Learning to Follow Directions in Speech Therapy

Half the battle with Kindergarteners is following directions.  While all those early reading and math skills are critical components, it’s the inability to follow directions that derails kiddos and classrooms most.

Parents often feel that following directions has more to do with compliance and tend to say “refuses to” or “won’t listen,” maybe “stubborn” or “uncooperative.” My experience has been that the ones not following directions are struggling more with the concepts and language load of the instructions as opposed to a true behavioral issue.

Classroom directions are loaded with language that tends to be a weakness for our speech students.  Descriptive concepts, which we call “attributes” in the speech room, can be complex and working memory is often an issue as well.

These are a few of the tips I give to parents and teachers to help them support the work we are doing in the speech room on following directions.

  • Offer directions as “bullet points” rather than paragraphs. By breaking down directions into clear, separate components, my kiddos are better able to catch the steps. (ex. Put on your shoes. Get your lunch. Get in the car.)
  • Give instructions, not options. Our little ones need straightforward commands. Avoid having choices be part of the instruction. For example, ask them to “get a book and sit on your cot” rather than “get a book or a quiet activity and get on your cot.”
  • Avoid conditional phrasing.  Most teachers don’t realize how often they are including conditional phrases in their instructions and it’s a concept our language delayed kiddos often lack.  Rather than saying, “If you finished your morning work, you can…” or “if you still need…., then” (which virtually guarantees they hear only the last section), separate it into a question and then a direction. “Did you finish your morning work? Great! Then you can choose a center.”
  • Focus on “after.” Once kiddos have an understanding of “after,” you can introduce “before” as it’s opposite and most of my students have an easier time wrapping their head around “after” because we can make it more concrete. For example, “After dinner, you can have dessert.” “After your nap, you can watch a show.” “After you get dressed, we can go to the park.”

In my room, we work on specific concepts that relate to directions and I usually add a movement component.  “Feed the Woozle” is an off-the-shelf board game that easily adapts itself to this. Just add another movement to the end. So you’ll hear me say things like, “Hula to Woozle, feed him and clap when you’re done.”

My “1, 2, 3 Action” directions pack was recently revised and has lots of options for seated or standing movements, written or picture prompts and includes quantity and temporal concepts.  Click here for full details.

If your students are more advanced, you may want to look back at my post on using magnetic story boards in speech. It includes free story scripts that you can use in the speech therapy room.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dana

    Those tips are perfect to give to teachers, especially some new teachers!

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The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.