Teens on the Tenth

Categories: Resources


Recently I was emailing with a reader who teaches high school. She mentioned how hard it is to find resources for high school teachers. I started thinking about it and it’s so true!

I teach junior high and often struggle to find activities that are age appropriate. As much as I loooove all of the primary colored, animal themed, cute-as-pie puzzles, sorting activities, resources, and worksheets – they are often not age appropriate for my preteens! So I am pleased to introduce:



This will be a monthly blog post on the 10th of each month (get it?!) completely focused on high school themed resources, ideas, and tips. So here is my request to all of my ahhhhmazing readers – I NEED YOUR HELP!!! I am not a high school teacher – so I need your input! So pretty, pretty please with a maraschino cherry on top (I’ve had a lot of food references today – I must be hungry) if you are high school teacher – please lend your expertise! Send me your ideas, pictures, work task idea, funny stories, tips, epic fails – whatever! I want this to be collaborative. No question is too little and every idea is valuable. I would love to hear from veteran teachers about what works and what doesn’t. And I’d also love to hear from some newbies; 1st and 2nd year teachers – let’s hear your stories, struggles, and saving grace tips!

But I’m not a high school teacher, why do I care?

1. You may not be a high school teacher but guess what? Your students will be going to high school one day and you definitely don’t want to send one of those students that high school teacher wonder what the heck his past teachers had been doing all those years. I get so nervous when my kiddos transition to high school and I so hope that they are prepared! 

2. It can take some of our kids a much longer time to learn essential life skills, so you need to start early! Some of these important life skills need to begin instruction in early elementary!

3. We always need to be striving to make things age appropriate. This can be hard when our kids tend to like much younger themes – I totally have a 14 year old obsessed with Barney. Looking at things from the high school perspective can help us make sure we are keeping our age appropriateness in check.

4. You never know what grade you may teach one day…

5. Did I mention you need to prepare your students for high school? Oh I did already – well it’s that important! Gotta know where they are going to know how to get them there 🙂


So to start off Teens on the Tenth – reader Vanessa, who is a 5th year teacher at the high school level, has graciously agreed to do a little guest blogging. She has given us some great insights into the high school world. She walks us through a typical day, writing IEP goals that incorporate life skills, and that dog-gone puberty issue that nobody wants to talk about. A million thanks Vanessa – your answers are awesome!

Walk me through a typical day – what is your daily schedule like?

Students typically have 2 specialty classes per day and are with me for the other periods to address ELA, Math, Social Studies, Community Instruction, Vocational Tasks, Social Skills and more. The school day begins at 8:00 and ends at 2:50. I work at a school where all students are eligible for free lunch and breakfast, so the day always begins in a hectic cafeteria. My schedule happens to work out so that my students have a specialty class following breakfast everyday except Tuesday. Specialty classes include, Health, Music, Workshop, Library, and Science. When students get to my classroom we hold a morning meeting. I am still in the process of creating a routine for the meeting in which students independently complete their assigned task (Calendar update, Schedule update, Weather Report, etc) using their preferred mode of communication (I have non-verbal students). For the remaining periods that I have my students we typically address all academic areas through a functional activity—i.e. following a recipe and doing a Joint Action Routine, reading teacher-made books about crossing the street safely (and other life skills related topics, this is what we are starting with) and reinforcing vocabulary, taking this skill and practicing it in the community as long as behaviors permit, and in the afternoon we typically do yoga, independent work stations that address IEP goals, Math, and PM Jobs (typically cleaning tasks that foster independence). We also go to worksite 2 times per week.

What types of life skills instruction and vocational training do your students do? And how do you incorporate academics into life skills activities?

Teachers try to find worksites for students to participate in. This year we will be going to a Senior Center and making the silverware packets for the cafeteria. The task involves sorting and sequencing, so I will teach this in the classroom on a consistent basis in addition to the social skills we would like to see at the worksite, i.e. greeting supervisors. I am in the process of creating classroom vocational stations (thank you to your pinterest work station tasks!). One station will place students in charge of creating their own classroom materials and save their teacher a lot of time and energy at home! I am bringing my laminating machine to work and am going to have students use it to create their resources for the classroom. The speech therapist and I did this at my last school with the 8:1:1 students. We would create books with simple sentences and nice visuals for the low-level readers at the school, and would produce and laminate them for use. This year, I will begin my having students collate, place the paper in a laminating sheet, run it through the laminating machine and three-hole punch materials that I have created for lessons and classroom activities.

