5 Ways to Use a First-Then Visual Board in Your SPED Classroom

As hard working special education teachers, we want to make our teaching day as smooth and happy as possible. But when our students’ struggle with transitioning from one activity to the next, this can make our day tiring, stressful and deflating.


The good news is that there are SO many strategies that you can implement to help your teaching day run smoother and feel calmer.


We know that visual supports are an excellent tool for supporting students’ transitions during the day…. But where do we start?


Well, as the name suggests, let’s FIRSTLY start with a FIRST-THEN CHART:

What is a First-Then Chart?

A First-Then board is a visual prompt or support that shows your students two activities – the activity they are currently completing, or are about to complete (‘FIRST’), and the activity after this ‘THEN’.

What is the Purpose of a First-Then Board?

There are so many benefits to implementing a First-Then Chart for your students. Let’s take a closer look:

1. First-Then Boards Outline Your Students Expectations

First-Then Boards clearly and simply outline expectations for your students in a visual way – long after the verbal message is lost (which is very easy in a special education classroom!), your students can refer back to the First-Then Board in their own time and space.


Outlining expectations helps students to know what is required of them, which can increase the calm feelings and decrease their anxiety and overwhelm.

2. First-Then Boards Can Help Students Engage in Non-Preferred Activities

Children with Autism or developmental delays can often have difficulty engaging and participating in activities that have low interest to them – often referred to as ‘non-preferred tasks’. But in a special education classroom, there will be times when all students will need to participate in activities that are not ‘their favourite’! A First-Then Board is a wonderful visual tool to introduce a non-preferred activity as you can pair it with a preferred activity for motivation.

3. First-Then Boards Can Increase Motivation

This leads us to the third benefit! First-Then Boards clearly show two activities that will be completed. If your student is really keen to get to that second activity, they can see that they need to complete the first activity.

4. First-Then Boards Teach The Concepts of ‘First’ and ‘Then’

Teachers often ask me ‘how can I teach my students the concept of time? For students with Autism or language delays, the concept of ‘time’ can be a very difficult idea to understand. Saying ‘5 more minutes, then lunch’ may be very confusing and have little meaning for these students.



Using a First-Then Board can be a great way to introduce the concept of ‘time’ by saying ‘First lego, then lunch’.


READ: “5 Signs of Developmental Language Disorders in Your Classroom”


5. First-Then Boards Can be Used in ALL Social Situations!

We know that for visual supports to be effective, using them in different settings (e.g. preschool, home, daycare, the park, etc) is a must. And a First-Then Board is one visual support that you will use ALL day. Here are just a few examples:

  1. First CAR, then PRESCHOOL
  2. First TOILET, then WASH HANDS
  3. First LUNCH, then BRUSH TEETH
  4. First STORY, then IPAD
  5. First SOCKS, then SHOES

Need a Free First-Then Board to Use Today?

You give so much of yourself as a special education teacher, planning lessons and gathering resources that your students will hopefully love. Help your teaching day run smoother and give a First-Then Board a try.

Don’t have time to create one? No worries – I have you covered! Grab your free, print and go First-Then Board resource below:

First Then Board
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