Prepare students for transitions

Early years

Resources are provided with this practice



Students on the autism spectrum thrive in structured and logical learning environments. You can provide structure and predictability by carefully preparing students for transitioning between; 

  • activities
  • learning spaces
  • environments

By developing, teaching, and consistently using transition routines, you can enhance:

  • your classroom environment
  • how students in your class understand what is happening

A whole-class approach is ideal if possible because all students will benefit, and no student will be singled out unnecessarily.

This practice will help students to

successfully disengage before, and re-engage after, transitions

less anxious about change

transition independently and successfully

This practice will help teachers to

settle students into the next activity, learning space, or environment

successfully transition students

How the practice works

Watch this video to learn more about this practice and its application in the classroom.  (Duration 2:40)

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

What is a transition?

A transition is the movement from one activity, learning space, or environment to another. Transition routines are an established series of steps associated with the completion of that movement.

Use these steps to help you prepare your transition plan. 

  1. Review your daily classroom routine to identify regular transitions that occur throughout the day.
  2. Design a transition routine appropriate for these transition points.
    • Establish a series of steps associated with the completion of that movement. For example, you can provide a 5-minute and then 3-minute warning with reference to supporting visual routine prompts before students needs to switch tasks.
  3. Produce visual supports to show the transition steps (a picture of the example would be ideal).
  4. Prepare/create supporting materials (photos of other examples would be good e.g., a ‘no’ symbol to place over a part of the routine which may not be happening).
  5. Ensure that supporting materials are ready and in place for students. 

It works better if you:

  • use visual supports to support the transition routine
  • use the same initial steps in as many of the transition routines as possible,  e.g., books away, stand up, chair in, wait
  • positively reinforce students for following the transition routine

It doesn’t work if you:

  • don't use the transition routine consistently
  • constantly change, or change the transition routine without warning

Prepare students for transitions - Practice brief

B. Set goals

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Session title

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C. Apply the practice

Steps to applying the practice

  • Plan any regularly occurring transition routines.
  • Ensure that supporting materials are ready and in place for students.
  • Clearly and explicitly explain the transition to your students.
  • Explicitly teach transition routines to students using visual supports if/when required.
  • Consistently use these transition routines and any associated visual supports.
  • Introduce any new visuals/routine to your students, repeating and reinforcing as necessary.
  • Prepare students for changes in their transition routine as early as possible and ahead of time.
  • Prepare students as early as possible for new, one-off, or unexpected transitions. You can establish a routine to prepare students to engage in one-off transitions in advance of the need to transition.

Help students to know what to expect

  • Talk through what is going to happen in the transition – with individual students and/or the class.
  • Walk through the transition beforehand.
  • Use visual supports to help students follow a transition routine.

If a familiar transition routine has to change, use visual supports to forewarn students such as flexible/impromptu symbols or cue cards. For example, a ‘no’ symbol can be placed over a step to show that it will not be occurring.

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: Helping Children Make Transitions between Activities.

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

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