If I Were On a Teacher Island…

Categories: Interventions | Visuals

One of my biggest fears as a teacher? Being unprepared when behaviors start rolling out.  Multiple choice question coming at you.  The scene: busy teacher running from class to class, student forgot his schedule and starts melting down, do you:

A. Leave the student and run like a crazy person down the hallway to the opposite end of the school to try and find the schedule
B. Start crying and run out of the building to your car vowing to take a new job in basket weaving
C. Take a breath and act on the fly because you’re an awesome teacher. (hint pick this one!)

Our jobs can be incredibly daunting.  We are most likely the ones who other staff come to for advice, interventions and tough behavior.  Life isn’t perfect, and we don’t always have the perfectly created behavior chart or a Velcro picture schedule.    I thought about my top 4 behavior must haves for situations.  I believe these can at least help you and your student survive safely until you have more time to think! At the end I’ll share on of my favorite behavior strategies.

Top 4 behavior items:
1. First then chart
2. Paper/pencil or dry erase board
3. Visual Timer
4. Transition objects


  • Functional
  • Easily available
  • Easy to use, if it’s not simple they won’t use it!
  • Can be made appropriate for any age

First/Then Chart

This picture actually makes me laugh because it is just a great reminder to me of how we have to think so quickly on our feet.  This little munchkin had brought in a new fun toy and was obsessed with its whereabouts all day.  We couldn’t seem to separate from it or get started on our morning.  First/then chart to the rescue! I grabbed one from my board and set his task card under “first” and had him place the Garfield toy on “then”. The crying immediately stopped and it was a fantastic visual throughout work that he would get the toy once he completed “work with teacher” time. First/then charts really break down tasks into small manageable parts.

Good ole’ pencil/paper or dry erase boards

Of course, you try your best to make multiple copies of behavior items for the general education classroom, specials, etc but sometimes you might be stuck! I find that I can usually work through a behavior tantrum or scheduling problem just by writing or drawing it out.  Classrooms always have paper or a dry erase board at a table.  I’ve even grabbed pieces from a recycling bin in the library. Remember that first then chart? Create one quickly and place the tasks on it that need to be completed followed by the reinforcer or a drawing of it.  Someone just having a rough time getting through a normally enjoyable subject? Break it down for them by writing out a checklist schedule!

Visual Timers

There are so many benefits to a visual timer. I love the ones where color disappears or there is a color change for warnings.  Digital clocks may be more useful to older students who understand the concept of time.  Not every classroom has a nice big visual timer, however most likely you carry your iphone with you!  For little ones, I love the free Children’s Countdown timer.  Simply search for “Visual timer for kids” in the app store and it will look like this:

The kiddos absolutely love it because it reveals a fun picture underneath when the time is up.  Additionally, it’s a great and fun way to transition from a preferred reinforcer or to an non preferred activity.

Transition objects

Transition objects have been so helpful the last two years for some of my students.  These are simple objects that are comforting to a child that they may hold as they move to a different area or task.  I had one friend who just wanted to stay in choose/play time all day.  He would plop on the floor and absolutely refuse to transition (even with the use of a schedule, another preferred reinforcer and a visual timer).  We started to use transition objects and wow what a difference.  Allow the student to pick something small to take to the table or maybe hold a ball when going to gym class.  When you arrive at your next destination, give the student a minute or two to play with the toy while you get set up.  You can set a timer too if you’re worried about them giving it up.  If they really do not want to give up the transition object here is where your first, then chart can come back into play: “Oh you want to hold the toy again? Ok, first activity then you can have it back!”. Transition objects can lessen anxiety and offer reinforcement for transitioning.  The good news is you can make anything an age appropriate transition object!

Favorite Visual Behavior Strategy!

One of my favorite behavior strategies is this 4-strip visual.  This is a modification for a student based on Sasha’s original 3-strike system that you can read about here.

While the original was a reversed system used for attention seeking behaviors, I took the idea and modified it.  This student would refuse to do work (escape) and engaged in unkind behaviors (attention seeking).  In this example we used recess however on his, the reinforcer was “choose time”. The student had to earn the strips by completing his work and being a super friend. When all the strips covered the picture, he earned his choose time.  In the beginning we used it for simple tasks we knew he could achieve so that there was initial buy in.  If he was engaging in unwanted behaviors we would simply point to the visual as a non-verbal reminder of what he should be doing.

I think if you have these top 4 items/strategies on hand you can survive most non-crisis situations!


  1. Visual is a biggie for me when teaching and engaging students

  2. Same! Thanks for reading! 🙂


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