• Heather

How To Teach: Cutting and Filing Nails

Importance of Nail Care

Nail care can easily be seen as a skill that can be pushed off for another day (or another school year). However, having long, jagged, dirty nails can hinder progress in other personal hygiene goals.


While taking care of your fingernails and toenails isn’t a daily task, it is likely a weekly task and may be utilized more frequently than going to the bank (and think about how high we prioritize banking skills in our schedule). If your students can become more independent in caring for their own fingernails and toenails, then their overall hygiene will reach new, manicured heights!



Focus Skills

-When to care for finger and toe nails (frequency and after showering)

-What a rough/jagged nail looks like

-Supplies needed to care for nails

-How to hold and cut nails using clippers

-What part of the finger/nail to cut

-How to hold and smooth nails using a file

-How to clean under the nail using a brush



Why Focus On These Skills

Regardless of how long your young adults keep their nails, they need to be clean and filed. If you have students who keep their nails long, then they may get dirty throughout the day. If you have students who bite their nails, then keeping them clean will reduce ‘eating’ whatever dirt gets stuck underneath.


Clean and filed nails, regardless of length, are associated with overall cleanliness and personal hygiene. If your students are cooking or working with their hands, having clean and filed nails might be a job requirement because it reduces the risk of passing unwanted germs and bacteria.



When To Teach

You can pair nail care lessons when you teach handwashing as hand hygiene could be associated together, or you could end a personal hygiene theme with nail care. Depending on your students, you may be teaching them to be independent in this task, the reason for keeping nails clean, or assisting in increasing tolerance of nail care by a caregiver.


Another idea is to address nail care when you teach kitchen safety. While this initially might seem unrelated, having clean nails when preparing food by keeping them short and clean is a way to stop the spread of germs! So, if you’ve already passed the personal hygiene theme for the year, then loop this into your next cooking and kitchen lesson!



I’ve created a complete lesson unit of materials for teaching this topic. The materials are comprehensive (3 full lessons) and most appropriate for life skill lessons at the middle school, high school and transition level students. Below are some lesson unit highlights!


Lesson Objective

Students will identify the steps to clean, cut, and file their nails (fingers and toes).



Lesson Vocabulary

Break, clippers, cut, file, fingers, long, nail, rough, smooth, toes


Resource Perks

  • Pre and Post assessment

  • 1 page narrative explaining the skill with and without visual text supports (to incorporate functional reading)

  • 5 skill practice activities to learn and/or reinforce the focus skills

  • Boom Cards for practice or assessment

  • 5 strategies for success (tips for being successful with the focus skills)

  • Student learning reflection worksheet (thumbs up or down)

  • Coloring page with on-topic graphics

  • Homework sheet to encourage students to practice the skill outside of the school setting

  • Word search of key vocabulary terms

  • Visuals for focus skills with age appropriate colors and graphics



Ultimate Goal

While you may have a picture in your head of your students short, perfectly square, filed to perfection fingernails and toenails, that isn’t the overall goal. The actual nail care goal is to be able to know when the nails need to be cleaned and trimmed, how to safely hold and cut the nail, and how to smooth it out. For those students who might struggle with the fine motor skills associated with nail care, increasing their skill in one step or upping their tolerance to allow someone else to assist them can be a step in the right direction!



Links to Curriculum


Nail Care Mini Lesson Unit


Washing Hair & Shaving Lesson Unit


Getting Dressed Lesson Unit


Brushing Teeth Lesson Unit


Showering and Deodorant Lesson Unit


Bathroom and Handwashing Lesson Unit


Self Care/Personal Hygiene Lesson Unit Bundle


Life Skills Curriculum Bundle



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