Creating a Schedule for Life Skills: How to Figure Out What to Teach and When to Teach It

functional life skills life skills special education teachers teacher experience transition Mar 06, 2021
Are you fresh out of college and just accepted your first job teaching life skills at the high school or transition level? Or, was your department chair so impressed with your skills that they want you to bless the students in the functional foundations classroom with your talents? Either way, if you are feeling overwhelmed trying to figure out how to teach this type of content, then continue reading.
Since I’ve taught (and created schedules for) high school block schedule, high school co-taught, high school self-contained, and now three levels of young adult students in transition, I’ve learned a thing or two about creating scopes and sequences for content and what works best for each type of learner.
This blog post will focus on creating a schedule and pace for teaching life skills (functional or foundational) curriculum at the high school or transition level. Since this could get really wordy and I’m not here to be a professor, I’ll keep this straight and to the point. If you’d like to ask me a question, submit it here and I’ll reply via email!

What to teach

Employment skills

This includes: pre-vocational skills, vocational skills, on-the-job training, resume building, interviewing skills, soft skills, etc


Knowing how to interact socially and use AAC

Feelings, Emotions, and Social Communication 

SO important and often overlooked. May I recommend you check out Interoception (the book)?

Life Skills

The skills you need on a daily or weekly basis to live as independently as possible! Here is a curriculum for reference! <This resource includes a comprehensive list of my top life skills!


It’s essential to a healthy body AND healthy mind

How to Teach

When I get ready to plan a lesson for a class, I keep the following 3 things in mind:

1. Find their current skill and background knowledge

I use my basic skills assessment (read how I use it three times a year), rubrics, and checklists to get a sense of the classes overall strengths, weaknesses, and areas for skill maintenance and growth. I also use this feedback to break my small class into even smaller groups, including who can can be pushed towards independence quickly and who will need more support from the outset with different skills.

2. Incorporate the 5 Senses

When I develop a lesson I try to appeal to all ‘senses.’ I include reading or read-aloud into lessons for verbal input, a video for visual input, application (doing the skill or process) for kinetic input, and self reflection for ‘emotional’ input. Obviously, certain life skills will appeal to the smell and taste (i.e. cooking) and that is key for students to learn valuable lessons (like 1 cup of salad dressing is not the same as 1 tablespoon). If you can throw in a song or dance, bonus points. My students ALWAYS remember the songs I developed for skill weaknesses.

3. Find Another Way

When the going gets tough, I look for other avenues. If a student is struggling to safely cut an apple for a snack, I determine if an apple-cutting kitchen tool is feasible or if it would be better to teach them to buy pre-cut apples. Safety and ‘what would they be expected to do at home,’ are both top of mind and really inform my decisions. Also consider, does it really matter if the student learns how to measure 1 cup if 1 serving spoon scoop would be more appropriate long term? #TheBestChangeIEverMadeToCookingRecipes


If you are blessed like me and don’t have to stick to a bell scheduled (love that Transition programming life), then you really have spans of time to fill. Don’t let this overwhelm you, it’s a blessing! Consider these 3 things:

1. Community

Ask your department chair how often you can go into the community. Daily is ideal! If their jaw drops when you ask for 5 days a week, then compromise with 3. If they shake their head, then settle for no less than 1 time a week (regardless of the level of student you teach).
Not sure what to ‘do’ in the community? Glance over my list of 50+ community based instruction outing ideas. Also, remember every trip into the community needs travel time there and back and a bus doesn't travel as fast as a car! Be sure to consult with whomever coordinates your transportation to make sure your dream community outing scenarios are feasible with bus availability.

2. Repeat Daily or Weekly

Decide what skills you should review daily and what should be reviewed weekly. Your allotted budget may play into this (i.e. cooking a lunch or snack daily may not be financially possible, even though it is one of the top life skills our students need). Do you students need communication practice daily (asking each other questions, follow up questions, and turn taking)? Do they need vocational skills daily, including task boxes OR community based learning at volunteer sites)? Should they have time to engage in recreation leisure activities (read why it’s SO important to teach) on a daily basis?

3. IEP goals and transition outcomes

Review your student’s IEP goals, see where you can fit in practice, application, and data collection into your current draft schedule, and then fill in opportunities to work on those remaining goals with the time you have left.
Where I teach, we end academic goals the last month of their senior year and maintain functional goals through transition programming. If your students have academic goals that aren’t applicable to your functional programming, then consult your department chair.


Let it be known that every year the pace of your instruction will be different than the last. Learn about your students, find your groove and confidence, and then continually adapt. Remember, it can take months for students to learn a skill and then when they do, boom- they have it. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it feels like you aren’t moving through content quickly enough! I’ve been known to spend an hour a week for 5 months pushing students to learn how to log into their online banking account independently, then once they learned it took less than 10 minutes for everyone to log in and find their checking account balance! 
Here are 2 tips to consider:
Find out where each student is at, then identify where you WANT them to be! The assessment will help you to identify where the gaps are, what to focus on, and where your students are starting at so you can set realistic goals. Repeat this again through the year to document growth!

2. Identify the Key Skill and Address That First, Then Add in Those Buildable Skills After

Ex: In order to send an email, you need to log on to a computer, teach those skills first (using a mouse, typing, adding visuals where needed to be able to log on)
Ex: To be able to cook a microwave meal, the student needs to be able to find and read the directions on the back, enter in time on a microwave and know the dish will be hot (use oven mitts), open a package safely, and stir.
I hope you were able to glean an idea or two to help create your next schedule. As I mentioned above, feel free to reach out if you want to bounce an idea or two off of someone who has created more schedules than I care to admit! And remember, if the first schedule doesn’t fit, just PIVOT!
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