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Lesson Planning in the Autism Classroom: How to Make it a Success

10 Steps to a Well Run Special Ed. Classroom| Curriculum & Instructional Activities | September 4, 2016

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I know we all really struggle with lesson planning in our special education classrooms.  It’s probably one of the most common questions I get.  In addition, I recently took a poll on Instagram and Facebook, and the vast majority of you said that you weren’t happy with your lesson planning systems.

I know there are many out there who think we don’t need lesson plans in special education.  Many teachers think that  the IEPs will drive the lesson plans for each student.  Or that every student is so individualized that lesson plans don’t make sense.  Read on for my take on why lesson planning is critical.

Lesson Plan Considerations

Lesson Planning in the Autism Classroom (1)

There are so many things we have to think about.

  • Are the materials teaching the skill I intended?
  • Have I differentiated group activities for all the students to participate?
  • Can the student generalize the skills I taught?
  • Do the paraprofessionals know what the lessons are?
  • Do the paras know the objectives we are trying to teach with the lessons?
  • Can visitors and families to the classroom understand what the lesson objectives are?
  • And more

For all of these reasons, I would say that we DO need lesson plans in the classroom.  And they probably will be more detailed than those in a general education classroom because you need more information.  But, you can create lesson plans that are manageable. And yes you can still communicate the information that the staff need to know.  Here are some tips for doing that along with my system for doing it.

Create a Lesson Plan Template

You may work in a school in which the principal requires lesson plans to be turned in.  If so, determine if the format will work for your classroom. If not, ask the principal if you can use a different format and show her what you would like to use.  It’s OK to advocate for your classroom so you aren’t doing double work.  Your needs in a special education classroom (or even as support staff for students in the general education classroom) are different.

If you don’t have a required template, create one.  I’m including a couple examples here so you can download them and modify them as you want.  There are 2 primary things I like about them.

  1. They state what the activity is, the materials (so the paras know what to get out) and the objectives.  This way everyone knows what skills are being targeted within the lesson.  So, the para knows that she shouldn’t give all the materials to the students if an objective is to practice requesting.
  2. Once you complete them and refine them, many of the activities’ information stays the same.  So you just have to fill in the parts that change.  For instance, your objectives for morning meeting may not change for much of the year, so those would stay the same.

This is a set of downloadable lesson plans in Word format. You can change and use what you need but it gives you examples of preschool and middle school lesson plans.

Once you get a lesson plan template in place, you will just need to change the parts from week to week that change, like the individual activities and materials.  In the downloadable example for preschool I’ve highlighted the parts that would change.


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Lesson Plans Examples and Template In Google Docs and Word FOrmat

Included in this set are a preschool lesson plan example, a middle school special education classroom example, and a template that could be used for any age,

The preschool could easily be adapted for elementary, and the middle school can easily be used for high school. 

Make Sure Chosen Materials Teach the Right Skills

Our students can get really misled by the wrong cues. We need to make sure we choose materials that focus their attention on the parts we want them to focus on.  I’ve written several posts that touch on this topic.  6 Considerations in Choosing and Preparing Materials for Discrete Trials covers this issue.  In addition, 2 Mistakes to Avoid When Using Commercial Products in Structured Work Systems focuses on how to identify problems with materials and provide possible fixes.  By including materials in your lesson plans, you assure that the rest of the staff is using the materials you intend for the activity.

Age-Respectful / Developmentally Appropriate Activities

I’ve written a number of posts on this issue in part because it’s something I feel passionate about.  I like Teaching Learners with Multiple Needs’s take on it being age-respectful and it’s a tricky issue.  However, I feel strongly that when you choose materials for instruction, we need to present materials that are age-appropriate. But they obviously also have to meet the developmental level of the students.  Here are some ideas to help with what can sometimes be a tricky issue.

Choose Materials and Lessons that Promote Generalization

Choosing materials for instruction for students with autism is critical for effective teaching . One element is assuring generalization.

Students with autism, and really many students in special education, have difficulty learning skills in a broad way.  This impacts their ability to apply their skills across environments, people and materials.  Many people think that because we often work on the same skills for long periods of time, we can use fewer materials than other classrooms.  However, in reality, it is exactly the opposite.  To promote generalization, provide repetition, and keep engagement high, you need LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of stuff.

# 6 in this post focuses on generalization and the need to use lots of different presentations of materials.

5 Ways to Practice Applying Color Concepts for Generalization has ideas for promoting generalization with different types of materials.

Wrapping UP

So to wrap it up, there is obviously a lot to think about when lesson planning in the autism or special education classroom.  However, with a good lesson plan template you can plan it all out and assure consistent instruction across the room.  

Good lesson planning means that you are pulling information from the students’ Teaching Implementation Plans and embedding them into the scheduled activity.  But it also allows for changing out materials, thematic lessons, seasonal activities, etc. all while using the same classroom and lesson plan structure.

Looking for more ideas for lesson planning? Come check us out in the Special Educator Academy.  We have a  workshop all about them and how to make them workable.

Lesson Planning in the Autism Classroom: Making it Work

8 thoughts on “Lesson Planning in the Autism Classroom: How to Make it a Success”

  1. I have been teaching in a classroom with students who have moderate to severe learning disabilities for 4 years. Each year, I struggle with creating a satisfactory lesson planning template, changing it throughout the school year. After reading this post and using your template, I feel I can finally rest at ease. Thank you, Chris, for sharing this information!

  2. I put my lesson plans in a planner because I like to write them out. In the past, I have filled out the data sheets for the paras but this year I am going to also type my plans so that my admin team and paras can see what the goal is for each lesson. I think I will use your template, I used a similar template when I worked in Pre-K and it was easy to understand.

  3. You mention Stars in the preschool plan. Is this the star curriculum? I have it in my classroom and am trying to figure it out.


    Yes it is a curriculum for preschool / primary grades and it’s awesome–once you figure it out. I find the way it’s organized to be a little complex…but I really love the protocols and how they work to guide through skills in order connected with teaching strategies. They do have some videos on their website. You can read more about it in this post:

  5. Pingback: How to Better Prepare for Your Special Education Teaching Evaluation | Autism Classroom Resources

  6. Pingback: Learn How I Organize and Plan Independent Work Systems | Autism Classroom Resources

  7. Pingback: Special Education Classroom Setup: 5 Thoughts to Get Started | Autism Classroom Resources

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