How to Teach Following Directions

I just love it when I’m at an IEP meeting, feeling really good about a student’s progress. I’m about to share the good news. Jonny is following 2-step directions with 80% accuracy. But wait… The teacher just said he’s not following directions in class?!

Yup. Classic!

Please tell me I’m not the only one?!

I was determined never to let that happen again. I now check in with my teachers regularly (especially before an IEP), but I also found some strategies that we can use in therapy. I’m excited to share those with you today as part of my “How to Teach” blog post series.

Want to learn more? Check out the first post I wrote about why (and how) I teach skills in therapy. The post includes a general “framework” for teaching in therapy.

Anyway, let’s get to it!

Here’s a quick video overview:

Before We Begin: Assess the student’s ability to follow directions.

Especially when it comes to following directions, I want to gather some good data on how the student is doing. The student may be struggling for a variety of reasons. I use the leveled assessments (included in the SLP Now membership) to assess where a student is having the most difficulty (e.g., basic concepts, post noun elaboration, conditional directions, out of order directions, multistep directions).

Struggling with those following directions goals? Of course, Johnny can follow 2-step directions in the therapy room with 80% accuracy, but why does his teacher say he can't follow ANY directions?! Let's talk about some strategies to facilitate generalization and promote student success with this skill in speech therapy!

I also observe in the classroom. ** This is often more helpful and meaningful than any paper assessment! ** I use the data to identify areas for intervention and strategies for the student, for the teacher, and for myself.

Struggling with those following directions goals? Of course, Johnny can follow 2-step directions in the therapy room with 80% accuracy, but why does his teacher say he can't follow ANY directions?! Let's talk about some strategies to facilitate generalization and promote student success with this skill in speech therapy!

Step 1: Discuss why it’s important to follow directions.

We always start off with a quick introduction of the skill. I pull out the visuals (see examples below) and verbally walk through them with the student. I’ll make note of which directions they’ve mastered and which directions we’ll continue to target in therapy (based on the quick assessment and the observation).

Struggling with those following directions goals? Of course, Johnny can follow 2-step directions in the therapy room with 80% accuracy, but why does his teacher say he can't follow ANY directions?! Let's talk about some strategies to facilitate generalization and promote student success with this skill in speech therapy!

When I teach a skill (especially with older students), we talk about why we want to target this skill. Ideally, they’d also be involved in the process of selecting goals in the first place.

Here are some reasons why students might care about following directions:

• Making plans with friends (“Before we go to the movies, we’ll meet at Joey’s at 3:15.”)
• Learning how to play new games (They need to follow directions to understand the rules!)
• To avoid making parents mad
• To know what’s happening in class

Step 2: Strategies to teach different types of directions.

If I found that students are struggling with direction because a lack of basic concepts or vocabulary, then I’ll target those skills first. More on those basic concepts and vocabulary in future posts!

If the student really just has a hard time following directions (e.g., holding on to the information, understanding the syntax, etc.), then I’ll use my Following Directions pack.

Want the full bundle (including “prepped for you” cards + digital access to my assessments, evidence cheat sheets, visuals, and video walkthroughs)?! Check them out in the shop!

Starting Out: To build some momentum, I often use the routine direction cards (e.g., brush your teeth, go to bed, eat dinner, etc.) for some errorless learning.

Reverse Directions: I will use the sorting mats (paired with direction cards), to show how some directions are “reversed” or “out of order.” I will read the direction (“Dance after you laugh.”), do some meta talk (“This is one of our reverse directions! I need to move the cards.”), move the cards in the correct order, and then follow the direction (laugh, then dance). I often have students pick some of the direction cards to increase engagement. (They love telling me what to do!)

MStruggling with those following directions goals? Of course, Johnny can follow 2-step directions in the therapy room with 80% accuracy, but why does his teacher say he can't follow ANY directions?! Let's talk about some strategies to facilitate generalization and promote student success with this skill in speech therapy!

I also have visuals for “regular” and conditional directions.

Although these mats are very helpful, the heart of treating following directions is STRATEGIES!

Struggling with those following directions goals? Of course, Johnny can follow 2-step directions in the therapy room with 80% accuracy, but why does his teacher say he can't follow ANY directions?! Let's talk about some strategies to facilitate generalization and promote student success with this skill in speech therapy!

