The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Category: Strategy (page 1 of 2)

Preserve Student Dignity: Give ‘em an out

Preserve Student Dignity: Give ‘em an out

Aaron Lanou


How often has it happened that you called on a student and she didn’t know the answer? There’s that awkward few seconds when you and all the other students are waiting for a response, and she just can’t find the words.

When a student doesn’t know the answer, the last thing you want is for her to feel embarrassed or humiliated. Though teachers sometimes fall into the trap of thinking “catching” an unprepared student will teach them to be prepared, the reality is they’re made to feel uncomfortable and angry. And this can be even harder for students with ASD who have challenges with flexibility and perfectionism. Even if the student “should know” the answer, you’ve got to give ’em an out.

The next time a student is struggling to answer, try one of these responses:

  • “Do you want to call on someone else for help?” Let them choose a peer to help them answer the question.
  • “I’ll give you another couple minutes and come back to you.” Then really give them some time, and circle back later to ensure they understand.
  • “It’s OK to say ‘I’m not sure.’” Allow them to say they don’t know. Reinforce that this is ok and part of the process of learning. This is often hard for autistic students, but an important idea to encourage and support.

Even better, make a proactive plan to avoid these stuck moments in the first place. A couple of ideas:

  • Provide wait time: Pose a question, and then wait for at least ten seconds before calling on anyone for a response. Tell students to take the time to form an answer, so everyone can feel more prepared. This is an important approach for students with ASD, many of whom have slower language processing. Read more on our Wait Time post.
  • Prime students for when you will call on them: Avoid cold-calling to catch students. Instead say, “Keisha, I’ll be coming to you for a response next.” This will give her time to be prepared.
  • Teach students a get-unstuck strategy: Early in the school year, teach students explicit strategies for moments like these. For example, encourage them by saying, “It’s ok if you don’t know an answer to a question I ask. When you’re stuck, you can either ask for another minute, ask to look at your notes, or ask me to rephrase the question.”

All of these approaches can help preserve students’ dignity in the classroom, and help students save face. This reduces the likelihood that students feel embarrassed—and embarrassed students do not volunteer to participate. Send the message to the whole class that it’s safe to try, and you’re likely to get much more participation.

For more helpful insight into the dangers of embarrassing students, see Cult of Pedagogy’s post, Is humiliation part of your teaching toolbox?


Teacher Prompts—Reminders for Teachers

by Laurie DuBos

As we begin the new school year and think about working with new or returning students, teachers are often considering how they can better encourage students to remember to follow routines, complete tasks, or wait their turn–usually through prompts and classroom visuals.  In “The Power of Our Words,” Paula Denton refers to “reminding language,” a strategy that could also help teachers in supporting students and ultimately communicating that “students are competent learners and have good intentions” (p.112).  As teachers, we can use reminding language through visual prompts in our classrooms for ourselves–to demonstrate our best teaching intentions towards students.


Most teachers are list-makers, and everyone has their unique method for making their lists. Only you can decide what works best for you in your classroom, but you might want to discuss a mutual strategy that would work with your co-teaching partner as well.  Would a post-it on your computer or desk be the best place to remind you to review classroom rules daily or should you place a colorful note on your bulletin board to prompt you to use less language when giving directions. What’s most important is that reminders work for you during your daily teaching.


In “The Power of Words,” there are excellent examples of the language that teachers often use when frustrated, busy, and/or tired, particularly when working with students who have limited attention, impulsive behaviors, or difficulty processing information quickly.  An example might be:

How many times do I have to tell you to stop talking?”

(to listen, to stop doing that, to put that away, etc.)

When you really meant to say:  “It’s time to ______ (listen, open your book, etc.).”


Using a photo of a child that reminds you to look for students who are following directions or that prompts you to use brief, more proactive words when starting an activity or lesson is an excellent strategy for teachers to prompt themselves:

young child with finger in front of mouth to indicate quiet

Look for quiet voices.
“It’s time to LISTEN.”

Another example of using a visual reminder is when you realize that you are talking too much or repeating yourself at some point in a school day.  If you think that this is happening to you, consider asking your co-teacher to tally how many times you are giving a direction, reminding a child about a behavior or activity, or repeating a prompt. This will help you to see whether you are using language strategically to prompt students or does it just sound like you are “nagging” them.  With ASD students who have language processing difficulties as well as attention issues, teachers have to be very careful not to get stuck using the same language over and over again or using too much language.  If a student does not respond to the first or second prompt that you’ve given, he/she will likely not respond to the fifth or sixth prompt either.  Often in these situations, what is needed are fewer words not more.

cartoon teacher with speech bubble that says bla bla bla

How many times have I said this?
Try saying it in a DIFFERENT way.

Finally, we have to remember that language is one of the most powerful tools that  have as teachers.  As Denton notes in “The Power of Language,” teachers’ words impact how students “think and act, and ultimately how they learn” (p. 1).  Teachers’ language, including body language and voice tone, convey respect and trust to a student. So, think about using reminding language that will prompt you in your interactions with students (and humor always helps):

mug with "Keep calm or I will use a teacher voice" and blue poster with crown and words "Keep calm and just breathe"

Am I using a CALM voice?

Teacher prompts can be particularly useful as you start the new school year.  As a teacher, you know that prompts and reminders help students stay organized, on-task, and independent.  Why not consider using the same strategy to support your own teaching?

You’ve been sitting down for how long??

