

    • don’t refer to the visual cues of the routine
    • change routines on a whim or are use routines inconsistently 
    • are inflexible, that is the routines are overly reliant on a specific time, place, or person

    Consistently use routines - Practice brief

    Example visual support: Lunchtime eating routine

    Sample routine

    B. Set goals

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    Session title

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    C. Apply the practice

    Step 1. Explicitly teach the routine

    • Introduce students to the visual routine. 
    • Show students the whole-of-class visual routine cues/visual organisational checklists to all students.
    • Outline the steps/tasks of the routine, model following the routine, and remember to provide reinforcement when students engage with the routine.
    • Show individual students any personalised visual checklists and scaffold their initial use.
    • Present visual routine cues/checklists in relevant display spaces including in 'natural' settings such as in the toilet, at hand basins, on classroom door, on class shelves, on the wall above hat and bags pegs, etc.
    • Consistently refer to the visual cues to support students’ understanding of and compliance with expectations.
    • Place the visual cues in their display places because they will always remain a key reference point and the only effective way to communicate any changes to those routines.

    Step 2. Monitor and review

    • Continue to teach, model and reinforce routines for all students.
    • Monitor students’ own independent use of routine cues and encourage/reinforce/reward their initiative.
    • Periodically review students’ routines skills acquisition and plan how you will reduce the frequency and intensity of verbal prompts over time.
    • Maintain the visual cues in their display places as both a key reference point and an effective way to communicate any changes to those routines.
    • Use routines consistently. 
    • Forewarn/prepare students for any changes in routines and present the changes visually via the routine.

    How will you know if it’s working?

    • Students independently follow routines (e.g., they know what to do and how to do it on their own).
    • Off-task behaviours decrease.

    D. Reflect and refine

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    Reflect on your student goals

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    Reflect on your teacher goals

    Please enter teacher goals in B. Set Goals

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    E. Share

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    Your student goals and reflections

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    Your teacher goals and reflections

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    Further reading

    Materials informing practice

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: Helping Children Understand Routines and Classroom Schedules.

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning [CSEFEL]. (2013). Inventory of practice for supporting social-emotional competence.

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: Using Classroom Activities & Routines as Opportunities to Support Peer Interaction.

    Iovannone, R., Dunlap, G., Huber, H., & Kincaid, D. (2003). Effective educational practices for students with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18(3), 150-165.

    Simpson, R., & Crutchfield, S. (2013). Effective educational practices for children and youth with autism spectrum disorders: Issues, recommendations, and trends. In B. G. Cook, M. Tankersley, & T. J. Landrum (Eds.), Evidence-based practices (Advances in Learning and Behavioral Disabilities, Vol. 26, pp. 197-220): Emerald Group. doi:10.1108/S0735-004X(2013)0000026011

    Similar practices

    This practice is from the core research project