Working with Emotion Visuals & Reinforcement Tools

Grab a free download of a “How are you feeling” card to try with your classroom!

I was finding it difficult to teach my learners in Special Ed how to recognise their feelings and emotions. Teaching my amazing kinder how to label their emotions was a difficult skill, and being unprepared when these emotions presented was sometimes a tricky process to catch and implement. 

I had to be prepared! and start to teach them how to recognise their feelings by encouraging them to label how they feel with visuals when I saw them displaying negative or happy emotions myself.

I also created opportunities for my students to recognise emotions and facial expressions of others and practice them in lesson. I always try to incorporate a number of social skill activities where my students can have an opportunity to recognise someone happy, sad, angry and practice labelling facial expressions with visual cues.

Some of my students got it straight away but some would need practice, practice, practice. Once I’m happy that my students can recognise how they are feeling and can tell or show me, I will use a quick visual tool “How are you feeling” card to establish if they feel ready to work or what they need to feel better.

I show them a selection of motivators that they can choose from that could help them feel better and ready to try some work.

Being able to choose a motivator to use with a Token economy system becomes a powerful reinforcement tool.

So once the motivator is established, I encourage them to place it next to the “I’m working for” box before starting their task.

Depending on their mood and ability to concentrate will determine how fast they gain their tokens and get rewarded with the motivator they’ve chosen.

I always keep a selection of these handy tools at work stations and calm down areas!

If you want to try out this strategy and begin encouraging your students to label their emotions I’m giving away free trial cards and emoji colouring faces for you to download below.

Click here to download a free “How your feeling chart”

Tips for setting up Visual Schedules in Special ED

Having a selection of Communication Strategies ready to use is always a good idea in Special Ed! Having a visual schedule is one strategy I find very effective in class. Below I’ve listed my schedule tips and other strategies that have really helped my young leaners settle into a structured learning environment.

Visual Schedules – Set out visuals to reflect the order of the class day. They should be designed to support your student through a smooth transition eg. from activity to activity, room to room or within tasks.  

Here are some quick tips for setting up and getting started!

1. START SIMPLE – Make visuals for just the key times of the day eg, morning work, break, lunch etc,  for your young learners to learn to recognise and correspond with the days activities.

2. BUY A LAMINATOR – Make the laminator your best friend! If you want all your hard work to last, laminate all mounts and visuals because they are going to go through a tough time!

3. WALL MOUNT  – A wall mounted schedule that is low enough for your student to access and add detachable symbols of the daily routine. 

4. USE A FINISHED BOX – Attach a finished box at the end or side of the schedule to drop the finished visuals in before starting a new activity. 

5. TRY A FILE FOLDER – A portable schedule can be used in a file folder in the same way as a wall mounted one. I find these easier with older children to check into the activities and more efficient in busy classrooms. Pop their name on it and keep all their individual support visuals in one place. 

6. MODLE AND PRACTICE – Always model, practice and remind your busy student at the beginning of each activity to, “check in”.  Make a plan to pull back on all prompting until they begin to use this system independently!

Timers – For giving a break and reminding students how long they need to work and how long left on free time!

Routines – Keep Break, Lunch and free choice the same time each day!

Consistency – Ensure all staff are using the same strategies and are following behaviour plans!

Positive Reinforcers – Use Token Economy Systems, First and Then, Behavior Regulation tools and Reward systems tailored to individual interests and likes!

Communication – Critical skills for Functional Communication, a means in which your non verbal student is able to request a “break” “help”  or asked to “wait”

For some of my young learners I’ve introduced a portable schedule! 
I’m pleased it offers all the strategies I wanted to incorporated throughout the day.
I keep them in a handy place for my students to access first thing in the morning and follow the schedule by checking into the work areas they need to complete.
There’s a set place in the booklet for the schedule symbols, a token reward system, plus a place for reinforcer visuals and Critical Communication cards so students can ask for a Break or Help, all while reminding and keeping a consistent approach that staff can help students to follow!

Social Skills-Being Kind to Friends

Download a FREE sorting activity

We often spend time teaching our children about friendships in school, often saying, share with your friends, kind hands, play nice. But some children lack the social skills, for what ever reason, to maintain healthy interactions with other kids and need regular reminding.

Its sometimes important to teach basic social skills to young learners on how to be a good friend. They might need us to help them understand some of the more complex parts of what being a good friend is and what that looks like.

Learning about how their own behaviours will affect others, about recognising other people’s feelings and how to respond in an understanding and caring way in order to maintain friendships is important to.

When difficulties arise some children can use visual guides or social narratives to guide them through the what’s and what-nots to do in friendship groups.

TIP – Use Social supports to reinforce positive behavior regularly either in a one to one situations or as part of a group. Using simple visuals with easy instructions during social skill sorting games and activities can help young learners stay on track.

Being kind Social Story –

Social Stories on TPT

Download free activity here

Why I use Task Boxes

Try a Freebie

When helping a child in Special Education to learn a new skill you need to give clear and simple instructions. A visually structured task can provide the small steps needed for them to understand, stay on track and complete an activity.

These type of Task box activities are broken down with one question to answer on each card as not to overload the learner. They enable the child to focus not only on the basic academic skills in front of them but strengthen fine motor skills, help the student develop self esteem and promote the independence I love to see in my classroom.

My workstations provide a calm area that has clear and specific visuals to help my students focus and learn. Adding these type of self-contained tasks at stations have provided continuous structure for my students to learn and master basic skills with no need for them to wander off and find other materials!

They are so handy to grab for my small group sessions as well as in the independent areas. I’ve organized them into their Curriculum groups and were able to fit into sandwich size containers! Now they’re labelled, easily stored and always ready and on hand.

It took some time to prepare them all in the beginning but now they’re just always ready to grab and go!


“Click Below” For more Task box ideas Visit my TPT Store!

Basic Math Task boxes

Color Task Box Activity

Task Cards – Find the Same

Color, Shape, Number, pegging

Opposites Task Cards

Letter Tracing Task Cards

How to use First and Then Visuals

Children with SPED can sometimes find a classroom a bit confusing and can quickly become distressed with all the changes that are taking place around the room. My job is to help keep them calm and cope with what is happening. Sometimes I use visual supports to prepare and explain what is happening next.

I have found the “First and Then” Strategy a visual way of understanding what is expected throughout the day and a simple start to scheduling. As part of my structured teaching environment I use this simple timetable with individual work and in class activities.

Before starting a task and after a motivator assessment my young learners are offered a selection of visual reinforcers to choose from, this icon is placed in the “Then” side of the board.

And I place the icon of the task to be completed on the “First” side of the board. While teaching this strategy for the first few times I use quick errorless tasks and partially prompt my student if they become distressed.

Once established, my student will learn to follow the first activity independently and transfer to the next activity shown.

For More information click here