Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Teaching Following Directions

You know the lingo.

1 step
2 step
all but

Last year, I worked on following directions constantly. I would target the above vocabulary and usually students understood what to do after a few sessions. I found that my kiddos would do a great job following directions in my small group but teachers continued to come to me saying “Little Johnny cannot follow directions!”

“Why is this?” I wondered.  I continued to work on following directions in my small group and I continued to have success. However, still no carry-over or transfer of skills. Definition of insane? Doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result. I finally decided I needed to do something different. I needed to give my students a STRATEGY for following directions.

Rehearsal with Visualization

This evidence-based intervention provides direct instruction on successfully following directions. The group that was taught Rehearsal with Visualization was shown to demonstrate better skills when following directions than the group that was not. Here’s the citation to the full article for more information.
Gill, C.B. Klecan-Aker, J., Roberts, T., Fredenburg, K.A. (2003). Following directions: Rehearsal and visualization strategies for children with specific language impairment. Child Language Teaching and Therapy February 2003 vol. 19 no. 1 85-103.

Basically, it’s how all of us typically follow directions but this breaks it down into steps for students to follow.  

Steps for students:
1.       Repeat the direction. Before completing a direction, I need to say it aloud.
2.       Visualize myself following the direction. (I tell my students to close their eyes and “make a movie” in their heads to visualize the direction).
3.       Follow the direction.

Now, every time we practice following directions, my students know before they even move to follow the direction, to repeat it and close their eyes. I tell them, in class you don’t need to say the direction out loud (otherwise other students might think you’re talking to yourself) but you do need to say it in your head and picture yourself doing it first.

I've even taken this lesson to the classrooms. I have a strategy to offer when a teacher tells me so and so is not able to follow directions.

Here are some of my favorite activities I use when practicing following directions:

I absolutely LOVE these following directions pages from Speechpage.com.
I have students arrange the Velcro squares on the page (using our Rehearsal with Visualization strategy) and have them give each other directions.

Students must use specific vocabulary when giving these directions. I hear a lot of “Which banana do you mean?” or “Which monkey?”

Sometimes we pretend we are working at a fast-food restaurant (can you say functional skills?) and I have students make me a hamburger using our visualization strategy.

And don’t forget the ice-cream!!! Yum! Warning-these activities can make you very hungry!

I also love this free activity that Jenna made Ice Cream Truck Following Directions 

So....the next time you are working on following directions or hear that common "Johnny can't seem to follow directions!" give your students a proven strategy! 


  1. Thanks for the shout out! Off to check out those cool ice cream and burger making sets!

  2. Great suggestions. I think I will try this today :)

  3. Love these tips! My kids have trouble with carry-over as well. I'm eager to try a new strategy. Thanks!

    Busy Bee Speech

  4. LOVE these activities! SOOOO cute and perfect for some of my kids!



Nicole Allison