I’ll review the results with the teacher and collaborate with him/her to determine what we can do to support the student’s progress with this skill.

Then, it’s up to the student! We review some of the strategies and pick one or two to focus on. We may tape a strategy card (or another visual created by the student) to the student’s desk.

Step 3: Practice following directions with the student.

We use the visuals/tools/supports mentioned above. Instead of me modeling, the student will have an opportunity to practice.

We may also take turns giving and following directions. There is one thing that students love more than telling me what to do; they love telling me I that I’m wrong. I let them be the therapist and correct me if I don’t follow the direction. (One strategy is to have students write/draw the direction on the visuals. As a bonus, you get some interesting drawings…!)

Struggling with those following directions goals? Of course, Johnny can follow 2-step directions in the therapy room with 80% accuracy, but why does his teacher say he can't follow ANY directions?! Let's talk about some strategies to facilitate generalization and promote student success with this skill in speech therapy!

Step 4: Follow directions using real-life activities.

When we move to context, we still use the sorting mats to support. Instead of using the direction cards, however, we draw quick pictures (if visuals are needed).

Here are a few quick ideas:

CRAFTS

Crafts are a great activity for following directions. The SLP Now membership includes photos for each step of the craft. They pair well with the sorting mats! There are also a lot of directions involved in setting up and cleaning.

It isn’t completely contextualized, but it more closely mimics what students might be doing in the classroom (e.g., gathering materials, completing tasks in sequence). Bonus points if they do crafts in the classroom!

GAMES

These aren’t very curriculum-based, but they’re great for initial practice. The Toca Boca apps, felt food (especially for my future chefs!), Barbecue Party, and Jenga are some of my favorites!

Struggling with those following directions goals? Of course, Johnny can follow 2-step directions in the therapy room with 80% accuracy, but why does his teacher say he can't follow ANY directions?! Let's talk about some strategies to facilitate generalization and promote student success with this skill in speech therapy!

Many speech therapy students have an IEP goal for following directions. How can we ensure that students achieve this goal? I share my exact methods for how to teach following directions in this blog post, so click through to learn all of the steps.

Struggling with those following directions goals? Of course, Johnny can follow 2-step directions in the therapy room with 80% accuracy, but why does his teacher say he can't follow ANY directions?! Let's talk about some strategies to facilitate generalization and promote student success with this skill in speech therapy!

CURRICULUM

I may help a student with directions related to a curriculum-based activity. However, I’ve had the most success teaching strategies and then supporting this skill in the classroom (rather than the therapy room). This is especially true if the student is struggling with directions (not a lack of vocabulary).

If that’s not possible, I’ll use directions similar to what the teacher gave in the classroom during my observation. Sometimes teachers are also able to come up with examples, and I’ll use those. I always try to embed some direction within our activities as well (e.g., “Before you turn the page, go get a pink and yellow highlighter.”).

I hope this was helpful! Comment below with your favorite strategies or any questions that you might have!

marisha-mcgrorty-about-mobile

Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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Comments

  1. I wish this was available when I was in grad school many years ago, I think the strategies are the most important to talk about (go meta) and acquire yet were rarely discussed in the what (what strategies in which language areas) and the how (how to teach them). Thank you so much for clearly providing the framework that is much needed for those who are very much used to the ‘worksheet’ mode of teaching speech and language.

  2. Great suggestions. This has long been a challenge of mine, and close collaboration with the teacher is a perfect idea, as well as the visuals.

    I’ve also been making “help” cards with a few students recently, which goes along with your Strategies, above. If they’re able, students can come up with some of the self-advocacy phrases, so they have more buy-in. Then we color-code the cards (only 3-4 different cards per student), and keep one set in Speech, one in each classroom, and one spare, if possible.

  3. Your visuals are always my “why didn’t I think of that” moment – so thank you! What do you do for those kiddos who have difficultly with direction following but also have impacting attention difficulties? After providing accommodations in the classroom and with good success in a structured environment with directions – where do you go next? I tend to drop the following directions goals and continue to work on listening strategies (not in a goal, just for practice) – am I missing a step?

    • Great question! I do work on strategies with those students. (The following directions pack includes some strategies visuals.) That said, there’s definitely more to it than that. 🙂

      There’s a presentation at the SLP Summit on attention that would be a great start! slpsummit.com
      I also love Sarah Ward’s work in that area!

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