All Directions are not created equal

tomatoes-different colors

Not all directions are created equal


Following directions is a common goal for students as it involves a complicated language process.

It requires that the students:

  • Attend to the information given caution; some students may not be attending to information that is presented in one modality. Be sure to combine as many modalities as possible for that particular directions this may include auditory, visual and some motoric information but also may have a routine or time frame that helps the student. Make sure that you get the child’s attention prior to giving the direction. Often it is good to have a set phrase that alerts them to the fact that something important is about to happen. I happen to use Whole Brain Teaching by Chris Biffle and I do an exchange “class” which they answer ‘”yes”. WBTQuickstart-1l2l6lj Students with executive functioning difficulties may anticipate the direction and start before you have finished giving it. You need to teach them ‘how’ to listen to the direction.
  • You need to understand the vocabulary and concept that is in the direction. Sometimes it is the vocabulary that the student does not understand ( next to, over, after etc.). There are some words that are more commonly used in directions so it is important to make sure the student understands them. This includes conjunctions, prepositions, and negatives.
  • You need to be able to remember You need to be able to hold the information in short term memory so that you then can manipulate the language to follow the direction.

There is also a hierarchy of following directions:

  • Basic One Step: This has simple noun vocabulary (cup, shoe, book)  with simple early developmental verbs ( put, throw, draw). ” Pick up the cup.” ” Throw the ball.”
  • Expanded One Step: Some later developing language or concepts are added including negatives and contractions (Give me the cup and spoon. Use the larger crayon. 
  • Basic Two-Step: Directions with two basic concepts and an additional phrase.” Draw a tree and a flower.” ” Close the door and sit down.”
  • Expanded Two-Step: Directions that are two steps but also have an additional structure such as time and place. ” Throw your trash away before you sit down.”
  • Complex Directions: Multiple clauses or later developing vocabulary. ” Draw a flower near the tree after you have colored the grass.” ” Write your name at the top of the page then do questions 2-5.”

One way that you can determine if you are matching the directions to the complexity that you are working with a student on is to diagram the sentence. What type of words are you using?  Do you have multiple prepositions which would complicate the direction that you are giving?  Is your sentence simple, compound or complex?

If your student is not able to do the directions that you are using make an analysis of the sentence structure and separate out what you have as a hypothesis. So for example, if the direction you gave was to ” Color the flower next to the tree and color the smallest leaf orange.”  Was it the concept ‘next’? Was it that this was a compound sentence?  Was it the concept smallest?  Give the direction in a more basic way ” Color the flower next to the tree. This will give you an idea if the concept next is not understood. Do this with all the other sentences.

Sometimes it is the materials that we are using that may complicate the following directions for the child. So for example, if you are using animals in your directions make sure that these are very familiar to the child so that does not become the difficulty. So for some children, they know the names of every dinosaur while another just calls them all dinosaurs. Prior to using the material screen the names to make sure the child knows them.

Sometimes it could be the number of items that you are having the child scan. If discriminating between items is not part of your treatment goal then only have a couple items or pictures out.

What has worked really well for you?

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48 comments on “All Directions are not created equal
  1. Read! Using client centered directions has always been helpful for me. When I make sure that my language is centered around what the client will be doing, and less about what I will be doing during a given activity, I’ve noticed more success on their end.

  2. Read! Thank you for the advice on how to break down and isolate the sentence structure to determine what aspect of the direction a client may be struggling with.

  3. Read! This was helpful to realize things that may seem simple to us are more complicated for the child so it is always important to be aware of the language we use as clinicians.

  4. Read! I have always made a conscious effort to give clear directions. This is a great breakdown of direction complexity. Thank you!

  5. Read. I worked with a 1st-2nd grade group that did a lot of work with following directions. The SLP gave them a complicated picture to color. She would go over terms that may have been confusing to some children. She would often match it to a nearby holiday to keep it fun and relevant for the kids!

  6. This was so helpful for my last session! A lot of what I thought were 2 step directions were actually 1 step expanded. I was very cautious of not creating direction that were overly complicated and in the process my directions became too simple. This article helped me create more appropriate directions for my next session. Thanks!

  7. Read, this is particularly useful for me as a I have a client right now that I am working on this exact thing with. I will be assessing this client the next time I see them and will then go from there with the level of difficulty.

  8. Read. As a new clinician I think I sometimes just assume the child can understand the directions I provide, which is not always the case! Thanks!

  9. Read, one of my biggest struggles as a new clinician was realizing that what I thought was simple vocabulary was actually too challenging for my clients. This is a great tool for learning to break down language

  10. I really enjoyed reading how to increase or decrease the complexity of my directions. This will be helpful if I notice my clients are having trouble following my directions. Thank you!

  11. This really makes sense and will be utilized in the next session with one of my kiddos. I think their were too many variable in my directions; so I need to make sure I simplify them. Your resources are so valuable…thank you!!

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