FAQ: So Many Things, So Little Time {making a schedule that works}

Categories: Resources | Schedules
  • This is probably the question I get the most and I understand – because this is something I struggle with constantly. Anyone else feel like they are in a race against the clock? Like there cannot possibly be enough minutes in the day to fit everything in? I feel you. I constantly feel this way. I am constantly thinking of lessons that work on multiple concepts, making everything as efficient as possible, and seemingly never ending arranging/rearranging.

The main way you decrease this anxiety in your life is to make a kick butt schedule. A schedule that maximizes every second, every staff member, and every learning opportunity. A schedule that is both ambitious but doable. A schedule that gives every student a chance to work on every IEP goal and learning standard. I so wish I had a magic wand and could make you all one.

I must admit I spend the end of every school year and many (embarrassing) moments of the summer planning the next year’s schedule in my head. I know. Am I in the right field or what? I have problems… I think about what worked/didn’t work last year. I think about what areas we never seemed to fully fit in. I think what students I didn’t seem to get to. Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. I have a love/hate relationship with my schedule. I kind of love making it because it’s like a crazy soduku puzzle but at the same time it’s a pain in the freaken butt. And I can never really get started on it until school starts to figure out when my specials are, what time lunch it, and exactly how many kids I will have.

Bottom line: Your schedule will never be perfect. You will never feel like you are fitting in everything. 

So take a deep breath. Do the best you can. And cut yourself some slack.

In my Seven Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room, Step 1: Organization & Planning and Step 3: Schedules will be really helpful to you if you are at this stage. Be sure to check these out.

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I’m going to share how my schedule is set up and why. This should help provide some direction and ideas, hopefully! I make an excel document broken down every 15 minutes for both students and adults. This is critical! These helps you see gaps in their schecule and is essential in clarifying expectations to your aides. They know what they should be doing at every minute with who. Download my Adult Schedule 1213 and Student Schedule 1213. These honestly have changed slightly from the start of the year – but they are more or less what we do.

Overall concepts about my schedule:

  • I do nothing whole group. The skills of my kids are too varied. But I do a lot of small group and pair work.
  • I used to do 2 morning groups: one with students who are lower functioning (working on basic skills, lower verbal, etc.) and one with my students who are higher functioning (working on academic skills, reading, social skills…). However – I decided that the group with the students who are lower functioning slowly became me just watching them to independent work or pure chaos. We didn’t seem to be getting much work done.
  • My morning is divided into basically three sections:
      • rotation with the students who are lower functioning (one group in pair and other 2 students by themselves) – they rotate between me at morning group doing basic calendar work followed by IEP goal direct instruction, one paraprofessional doing fluency station (pictures of common vocabulary, letters, numbers, etc.), and another paraprofessional doing reading which is IEP goals (differs for each student – body part identification, following one step directions, writing, fine motor). Each student is at each station for 15 minutes and then we switch. This whole process takes about an hour. While we are doing this my higher functioning students do this independent morning routine.
      • once that is over – I do morning group with my higher functioning students. We correct their work from their independent morning routine and then do a reading based activity. This usually when I do my thematic units (such as penguins), play more challenging games (making inferences games), and do writing activities (such as Charlie Brown, poems, and other integrated lessons). I plan this about a month at a time but again I need to be VERY flexible with this. I write my plans in pencil so I can do rearranging frequently! While I am working with the higher group, the kids from the first rotation do ‘independent’ work with the help of the aides. Some of these kiddos aren’t completely independent so they still need support. The aides will also redo binders, check homework/backpacks, take kids to do hygiene, etc during this time.
      • Once that is over – we do our second rotation with the higher functioning students. They are in pairs based on ability and behavior. They rotate between me at direct instruction (mostly math), a paraprofessional at fluency, and another paraprofessional at reading (mostly spelling). While we are doing this the kids that are able to continue working independently do and when they are done can use their reinforcer (ipod, ipad) or they have break time. You may notice on my schedule that some of my kids have a longer break time in the morning – that is because these kids cannot work independently and behaviorally need a longer break. These students require constant one on one to work and in my classroom of 3 adults and 10 students – I simply can’t give that all day. And that’s okay. They have consistent and quality work time prior to that break and that’s what matters.
  • So the morning freaken flies by and then we are on to recess and lunch. I have one para take her lunch during this time so the other para can come with me to help the students at recess and lunch. The other para takes her lunch after the student lunch so I don’t have them both gone at the same time. You may also notice on my schedule – I don’t have a lunch for myself. I would love to take one because sometimes I mentally need that break but honestly I just can’t figure out how to fit it in. Ugh.
  • The basics of the afternoon
    1. Guided Reading Groups – check out the post for more scheduling on this. Basically – a coworker and I coteach our guided reading groups and group students based on their reading levels. Having the extra kids helps or else we wouldn’t have enough kids to make groups! We do parallel teaching (teach groups simultaneously) and alternate weeks with the groups. The students alternate between reading groups and independent reading centers. One paraprofessional takes the students who a lower functioning to the life skills room after lunch.
    2. When students are done with guided reading groups the majority of the higher students complete a work station in my coworker’s room, social studies in my room, table time independent work tasks, and writing centers. The other students do a similar rotation (minus the writing station). We also run ‘guided reading groups’ with the students with emerging verbal skills to work on basic pre-reading and pre-writing skills, expressive/receptive language, and group behavior (sharing, taking turns, etc.).
    3. Inclusion, break time, clean up, pack up – the end of our day is sprinkled with inclusion classes (my students who are able to go to music, gym, and library with the general education) – then the very end of the day is pretty chill. My guys are BUSY so they deserve some break right 🙂

Make sense? Questions? Thoughts?

