Student works understands and works on her task

Structure tasks using work systems

teaching practice

For student year

Preschool – Year 12

Helps students to

  • plan and organise
  • build independence
  • understand expectations
  • Helps teachers to

  • provide structure
  • promote independence
  • use fewer verbal prompts
  • Summary

    Work systems provide a means for teachers to structure tasks or elements of a task for students on the autism spectrum. Work systems can help students to understand: 

    • what task or activity they are expected to complete
    • how much work they have to do and how much time they have
    • if they are making progress on a task and when it is finished
    • what they should do next.

    Work systems share some common elements with Using visual schedules, which provide a means to sequence tasks or elements of a task. 

    By developing appropriate work systems and supporting students to use personalised work systems, students are empowered to become more independent in completing tasks and activities.  

    How the practice works

    Watch the video to learn more about this practice.

    Duration: 2:27

    Preparing to teach

    When to use work systems

    The aim of work systems is to help students stay on task, complete tasks, and work independently. Work systems are used to provide structure to an activity or task when students are unable to focus on and complete tasks independently. 

    Work systems can be developed for tasks that are:

    • academic
    • games or physical activity
    • self-help activities
    • choice activities
    • in the playground
    • at lunchtime.

    Work systems can include activities that are to be completed:

    • individually
    • on group rotation 
    • as a whole class activity.

    Introducing work systems in the classroom

    Begin to plan your structuring by assessing the scope of the task.

    Clearly identify what task the students are expected to complete:

    • look at the goal of your task or activity.
    • think about the format of the task – written, multi-modal, oral, creative, or active.
    • break down the task into smaller, manageable sections with more detailed scaffolding.
    • be mindful of the range of ability of the students who will use the system.
    • how many different actions or steps are in the task?
    • what is achievable in the lesson? 
    • how long should the activity take?

    Use this to develop a checklist for your work system.

    Structure the task into a work system

    Present the task steps to students in a logical order.

    Identify to students a clear finished area for their tasks.

    Determine whether your work system is fixed or mobile.

    How to break tasks down into steps using work systems
    An example of work systems clearly showing students when tasks are complete

    Clearly identify how much work the students will have to do:

    • Think about what the different actions or parts of the task or activity are.
    • The students’ range of abilities will determine how much work they can complete.
    • Is there a specific order in which each part of the task is done? If so, consider sequencing the information.
    • Determine what equipment students will need to complete each section of the task. The types of materials needed may impact how and what type of work system you create, and how it is delivered. 
    • Have the necessary equipment ready for students.   


    A work systems lesson plan and task checklist
    Clearly identify how the students will know they have completed a task from start to finish. 

    What action do the students take to start part of a task? E.g. students:

    • read the work system steps from top to bottom
    • match a Velcro image to a box, container, or folder
    • match a number on a step to a box, container, folder, or paper.



    What happens when students finish part of a task? E.g. students:
    • tick a checkbox
    • cross off words or text
    • circle a star or image
    • continue with another work system, if necessary.

    Work systems can be used for one small task or activity, or for a series of two or more larger tasks.

    Clearly identify what task students are expected to complete next:

    • Advise student what to do next on the work system.
    • Incorporate students’ personal interests in the work system, e.g. for an individual consider a reward activity, or for a group or whole class consider using images for each activity that appeal to the students.


    Use the work systems checklist and activity task sheet to reward students

    In the classroom

    Introduce the work system

    You will need to introduce the work system to the student. Students will require different levels of scaffolding based on their personal needs. After introducing the work system, begin to gradually fade out prompts and scaffolds while supporting the student to use the work system to complete tasks independently. 

    On first use

    This video explains how to support students to use work systems.

    Duration 1:56

    Introducing work systems in the classroom

    When uncertain

    Prompting may be required initially to support students to use the work system. This will gradually reduce as students build their independence.

    This video discusses prompting and building students independence with work systems.

    Duration:  1:42

    Affirmation and rewards

    It is important that students understand where to start and where to finish a task on a checklist.  This video outlines some considerations.

    Duration 1:20

    Practice toolkit

    Practice implementation planner template

    We know that it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:

    • Guidance around goal setting
    • Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
    • Prompting questions

    Implementation planner template

    Implementation planner with examples

    Set your professional learning goal for:

    Structure tasks using work systems
    You can set and save your goal for inclusive practices using inclusionED. Saved goals will appear in your profile. Here you can access, refine and review your goal easily.

    Benefits of goal setting

    Setting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
    How to set goals
    The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.

    SMART goals refers to goals that are:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time-phased
    Read more about Improving teaching practices.


    Related Practices

    This practice is from the core research project



    How do you incorporate work systems into whole class lessons where the student needs to listen/participate with the class?

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