Strategies for Transition-Focused Instruction

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are a special education high school teacher, then you probably spend some time thinking about how to help your students transition out of school. This lesson provides strategies you can use.

Why Transitions Count

As a special educator at the high school level, Caroline knows that it is her job to think about the transitions in her students' future. Many of her students have been receiving special education services for much of their lives, and they are coming close to graduating.

Caroline's students are diverse in their abilities and needs, but she understands that transition-focused instruction, or teaching that takes into consideration the many changes that lie ahead, can be beneficial for all of them.

Caroline also knows that when she teaches her students about some of these transitions, she is still responsible for meeting state and district standards as well as the goals on her students' IEPs. She starts thinking about what it means to do good transition-focused instruction.

Considering Independent Living

First of all, Caroline believes that it is her job to get her students ready to live independently. Many of them will no longer live with their parents once they graduate from high school, and even those who stay in their family home will have more responsibilities for looking out for themselves.

Daily Life

Caroline knows that for many students with disabilities, managing their daily lives will be a big change. She works with her students on thinking through all the things that go into daily independent living. Then, she teaches explicit lessons on:

  • grocery shopping on a budget
  • preparing simple and nutritious meals
  • keeping a house reasonably clean
  • managing finances in independent life
  • asking for help when there is a problem

Caroline takes her students on field trips to grocery stores, banks, and post offices to show them how to interact in these environments. She incorporates social studies lessons about geography into her instruction about using community resources. She incorporates math standards into her financial planning instruction.

She also knows it is important to involve students' families in these activities, so she stays in frequent communication with parents about what she is teaching and why it matters.

Participation in Civic and Recreational Activities

Caroline also knows that after high school, many students with disabilities become more isolated from others. She brings in speakers from the community to talk about opportunities to participate in sports teams, volunteer activities, book clubs, community theater, and other things her students might feel interested in.

She also explicitly teaches her students how important it is to remain engaged in the community even after high school, using social stories and scripts to give them strategies for entering a group.


Finally, independent living comes with a fair amount of self-management, or dealing with personal health, hygiene, and mental wellbeing. Caroline uses visual calendars and graphic organizers to help her students learn about daily, weekly, and annual things they should do to take care of themselves. These include:

  • going to bed on time each day
  • washing regularly
  • visiting doctors and dentists regularly
  • practicing emotional regulation in times of stress
  • exercising

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