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Teaching Self-Management Skills to SPED Students

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Students with disabilities may not naturally grow to be independent, like many of their typical peers. Let's look at some ways teachers can help their students learn to manage their own behavior.

Mrs. Jenson's Class

Mrs. Jenson is a special education teacher at Rocky Meadows Elementary School. She has ten students on her caseload, with a wide variety of disabilities. Each of her students is performing at different levels in academics, behavior skills, and social skills. On any given day, it is common to have students calling out, getting off task, asking questions, throwing tantrums, and competing for Mrs. Jenson's attention.

In addition to working on each students' Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals each day, Mrs. Jenson is also communicating with other teachers, managing related services for each of her students, and scheduling time for them to be included in the regular education classroom. Mrs. Jenson realizes that she needs to implement self-management strategies in her instruction to help her students monitor their own behavior.


Self management is the ability to monitor one's own behavior and independently complete tasks. This is an important part of education for students with disabilities, who frequently rely on teachers, parents, and other adults to tell them what to do. Teaching self-management strategies helps classroom teachers focus more on instruction and less on controlling behaviors. However, more importantly, self-management skills help students become more aware of and accountable for their own actions.

Self-Management Skills

Let's look at some strategies Mrs. Jenson implements in her classroom to teach self-management skills to her students with disabilities. While these activities are commonly used in special education, they will not work for every student in every scenario. Make sure you adapt these strategies to fit your individual students, your resources, and your classroom setting.

Independent Work Stations

Mrs. Jenson adds Independent Work Stations to her daily agenda. She sets up stations, or individual tables and desks around the classroom, with each student sitting on their own. Mrs. Jenson prepares each station ahead of time by putting a few specific assignments or tasks at each station. The goal is that her students will complete the tasks at their station without any assistance, prompting, or reinforcement from their teacher.

The key to independent workstations is to give students tasks they already know how to do on their own. If a student really doesn't know how to do the task, they will stop working, shut down, or try to get help, which defeats the purpose altogether.

Here are a few tasks Mrs. Jenson uses. Some of these ideas are for higher-functioning students, while others are basic academic or motor skills tasks.

  • Times table worksheets
  • Fill-in-the-blank ABC cards, where the alphabet is written out with missing letters and students write them in
  • Matching upper and lower case letters
  • Putting sequence picture cards in order of first, second, and last
  • Sorting silverware into a silverware caddy
  • Threading beads on a string
  • Screwing lids onto jars
  • Tracing letters
  • Filling in a number chart up to 100

When Mrs. Jenson maintains the expectation that her students will work alone for ten full minutes, they all learn to work independently on these tasks. She rewards them after the ten minutes are up with some form of positive reinforcement to encourage and motivate them.


Mrs. Jenson has started creating checklists for different activities and assignments. These checklists remind students of what they need to do and eliminates the need for Mrs. Jenson to repeatedly deliver prompts at each step of an activity. Here are two examples.

Morning Routine

Mrs. Jenson puts a checklist for the morning routine at each student's cubby. When they come into the classroom, the checklist tells them exactly what they need to do.

1. Hang backpack.

2. Put homework folder in basket.

3. Get a pencil and your notebook.

4. Choose a book from the shelf.

5. Sit in seat.

6. Read quietly.

Now Mrs. Jenson's class will learn to put their own materials away, and independently get themselves ready for instruction.

Test Checklist

1. Write name.

2. Answer questions.

3. Check your answers.

4. Put test in basket.

These simple checklists can be written out or may include visuals, depending on your students' abilities.

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