Level 2 Routine - Sharing the Work

A teacher shows his student the inside of the pumpkin as they work together to create a jack-o-lantern.
A teacher shows his student the inside of the pumpkin as they work together to create a jack-o-lantern.

When a child begins to understand simple routines and to show anticipation of the steps in a routine, the adult can begin to expect partial participation from the student. That is, the student may attempt to complete a step in the routine with support. You are not expecting the student can undertake the step  independently or complete the step  correctly. In fact, the student may need a great deal of support using hand-under-hand guidance as much as possible.

At this point you may begin to expand the most familiar activities such as toileting, grooming, eating, and so forth to include opportunities for the child to take a turn being “the teacher”. For example, you rub lotion on the child’s hands, then offer the child the opportunity to rub lotion on the adult’s hand. The child may show more competence with some steps. For example, attempting to pull up his pants using both hands. You may also have expectations that the child will attempt a step where he/she has already demonstrated the ability in several venues. For example, if the student has shown that he/she can pick up an item and place it inside another object you might expect them to pick up their spoon and put it in the bowl of cereal. If they have not demonstrated the ability to pour something, you might complete that step with the child and “share the work”. 

This is a natural place to teach the child the concept of asking for help. You can ask the child to help you pour and you can offer to help the child if he/she appears to need help. Remember, like most of us, some days are better than others for a child. Don’t assume that because they have been able to do a step one day that they will be able or willing to do it everyday. Give the the opportunity to try or signal for help, but don’t demand that they do a particular step every time. This holds true especially when you are role-releasing the activity to another partner.

If the child cannot complete a particular step or attempt to complete the step after a reasonable amount of time, complete the step with the student using hand-under-hand or do part of the step encouraging the student to assist in any way he/she can. Dr. Lilli Nielsen, in her work on the Active Learning approach to instruction, refers to this technique as “Sharing the Work”


To avoid the problem of prompt dependency, it is a good idea to use objects offered to the child as the prompt for completing a step. Give the child plenty of time after offering the object cue to attempt to complete the step. The student may be unsure of his/her abilities or be somewhat passive about participation in the routine at first. 

Here is a hierarchy of prompts:

    • Independent – the child is able to perform the task on his/her own with no prompts or assistance
    • Gesture – indicate with a motion what you want the child to do (e.g., pointing, hand-under-hand touch the object or complete the motion)
    • Indirect (Verbal or Nonverbal) – tell the child that something is expected, but not exactly what (e.g., “Now what?” “What’s next?”, etc.) or use body language (e.g., expectant facial expression, questioning hand motion with a shrug, etc.)
    • Direct Verbal – tell the child what he/she is expected to do or say (e.g., “Turn your power chair right.”)
    • Modeling – show the child what you want him/her to do
    • Partial Physical Assistance – provide minimal supported guidance
    • Full Physical Assistance – provide hand-under-hand guidance to help the student complete the desired task

Using the System of Least to Most Prompts

Nevada Dual Sensory Impairment Project

Are You Having Fun?

As you develop any routine, look for ways to make it appealing to the child and to have fun doing the activity with the child. What materials or interactions can be infused into the activity to draw in the child? Does the child like playing in the water? Can you build in a step for the child to turn on the water and play with the face cloth in the water before washing her face?

Also, think of ways to create new routines based on preferred activities or materials.  For example, if the child is very fond of the sound that paper, shopping bags and mylar balloons make when crumpled, can you build a routine around that? How about a recycling routine where the child crumples various types of paper up and puts it into the trash can?  

When you and the student are having fun, you will notice that there are more opportunities for conversation and interaction. Positive emotions or any strong emotion helps to make a memory in the mind and in the body. These help us to co-create language and stories worth revisiting like a favorite book.

Remember These Points

Script the routine so that you have clarity about the steps, language, and goals you are working on. You may want to use a form like the one found in Baltisberger, Scott and Kitchen, Sara, 2017. Activity Routines Study Group Meeting One: Planning a Routine, September 26th, 2017, handout.

Take data and revise the routine when necessary. Almost every routine needs some tweaking at first. One of the best ways to do this is by videoing the routine on a regular basis so the team can make changes together. This also allows you to consider where the activity can be expanded and documents progress (or lack of progress) that the student is making in reaching the goals of the routine. 

As the student becomes able to participate fully in the routine with one person expand the experience by having him/her complete the routine with another person. You may want to “bless” the new adult or peer by bringing them into the routine before stepping back.

As the student is able, have them help in collecting the materials they will need to complete the activity routine. At first it might mean simply retrieving a basket with the materials inside, but later they may need to gather individual items from their natural location.  For example, get the milk from the refrigerator and the cereal from the pantry.

Putting things away and doing clean-up is another natural expansion of a routine.  As the student is ready, make this a part of the routine as well.

Infusing Literacy and Language Skills

At this level you are also able to work on literacy and language skills with your students through activity routines. You may choose from a number of static forms of communication that include tactual symbols, braille, print and pictures. Dr. Jan van Dijk showed us the benefits of drawing with a child and this lends itself to interactions during an activity routine,


Lotion Routine

In this simple routine of rubbing lotion, note how Deanna Peterson uses drawing to enhance the communication and interactions with her student.


Making Dog Biscuits

In this routine, Chris and his students are making dog biscuits to take to the animal shelter.  Tania, the young girl in the video, is excited about cooking. Notice both communication skills and other skills are being worked on within this routine such as counting, measuring, and taking turns with peers.

Grooming Routine with Ray and Chris

In this video, you will see Ray and his teacher, Chris, discussing what is coming up next using his daily calendar. Then they go together to complete his grooming routine. Chris uses vocalizations as well as gestures to communicate and engage Ray who has some hearing.  Note that Ray demonstrates that he knows what is involved in much of these routines and activities.