How to structure a lesson or activity for pupils with autism

Structuring a lesson or activity by breaking it down into small parts with visual prompts can make the lesson/ activity manageable for autistic children because it enables the pupils to know what they will be doing now, next and when the activity is coming to an end. Here is an example of visual symbols used in a physical education lesson.

visual symbols for p.e.

At the beginning of the lesson, I would say “what’s first?” and take the first symbol to show all the children individually so they can say, sign, read or point to the symbol. In this case it is ‘warm up’ so we would then do the warm up. When the warm up is finishing, I would count down from 5 and say “warm up has finished”. In a P.E. lesson I usually ask the children to “sit on the bench” before referring them to the visual symbols and removing the warm up symbol whilst again saying “warm up has finished”. I would then say “whats next?” and again individually show the children the next symbol. This process is repeated for each small activity of the lesson. This gives a clear structure and routine to the lesson which the children learn and can feel comfortable with. When it is time for ‘cool down’, the children can clearly see the lesson is coming to an end as there is only 1 symbol left.

Here is a similar example of how I’ve structured a music lesson using a similar routine. I have used the SCERTS model (green and red board- green for what is coming up and red for finished).

visual symbols for music lesson


There is a similar pattern with how I’ve structured this lesson. The lesson is broken down into smaller activities and each has a visual symbol to show the children what is next. When an activity has finished, I move it to the red finished area and say “what’s next?” before showing all of the children individually the next activity for them to say, sign, read or point to.

Don’t forget this structure can benefit all children¬†and can make mainstream activities more inclusive by enabling the children that can understand symbols to know what is happening next and how many activities to go before the session is finishing. This type of structure could also be used with photos for children who understand photos but perhaps not symbols, objects of reference for children at that level and words for more able children who are confident at reading.

Also, do remember that a symbol programme like the one I have used to make symbols is also not necessary. Symbols like these can be replaced by pictures simply found on the internet, photos you have taken or by simply drawing a picture!

My singing choice board

I do a singing session at the end of every day with my class of children with autism. Previously the children were taking turns to choose from a choice of song symbols and now I have moved them on to choosing whether to ‘watch’ an interactive version of the song on the interactive ¬†whiteboard or ‘sing’ the song. The verb is colour coded yellow and the song is green to help the children place the symbols in the correct order.

What resources do you use for choice making for singing or other activities?