In school, especially middle and high school, we tend to plan period to period. When we plan in period increments it becomes easy to become so focused on the parts that you forget to think about students’ experience across the whole day. Educator Alexis Wiggins followed a student’s schedule for two days and one of the most eye-opening takeaways was how much of the day  students are required to sit and listen. Maintaining continual focus in one location can be a challenge for all students, and may be particularly challenging for students with ASD. Sitting in one location may limit engagement with content, reduce students’ analysis and application of content, maintain low energy and prevent the kind of engagement teachers hope to see.

clip-art-sleeping-student-Yh3TzV-clipartTo counteract this tendency, consider adding opportunities for movement throughout each period. Movement can be embedded into a lesson or can be a short break from content. Some examples are:

  • Quick movement break (example HERE)
  • Stretches & yoga breathing (example HERE)
  • Stand and deliver activity (example HERE)
  • Rotating station activity (description HERE)


As you are planning your next lesson challenge yourself to build movement into each period.

For Alexis Wiggin’s full article click HERE

Simply Magical Post-its

I have a theory:


Office referrals for both behavior problems and academic difficulties would decrease exponentially if teachers were armed with post-its.


Yes, just post-its.7iaLrp9iA


We use them all of the time to remind us to make copies, to jot down ideas, and to flag important pages in teachers’ guides, but it often stops there.  Post-its stay in drawers, on desks, and at the bottom of bags.  


Let’s get them OUT! What if every teacher kept a pad of post-its in his or her pocket all day, every day?  


Simple post-it strategies can offer concrete, visual supports to help students understand expectations, remember directions, monitor progress towards a goal, and celebrate successes. I want teachers to see the simple magic of post-its–what a quick jot can do to help students succeed.




  • In a collaborative teaching classroom, you see one teacher write down the three verbal directions that were given at the end of the mini-lesson on a post-it , and that post-its is then placed on the desk of the student who always had trouble getting started. Just a few boxes next to each numbered step, and this post-it is now a visual checklist for a student to easily reference and use. Maybe this time the student can start his work, when he would otherwise wait for the teacher to help. Maybe this time this student shows more focus to the assignment, as he checks off each step when they are completed. Maybe he gets to be the one to helps his classmate who forgets what she’s supposed to do next, rather than always being the one who needs the reminders.


  • In a general education classroom, a teacher notices that a student keeps getting up to get water, sharpen her pencil, and chat with a neighbor. The teacher takes a post-it and says, “Let’s set a goal: 4 sentences or 6 sentences?” The student chooses the smaller goal, and the teacher draws 4 quick circles on a post-it and then adds “= a break” at the bottom.  The teacher then explains, “After each sentence you write, put a star in the circle. After 4 stars, you can take a break.” This post-it visual provides clear goals, student choice, as well as an opportunity for self-monitoring and reinforcement, not to mention a movement break. Maybe this time this student is more motivated with this more concrete goal of 4 sentences, rather than the open-ended “write for the rest of the period.” Maybe this student feels more successful with each star she draws. Maybe she takes a break to celebrate a job well-done, rather than to avoid a task that feels impossible.


  • In a self-contained classroom there is a student who started his day frustrated. Each period brings mounting expectations, demands, and feelings of failure. In this room, the teacher does not use post-its to list expectations, set goals, or monitor progress. Instead, he might jot down a quote from the student’s favorite movie or draw a sketch of the student’s favorite Minecraft character. This post-it is placed on the student’s seat so that it’s the first thing he sees when he comes back to his desk from a challenging lesson. After lunch, his teacher jots on a post-it, “Can’t wait for you to hear the read aloud this afternoon!” and just passes it to the student with a smile.  Our work as educators is sometimes to put aside the demands of the curriculum, and to first meet the needs of the child. A quick post-it can provide reassurance, comfort, and maybe even a laugh. Maybe this time this student is able to smile and take a breath in the middle of this difficult day. Maybe he’ll be able to make one comment during the class read aloud. And maybe he’ll go through his day knowing that his teacher knows him a little better than he had thought, and maybe he sees that his teacher cares about more than just the schoolwork.


Try it. See what you find. Carry that one pad of post-its and a pen. Create a simple checklist, goal sheet, or personalized note. And don’t stop there- get creative.  Does your student need a reminder about ways she can get help if she is confused? A list of prompts to help him with his reading jots? What about a graphic organizer to help him organize his thinking before jumping into that essay? What about just…



Catch ’em Being Good

Most people are wired to notice things that don’t match our expectations.  We notice the person facing the wrong way in line or the person speaking loudly when everyone else is whispering.  In the same way our attention is drawn to student’s who are not meeting our behavioral expectations.  We notice the child who is running when their peers are walking or the child who is chatting when they are meant to be working.  We correct or redirect that child.  They receive our attention for nonproductive behavior.  We tend to overlook the child who is meeting our expectations, the child who is walking calmly or working steadily.  


When we consistently give attention for nonproductive behavior we can (inadvertently) diminish the motivation and enthusiasm of the child who is on task.  To support or increase student motivation we must train ourselves to catch students being good.  This does not mean we have to ignore behavior that needs redirections, but that we have to push ourselves to give more attention to positive and productive behavior.


Try this:

  • Keep a running tally of how many times you redirect- you can do this on a post-it, or the back of your hand- no one needs to see this but you
  • Ask yourself if there are any discernable patterns- is most of this redirection aimed at one student?  Or related to one type of behavior?  What could you do/plan ahead of time to reduce this behavior- rearrange seats, change partners, etc.?
  • Set a goal and push yourself– for every piece of redirection, give two pieces of positive reinforcement.  It doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) directed at the same child.  Compliment students who are working, sharing, organized, on time, ask questions, applaud effort, are brave enough to attempt to answer questions, etc. Staying-Positive


Catching student being good is hard at first!  Stick with it- it can change the tone of your classroom and increase student motivation!


For more information click here.

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