5 Work Station Basics

You all probably know by now that I'm a HUGE fan of Independent Work Stations. I've posted about them many times and shared how to use them successful. I absolutely love the independence we build for our students.

Today I'm sharing 5 quick tips for setting up a work station in your Special Education classroom.

Tip 1: Define a space
When you're starting your work station you need to define a work space for your students. There are a few questions you're going to want to ask yourself:

  • Where will students complete work stations?
  • How many stations do I want to set up in my classroom?
  • What type of work stations will my students utilize?
  • Do I have space for each student to have a desk?

Tip 2: Create Visuals
Our students are visual learners. They need visual supports to access their environment. I structure my work stations with TONS of visuals. Not only do my students have visuals for the tasks to be completed, they also have visuals for all of these items:
  • icons for matching (to task boxes)
  • visuals for reinforcement
  • visuals for rules and expectations
  • boundaries

Tip 3: Plan what students will do when they finish their work
Ok, you have a space for your students to work. You have visuals for them to get started, but one of the essential questions when setting up a work station is "What's next?" Our students need to know what they will be doing when they have completed their work. If you haven't planned what students will do when they finish their work I can guarantee you're going to have students wandering around your classroom.

In my classroom, when students arrive at the work station, they immediately choose a reinforcer they want to work for. I keep these choices at our work station and when students finish their work, they are able to walk to the shelf, get the reinforcer, and bring it to their work station. They then engage with the reinforcer until it is time to transition.

Other ideas? You could have students check their schedule and move on to another center. This doesn't work well in my classroom with a precise schedule. You could also let students engage in some free choice time when they have completed their work station.

Tip 4: Plan for data collection
You know you're a special educator when every activity you set up in your classroom has to have a data collection system attached to it. Setting up a work station is no different. If the goal of a work station is teaching our students to be independent workers, how will we know that they have reached that level? We need to use a data collection system that not only tracks the students independence, but will provide information to the prompter when they are collecting data.

When I set up a work station, I keep my data on a clipboard hanging on a nearby wall. We are able to quickly grab the clipboard, bring it near the station, and see what prompts the student used the last time they completed the work station. This helps because we know where to start fading the prompts on the next trial. If I can see on the data, that a student is independently moving work to the finished box, then I don't have to prompt that step. I will expect independence from the student. I will start to fade back on the work completion step in the work sequence.

When you're planning for data there are a couple points to keep in mind:

  • What will my data sheet look like?
  • What steps are needed to complete this work sequence?
  • Where will I store data?
  • How will I know who is responsible for data on a given day?

Tip 5: Get your center ready
Ok, you've defined a space, prepared visuals, planned for what's next, and set up a data collection system. Now it's time to add the finishing touches to your work stations and get started!

In my classroom, I have three work stations that I use. I don't have the space for each student to have a desk to work at, so I've set up the three stations that I regularly use and I've color coded them. When my students check their schedule they will see either blue, yellow, or orange work. To make this easy for my students to locate, I got some large pieces of butcher paper and adhered them to to wall in the corresponding color. This way students have a visual cue of where they are headed.

Another thing you need to do before you get started is gather the tasks your students are going to be using while they complete their work stations. Over the past 8 years, I have gathered hundreds if not thousands of tasks, so I have a large collection on my hands. You can see how I get things ready for stations in this blog post. In my classroom, my students are always working on a variety of skills, so keeping fresh materials on hand requires a lot of things. I tend to like flat tasks for easy storage.

I like to keep all of my tasks organized in a file cabinet so it's easy to grab what I need. Check out my file cabinet:

I hope you're ready to start building a work station in your classroom. If you have any other questions, drop me a comment and I'll get back to you!


  1. I love the idea of work stations but I didn't get to use them last year. Hoping to implement them this year. What types of things do your students choose for reinforcers? I am planning to have half the students doing independent work while the other half is doing Morning Circle. The paras will probably be helping supervise, but I love the idea of having them be able to independently do what they need to do and then get their own reinforcer to work with until it is time to move on!

    1. I have 7 reinforcers available. You can see most of them in the pictures, but I have puzzles, legos, coloring books, books (our book area is right outside of the work area), magnet blocks, and an "I Spy Box" that has an magna view, some visual timers, and other fun and functional visual toys.

  2. I have a lot of things I can use as workstations but I don’t know how to implement them and take data on them. I got my certification alternatively so never learned how to take data. (This is my fourth year to teach.) Where would be the best place to learn that? Plus I need to see it in action, have it explained, the whole gamut. Any suggestions?

    1. Martha,
      I'm so sorry for the late response. This comment must slipped past me! I know that autisminternetmodules.com has a module on work stations and it's completely free. I haven't completed this module, but they typically have TONS of videos embedded in their modules. Let me know if you have more questions or shoot me an email!


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