Consistently use schedules

Early years

Resources are provided with this practice



Schedules help provide clarity to the student. Using them consistently supports students to independently follow routines and decrease off-task behaviours. Knowing what will happen, when, and in what order can help reduce some of the anxiety experienced by some students, including children on the autism spectrum.

Visual schedules show students their day and include:

  • time
  • event 
  • location. 

This practice focuses on the importance of using visual schedules consistently as well as planning considerations for their effective use. This practice aligns with Use visual schedules to help students stay on task and Consistently use routines.

    You can ensure your learning environment is structured and predictable by preparing and consistently using whole-of-class and/or personalised schedules. The consistency offered by visual schedules is vital in ensuring students understand the day's plan. They also provide flexibility as you can visually prepare your students for any changes to the day’s plan by displaying the schedule.

    This practice will help students to

    be confident

    work independently

    know what is happening and when

    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

    General planning considerations

    When planning the visual schedule you need to think about the information to be included in the visual schedule and accessibility.

    Information Accessibility
    • reliable time (when & in what order)
    • event (what) 
    • location (where) information
    • facilitates student understanding 
    • reduces teacher explanation

      It is important to consider the balance, order, and tempo of activities/events when developing class and/or individual schedules. 

      You also need to take into account your students’ attention span and when they are most alert.

      Typically you will explicitly teach using your schedules at the beginning of the year.

      You can use whole-of-class and personalised visual schedules simultaneously.

      Specific planning considerations

      You need to know the comprehension level of your students to determine how to show the events in your schedule(s).

      If in doubt access speech-language pathology (SLP) reports, the SLP in person or other colleagues who are able to provide this information.

      The comprehension level of the students will determine how to show the events in your schedule(s).

      You will need to consider the following in your planning.

      How to show the events

      To show the events in the schedule to students, use one of the following elements, or a combination of :

      • objects
      • symbols
      • photo
      • words
      Who will access the schedule?

      Consider who will access the schedule and how it will be accessed:

      • whole of class - wall chart
      • whole of class - whiteboard chart
      • individual students - desk-top strip
      • individual - other
      Length /duration of the schedule

      Ensure the length or duration of the activity is clear:

      • single activity
      • single session
      • whole day

      It is important that there is a dedicated, central display space for the schedule within the classroom.

      Avoid transient whiteboard screen presentations or other temporary displays. Permanent display formats are strongly recommended.

      For all of the above:
      • consult colleagues and/or SLPs/occupational therapists if needed
      • prepare your visual schedule ahead of the day.

      Consistently use schedules - Practice brief

      Example visual support: Classroom schedule

      B. Set goals

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      Session title

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      C. Apply the practice

      When using the visual schedules in the classroom it is important to:

      • Show students the schedule at the beginning of each day.
      • If possible, show and forewarn students about any changes to the schedule at the beginning of the day.
      • Consistently refer to the schedule, particularly to support the transition to the next activity/event.
      • Encourage and monitor student use of the schedule.
      • Reinforce those students who follow the schedule.
      • Show changes to the schedule when required – if forewarning isn’t possible, still be sure to introduce the change via the schedule ‘in the moment’.
      • Remove/cross off schedule items as activities are finished to provide activity ‘closure’ and show progress through the day’s plan.

      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

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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 [CSEFEL]. (2013). Inventory of practice for supporting social-emotional competence.

      Indiana Resource Centre for Autism: Understanding the Design and Power of a PersonalSchedule. 

      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