Community Based Instruction: the Whys, Hows, & Everything in Between

What is community based instruction?

Community Based Instruction (or CBI – because I know you all wanted more acronyms to learn) is educational instruction in naturally occurring community environments providing students “real life experiences”. Basically it’s taking all that great learning you are doing in the classroom and taking it on the move. Your student will work on those same skills in common places around the community that they would frequent. It’s similar to field trip but the idea is more that the community is your classroom instead of the four walls of your room. CBI can occur anywhere in the community that aligns to your goals – Target, the mall, the post office, grocery store, McDonalds – you name it!

Why should I do community based instruction?

Besides the obvious reasons that it’s fun and your kids will love it, it is beyond functional and important. Every single skill we teach is for the purpose of functional use. Whether it’s communicating, math, reading, etc. – we want all of those concepts to be utilized in the real world. Or else there would really be no point. So if every skills is taught to be used in a functional way it only makes sense that we should be practicing those skills in the real world. Some of our kids may struggle to generalize. They may struggle to apply mastered concepts to new environments or situations. Other kids may naturally be able to do this without much extra instruction but some of our learners need some focused help here. So it’s essential that we generalize all of that classroom learning to the community in a purposeful way.

How do I get started with community based instruction?

If you are currently doing any CBI, it’s overwhelming to get started. There are a lot of logistics, unknowns, and school policies in place here. Once you leave the safety and security of your school building, everything changes. Here are my tips for getting started or continuing CBI:

Know Your School or District’s Policies

Every school or district will have different policies related to field trips. There are likely specific forms you need to complete within a certain period. Know those policies. Look them up online or call your administrative office to find out. It’s my experience that the school secretary or clerk will likely not be loving the amount of forms you submit for all of these trips. Well, if you know the rules and policies you won’t be at risk of someone telling you “no” just because they don’t feel like submitting all of the forms.

Don’t Take Your Whole Class At Once

This was a huge mistake I made my first year. I taught in a junior high class and some how luckily got money from the district to do CBI. But problem was I literally had no clue how to make this work. The first few times we went I brought my whole class and it was a hot mess. Like horrible, teacher nightmares for weeks, eat a whole pint of ice cream when I get home horrible. It was horrible because there was too much going on. I had a ton of kids and assistants and I felt like I was counting heads the whole time. I had no time to focus on any specific skills and even when I did I was divided the tasks between 8 kids. It didn’t seem like that functional of an activity to load the groceries on the conveyer belt when each student only got to put one item on.

We decided to switch it up. Instead of doing one trip where I brought everyone, I went to the same location several times and brought small groups. I paired up with another teacher and we each brought 2-3 kids. The rest of my class stayed with the paraprofessionals in the classroom and kept their normal routine. We organized kids by level so we could really differentiate our instruction and focus on individualized skills. It was ONE MILLION times better. ONE MILLION.

The Finances

It gets tricky dealing with the financial aspect of CBI. You can ask parents for money. I’ve set up where I ask parents for money twice a year and use that money to cover bus fare, food at the locations, etc. If you school wants you to submit all of the money so they can give parents a receipt you may be able to set it up where you pay for the trips out of pocket and get reimbursed through the account of field trip money. It can get tricky but be creative on solutions. I have also done informal fundraising from my friends and family and asked them to sponsor our CBI. Since it’s people I know, I can handle the money myself which is easier. I usually have the kids make a thank you card after and send the donor and email about where we went/what we did. I usually have people asking to continue donating after that! You can also go free places like the mall. Or when you go to the location (like Target or the grocery store) you can buy your personal items (ie. the groceries you would be buying anyways) with your own money and use that activity for your instruction.

It’s ideal to do community based instruction throughout the year but the end of the year it seems to fit right in. Everyone needs a break from the classroom and it’s a great time to practice everything you have been working on all year!


  1. Hi Sasha,

    Do you have any worksheets/activities that you use while out in community? I go with my students once a week and it is hard coming up with new activities. Thank you!


  2. This is a carryover thing …..parents need to do this as well….my son is just being travel trained at 22–we should have started years ago

  3. So true! But it’s never too late to start working on it either 🙂

  4. I did a CBI trip each month last year and am hoping to do two per month this year. I love it and my kids get to practice so many great skills!
    When you take your students out, do you use public transportation? I think this is a critical skill, but I’m having trouble convincing my principal that it’s a good idea…administration doesn’t always seem to “get it.” Any suggestions? Good research-based articles I can share with him?

  5. Hi Jenny!
    I go once a month, so I thought I’d share some of the things we’ve done. We’re very close to a mall, so in December (when we learn about various holidays), our principal reads a list of all the things he needs for holiday shopping (about 10 things) and says what store he wants to purchase them in. I then give my students a map and photo labels, and they go around the mall labeling the stores our principal needs. We also take frequent trips to the grocery store, where I give them a photograph shopping list (I go to the store the day before and take the photos on my phone to ensure they have the exact item on the list) to check off as they go. Restaurants are also a frequent destination. If you call ahead, they will typically provide a smaller list of options for the menu, and some will even create photo menus for you! We have also taken trips to the local fire station, police station, pediatrician, dentist, bank, library, and post office. If you email local businesses, they are typically more than willing to give a tour! UPS was super sweet and let my kids load a truck with empty boxes 🙂

    Hope some of these ideas will help!

  6. We always used public transportation – I agree it’s such an important skill. That’s a bummer that your principal isn’t on board. I will do a bit of research and see if I can find some good articles – good idea!

  7. LOVE LOVE LOVE these suggestions! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Thank you Sasha! I am in the process of getting new clients for my day hab and would like to do community outings 3 days a week to start with 2-3 individuals at a time. Awesome ideas with taking the pictures for them and taking them out in smaller groups!!❤️

  9. Awesome! Great to hear & thank you for sharing! 🙂

  10. Hi Sasha,

    I run my school’s CBI (we go by CBVI) program. My program is set up where the students know that they will be working on job skills at job sites. This is my first year in the position. I am struggling to find businesses that will let my class and I (3 students, 2 paras) come in for an hour or two and practice our job skills. Can you give me some advice on how to present what CBI is and what we do while at the business? I feel like I have tried a multitude of ways and it’s still not enough.

    • Maybe a handout or pamphlet would help?


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