This post originally appeared on the blog TEACHING SPECIAL THINKERS.
 
 I remember when I first started teaching in my classroom, I literally had no clue what I was doing. I remember everyone kept talking about:
 
STRUCTURE
STRUCTURE
STRUCTURE
 
I shook off their advice and did things my way for the first few months, thinking my cute little classroom set-up was just the beez-neez with all my desks set up in rows, bright colorful baskets full of materials on every shelf, and large open concept floor plan (channeling my inner Joanna Gaines).
 
NOPE
 
When I finally learned to follow the advice of others who had been in field much longer, I realized that classroom set-up is probably one of the most important things about a classroom… especially one that serves young students with autism. Throughout that first year, the dynamics of my classroom evolved drastically. By the end of the year, my classroom looked like lots of little cubicles, and my students had become expert independent workers. 
 
Although there is no right or wrong way to setting up your classroom, if you serve students with autism and other disabilities, you do need to have some sort of structure to each area in your classroom. Here are a few guidelines I try to follow when I set-up my structured work systems.
 
Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
 

Our students tend to struggle with staying in an area independently. At the beginning of the year, my TA’s and I end up being human barriers to teach them that they must stay in the area on their schedule to work until they are finished. Set the boundaries of the area using furniture. It’s a lot easier to monitor the small “entrance/exit” to a center than an open space. See below for some examples – the red arrows indicate where the entrance/exit to the area.

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
 
 
Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
 

I have several different “independent” centers in our classroom. Even though the tasks will vary, I try to keep the actual student area consistent. Below is a visual to guide you and some examples.

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
 
 
Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.

 

Students are not going to walk in your classroom and know exactly what to do at each center. MODEL EVERYTHING over and over and over and over again… and then some.  

 
Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
 
At independent work stations, ONLY assign materials that the student is able to complete INDEPENDENTLY (without any prompting whatsoever). Once a student understands how to follow the left to right work system, he should be able to complete all tasks assigned without any adult assistance. This makes your life a lot easier because you’ll actually have free time to work with other students.
 
Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
 
Here are a few pictures from my favorite SPED ladies! 
 
Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
 
Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key. 

 

Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
  
Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.
 
How do you set-up your independent work system areas? 
 
Post a picture on Instagram and use the hashtag #teachingspecialthinkers to share. 
 
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Teaching Special Thinkers gives some terrific tips for setting up your special education classroom and says using structured work systems is key.Over the past six years, Gabrielle has taught in a variety of special education classroom settings with various age groups and ability levels. She currently teaches in a classroom that serves students with autism in Kindergarten through 2nd grade. She has a passion for providing high quality instruction, as well as a safe and nurturing learning environment that fosters independence and growth for children with special needs. The desire to share her passion led her to develop a website, Teaching Special Thinkers. Gabrielle wants to engage each and every learner in her classroom. She creates engaging and appropriately leveled resources for her own classroom and shares them with other teachers of special thinkers on her TpT store. She loves the challenge of creating classroom resources that can meet the needs of different learning styles and ability levels, and save teachers time!