first-then boards as a support for standards-based learning


A first/then board is a popular visual strategy used to provide structure and support in the classroom and beyond. A first-then board may be used to:

  • increase independence
  • provide predictability and comfort
  • ease transitions
  • teach choice-making/self-determination
  • reduce verbal cues
  • highlight expectations
  • increase motivation

To learn how to create your own board, check out this video I made a few years ago with my friend and co-author, Sheila Danaher:

Paula Kluth discusses using first/then boards

So, now that you have the basics down, consider how this concept can be stretched and modified to support students in standards-based lessons in inclusive classrooms. So often, these visuals are used only to engage students in completing tasks (e.g., worksheet, cleaning up). First/then can absolutely be used to help any student get through challenging work or less-than-interesting parts of the day, but it does not to be limited to this application. For instance, you might bring a first/then board into physical education to help students understand and remember what warm up exercises they need to complete at the beginning of class.
Using first-then boards as a support

A first/then board could also be used to teach students steps in the writing process.
Using first-then boards as a support

A preferred activity can still be added to the end of the sequence or the board can be used simply to provide clarity and guidance instead of motivation.

Other ideas for standards-based first/then boards:

  • morning meeting sequence
  • centers or stations rotation
  • literature circle steps (e.g., clarify roles, discuss prompts)
  • an algorithm
  • parts of a performance or event (e.g., concert)

The best part of this strategy is how easy it is to use. You can certainly laminate a board and create several options for your tasks, steps, and choices, but you can also simply grab a marker and piece of paper and start sketching.