How To Use Visual Checklists

You can never overestimate the power of a plan and structure for all kids, but especially for those that have challenges with executive functioning.

A proven method to turn down the nagging and to help your kids get things done independently in your classroom and at home is to create visual checklists.

What Are Visual Checklists?

Sometimes called an “activity schedule,” a visual checklist is an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) tool that helps teach skills by visually representing activities that need to be accomplished.

The terms “schedule” and “checklist” can be used interchangeably, but typically a “visual schedule” teaches a skill that occurs in a sequence. On the other hand, visual checklists can be used for skills that do not necessarily need to occur in order, such as an editing checklist that reminds the child about specific errors to watch out for in their work.

Often used to outline routines, visual checklists help children complete activities without prompting from adults. Over time, and with practice, kids learn to rely on the checklist instead of adults to find out what they should do next. Ultimately, the visual checklists can be faded out, because children will learn the tasks for each routine without needing the checklist as a prompt.

While visual checklists are easy to implement in your home or classroom, they are also effective. A study conducted at Utah State University showed peer engagement improved among a group of preschoolers with autism when they implemented a joint activity schedule.

In their book, Activity Schedules for Children with Autism: Teaching Independent Behavior, authors Lynn E. McClannahan, Ph.D. and Patricia Krantz include many examples of how activity schedules help foster choice making, independence and social skills. The book also includes easy-to-understand instructions for how to implement the tool into your home or classroom.

How Can You Use Visual Checklists?

A great place to start in figuring out how a visual checklist might transform your home or classroom is to think about your answer to several questions: What causes the most stress for you and your children? When do you feel like you can’t possibly tell your child or student ONE. MORE. TIME. the way to complete a task?

Here are some ways to incorporate visual checklists into your home or classroom:


  • Morning routine
  • Washing hands
  • Getting dressed
  • Cleaning their bedroom
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Brushing their teeth
  • Evening routine
  • Homework
  • Taking care of pets
  • Going to bed


  • Morning routine (what we do when we arrive at school)
  • Clean up the classroom
  • Specific academic skills (e.g. steps to use for math word problems)
  • Daily schedule
  • Getting ready for recess
  • Lunch
  • Leaving for home

How Do You Create A Visual Checklist?

As you set out to create your own visual checklist, be sure to break down large tasks into discrete, smaller steps or actions. If the task involves a sequence of events that are all chained together, you can teach through a concept known as chaining. Chaining helps teach multi-step or complex skills and can support children who are prone to skipping steps or often complete steps incorrectly.

Since these checklists have visual reminders of what to do, it’s important that children can see the reminders and they are posted prominently where it makes sense (e.g. on the bathroom mirror for reminders on how to wash hands.) Before implementing a visual checklist, walk through the schedule with the child. Role playing is also very effective to make sure they understand what each step is telling them to do.

There are many free printables and ideas for visual checklists for your home or classroom on Pinterest. You can also purchase visual checklists for your home and classroom from several resources.

Timely Reinforcement

While you can expect positive results from incorporating visual schedules, it won’t necessarily be immediate.

One way to ensure success is to provide reinforcement for the successful completion of a schedule as close to when it is completed as possible. If a child successfully completes their morning routine, the reinforcement could be 5 minutes of TV time or a favorite snack in their lunch. During school, a high-five from the teacher might be enough. In a couple of weeks when the child is independently using the schedule, your reinforcement for completing the schedule can fade and you can then focus on a different one if necessary.

As they are learning to use the visual checklists, kids will often come back to adults for guidance. When they do come to you, fight the urge to direct them verbally. Just direct them to their visual checklist instead.

If you want support when implementing visual checklists, please contact Psyched Services today. We can assist you with strategies such as this as well as others as part of our Pocket Coaching services.

What routines are your kids struggling with at home or school that might benefit from a visual checklist?

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