I like to do a lot of Community Based Instruction (walking in the neighborhood, going to the grocery store, making a purchase, post office) during which we address life skills learned in the classroom to “real-life” contexts. Lessons in the classroom will reflect the skills we are addressing in the community.

As far as life skills, I like to address anything I think the students may need to know how to perform independently when placed in a residential facility. Making basic meals (using microwave, toaster), sorting laundry, washing dishes.

Many students with autism are still interested in “younger” characters, activities, etc. (ie. Thomas, Dora, child games, etc.) – do you have students like this? How can you engage them in more age appropriate task?

Elmo, Barney, Arthur—all favorites of students in my classroom. I struggle with this because I am a fan of Hello Kitty myself and know plenty of adult who enjoy cartoons, so I have a hard time refusing to allow students to enjoy an image that makes them smile. With that being said, I try to find other avenues that excite the students (which has proven to be very difficult this year).

How do you deal with the joys of puberty – appropriate touching, menstruation, etc.?

This is definitely the hardest thing for all high school teachers! It is one area that I think everyone struggles with. We constantly are reminding students to put their hands on the desk. Teaching students the when and where it is appropriate to masturbate is something I always intend to do but is often difficult to do during the school day. Right now I just try to teach, private vs. non private behavior. When they touch themselves in the classroom I tell them that is private behavior and cannot be done in the classroom.

Okay party people, so help me to get high school teachers involved in our Teens on the Tenth series.  I am going to keep next month general again and then the upcoming months will be themed. Topics I am thinking: work tasks, vocational training, puberty, transition to adult services… Thoughts? Other ideas? Yay!! Loving this already!



  1. Awesome idea! Right now I teach 6 year olds who have autism, but I have taught older students as well. I struggle with helping parents understand how important it is to let our kiddos be independent, make mistakes and have control over their environment and choices wherever possible. I would appreciate any discussion on effective strategies for collaborating with parents/caregivers around this topic.

    Thanks for all you do!

  2. Love this topic! I teach high school special education and I am on my 2nd year. It’s difficult because I see a LOT of the students in our program, so I only see my “caseload” students for language arts and math. So I get kids of ALL levels. And, for some of them, it’s appropriate for him to watch “Thomas the Train” as a reward, and for others, well they might still like it – but it is totally not allowed! Everything is based on students needs and their own maturity level….but we are always working to encourage age appropriate behaviors.

    Also, I actually encourage reading Arthur books because it is great for their reading level, and much more appropriate than other books of their choice such as Biscuit, Clifford, etc. I also have a lot of Disney books – really, most everyone enjoys Disney movies 🙂

    For example, in my health class we have been discussing exercise and have learned (okay, we got familiar with) the Cha-Cha slide. An appropraite song for high-schoolers, yet still fun. However, we also did songs like the hokey-pokey (although not entirely “high-school appropriate” because it works on great body concepts!

    Here’s some of my special education posts – https://breezypinkdaisies.blogspot.com/search/label/Special%20education

  3. Wow. That was really long. I’m sorry. Clearly, I’m a little excited about this! 🙂

  4. I think this is an awesome idea right now I am not working but I love the insight I get

  5. That is a really good point about the reading levels! I love that you are working on the Cha-Cha slide!!

  6. Thanks for your input Kendra! I also struggle with communicating to parents about the importance of independence.

  7. Thanks to Sasha for posting this. I am really excited to talk to more high school teachers to share ideas!

  8. This is an awesome idea! Right now I teach teens and pre-teens (ages 9-14 in my class) and while they are in a center-based special ed program and are not (and will not be) in “high school” per se, we definitely still deal with many of the issues you mentioned. I will be back on the 10th next month for sure!!


  9. Thanks Kara! I may be hitting you up as a resource 🙂


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