Create the Routine

A young girl and her teacher use a sequence box to organize the steps of a routine for making dog biscuits.
A young girl and her teacher use a sequence box to organize the steps of a routine for making dog biscuits.

Creating a routine is not so hard! Use your imagination. Think of the things that your student likes to do. Think of things that you like to do that might interest your student. Consider activities the student needs to complete now or in the future such as activities related to independent living skills. Many of these types of activities such as cooking, taking a walk to pick up the mail or deliver something to the office, learning to use a vending machine, washing dishes ….. these can become really enjoyable activities for students. Make it functional – our students/children learn best when they’re doing and  involved in experiences that create positive emotions.


    • What level of support does the student need to participate in the routine?
    • What IEP goals/objectives will be infused into the routine?
    • What additional skills are being targeted?
    • What language will be targeted? 
    • Are there any special modifications or adaptations needed?
    • What materials will you need?
    • Who will work with the child to complete the routine?

Do it!

    • Write the steps of the routine down in order
    • Label each step in your routine with a gesture, sign or symbol, and note the targeted vocabulary you will use, i.e., what are you going to call the action of pouring the flour into the mix during your “cookie making routine”?
    • Use a sequence box to delineate each step that the student will complete or help complete.
    • Have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
    • Establish a consistent time and place where you will do your activity.
    • Train the entire team (including parents) in each step of the routine so it can be consistently implemented.
    • Have fun!


Form for Creating a Routine

Here is an example of an activity routine for making chocolate milk written up using a routine planning form. Note that this is a very simple and short routine. However, within this routine goals from the occupational therapist, vision teacher (tactile exploration, sensory efficiency skills, daily living skills), speech-language therapist (communication), cognition and the academic goal in science are all being worked on in this one activity.

This routine also does not place a lot of demands on the child to complete each step independently —- Lilli Nielsen might refer to this as “sharing the work” because the goal is for the child to be able to work with someone long enough to complete a sequence of steps making up a task. In the beginning this routine would be done by the same person every time.

Once the child is comfortable using this routine and ready for some new challenges, the routine can be expanded. For example, the child might help the teacher gather the materials and organize them in the sequence box, hold the cup and scoop the powder without assistance or prompts, be expected to  use more signs, signals, or vocalizations to request and comment, and carry the dirty dishes to the sink to wash up. Eventually you would like to see the child be able to complete more steps independently and to use it as a framework for making other drinks like orange juice or completing other simple food dishes like making hot cereal.

Also note that modifications, accommodations, and targeted language are spelled out so that anyone working with the child to complete this routine is clear about the focus. Another goal with any routine is that the child will be able to do this routine with anyone, anywhere. So, for example, the routine learned in school can also be done at home. An activity that you do with dad, can also be done with your friend or sibling.

Cooking Routine: Making Chocolate Milk

Routine Steps

Adaptations / Modifications

IEP Goals / Objectives

Targeted Vocabulary

Comments / Data

Pour milk

Sequence box

Bottle of milk

Non-skid mat

Teacher will partially turn the lid on the milk so it is easier for the child to open

Pouring liquids from one container into another

Use vision and touch to observe when the glass is full

Use wrist rotation to open milk bottle

Recognize and respond to verbal prompts – pour the milk, full





Teacher will use a duplicate sequence box and make a glass of chocolate milk for herself first to demonstrate completing each step.

Scoop chocolate powder into cup.

Container of chocolate milk powder with lid.

Teacher will need to assist with scooping powder

Spoon with built up handle

Allow student to taste the powder and experience is as a dry substance

Request help by vocalizing and offering the scoop to the teacher

Scoop with a spoon

Recognize and respond appropriately to object cue or verbal directions –“scoop it up”





Student needs help positioning scoop, but can complete the scooping motion. As the child makes the motion of scooping use the phrase, scoop it up. If the child does nothing, use the phrase as a verbal prompt.

Stir milk

Spoon with built up handle

Teacher will help stabilize cup using hand-under-hand

Use wrist rotation to stir milk

Recognize and respond appropriately to object cues and  verbal directions –“stir, stir, stir”



When the child picks up the spoon, wait to see if he will initiate the action of stirring either in the air or in the milk. If he does nothing, say stir 3 times in rapid succession and then pause to see what the child will do – give up to 10 second wait.

Drink milk

Use sippy cup lid – teacher will need to help place on cup

Hand-under-hand guidance

Drink from a cup

Place the cup down without spilling

Use hands to explore the table to find cup

Chocolate milk



Teacher and student will share the experience of drinking their milk together. Encourage the student to tactually observe the teacher drinking using hand-under-hand

Put dirty cup in the tub and signal the end of the activity

Plastic tub for dirty dishes

Hand-under-hand guidance

Sign “finished” to indicate completion of activity

Use hands to locate tub on the table

Put one object inside another object

Science goal –  observes, investigates, describes and discusses properties and
characteristics of common objects.


Put inside



Briefly review the activity with the student before ending the routine and highlight any step or event that seemed to particularly interest the child such as tasting the chocolate powder or spilling the milk.