Try some schedules out. Play around with groups and ideas. Look for big chunks of time in your schedule to set up rotations. UTILIZE your aides. You cannot get to everything on your own so you need to set up IEP goal programs for them to run. Everything needs to be as efficient as possible. Plan activities that work on multiple concepts. Concepts I like to combine:

  • fine motor skills and letter/number/color identification – use tweezers or chopsticks to select the item, put the item in small containers that need to be opened, highlight items with multiple colors, put colored or lettered beads on pipe cleaners based on instructions, cut slits in tupperwares and student needs to slide in specified item, etc….
  • math/reading and life skills – reading menus and adding up totals, reading public transit maps and answering comprehension questions, making changes, telling time in the classroom, word problems, reading recipes, writing pretend checks for pretend bills
  • thematic concepts and anything…. Check out my penguin unit on how I snuck these theme across IEP goals and activities

Tomorrow I will go over more about curriculum and unit planning 🙂 and….

… make sure to grab today’s freebie on facebook! Don’t forget to ‘like’ The Autism Helper first if you haven’t already.

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Today’s freebie is one of my favs – Synonym Snapshots! You can work on social skills, vocabulary, and synonyms with the I have, Who has? game included in this unit! Free today from 12pm – 7pm CST!

i have who has


  1. OMG, I love you, I love you, I LOVE YOU! Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of this information! It is soooo helpful, and I can’t wait to read your ideas about curriculum and unit planning tomorrow! Seriously, you ROCK! 🙂

  2. I have been revamping my schedule, based on yours, and I have a question. What happens if the student has not completed the work at the station he is at and it is time to change rotations? I have one student who needs constant prompting, and work tasks that should be able to completed in 15 minutes often takes a half hour. Also, I have another student who will decide he is “not working” and will put his head down at his desk. When the 15 minutes is up, do I insist that students get work done at the current station before moving? My non compliant friend took all morning to finish his 5 tasks at his work station. (Granted, he also had PT in the middle of that time.) He didn’t even start working until I told him he could not have snack without working.
    I have another student who can do his work independently, but some days is sillier or just slower than others, and can take longer to do the work than other days.

    My hardest part overall with the schedule is timing…the work I give the kids either seems to take too long or not long enough1

  3. Your schedule looks JUST LIKE MINE! It is SO NICE to have someone to validate the CONSTANT scheduling concerns. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

  4. Just missed the freebie:( Was cleaning the grease off my down jacket. Talk about unplanned activity which ate up my night!!

  5. Just emailed you Claire 🙂

  6. I totally understand! It is so easy to feel out of touch sometimes with this job! I’m glad our schedules are similar 🙂

  7. It depends on the student Michelle! If the not working issue is behaviorally (ie. they CAN do the work just don’t want to) – I sometimes wait students out but then they need to eventually do all the stations. Make sure their not working doesn’t result in them getting out of work. Sounds like you may need to up your reinforcers? Or maybe a day of missing out on the highly preferred activity as a result of not completing work. You could schedule that student to have more or a work/break routine – if they don’t do their work they miss the break. I had one kid who always worked super slow and hated when the class started to go anywhere without him so I always made his independent work time right before gym or lunch and when I would tell the other kids to get ready – he would hustle! The timing can get tricky – if the kids are genuinely working and they don’t finish everything you can save it until the following day. Hope this helps! Email me if you have other questions 🙂

  8. I am SO happy this was helpful to you!!

  9. Hi Sasha,

    I work at a primary school(Prek-8th), and, well, school is about to start again. I am having troubles with making schedules, and i need your help. I am the main life skills/SPED teacher, and also the Vision and Behavior Therapist. I have 6 students with Autism, 1 that is deaf with Aspergers, 1 with Batton’s disease/Blind, 2 with MR, and one that is plain blind. I need help on schedules, also, ANYONE CAN HELP/COMMENT. Thanks!!!! 🙂

    Kylie Keel

  10. Download my schedule from last year for some ideas 🙂

  11. So I am just reading this now and I have a couple questions. I work in a self contained classroom with K-3 students. How do I set up the centers when I have a lot of students who cannot do tasks independently??? I also have one students who has to have a para 1:1 the whole day. He is too low and aggressive to be alone for any period of time. I also have one para who refuses to let the students do things on their own. She babies them. I have talked to her several times so I do not trust her data collection. It is just not accurate. So basically I am asking how you can do a group of 11 students with 1 reliable aide and myself??? And what to do with an aide that is not reliable? I am struggling! Thanks

  12. Great stuff! Thank you for sharing!! Question though, what’s the difference between work tasks and table time? I can’t figure it out. Thanks in advance!

  13. Work tasks is another independent work time – some of my kids need more than one in their schedule! And this station has bigger tasks that don’t fit in our table time system. Hope this helps!


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