Structured Work Systems

Systematic and organized presentation of mastered tasks for independent work.

When to use: 

  • When a student has mastered a skill during direct instruction, and needs continued practice to maintain the skill. 
  • To give visual and environmental structure to academic, functional, vocational, and daily living skills tasks. To help students learn to complete activities without waiting on prompting. 
  • To teach a student to complete tasks that will be used in other settings, such as the general education classroom, a job site, a store, or the home. T
  • o keep all students meaningfully engaged in activities while staff work with individuals or smaller groups. 

How to use: 

  1. Identify the location for the structured work system and gather necessary items for the area such as: desk, chair, area for the tasks, finished box, mini-schedule. 
  2. Identify independent work for the student and set up the work prior to the student’s arrival. 
  3. The mini-schedule should answer the questions: 
    1. How much work do I do? 
    2. What work do I do? 
    3. When am I finished? What comes next? 
  4. Set up the type of work system for your area. The most common is a left to right system, but you can also use top to bottom, binders, or for more independent students, a central location for the tasks where the student goes and gets their predetermined tasks. 
  5. Teach the student how to use the system through modeling. Depending on the skill level of your student, it may be necessary to begin with one task and build. 
  6. Place a mini schedule in the workstation with icons that match the icon on each task (folder, drawer, or bin), in order from left to right or top to bottom. 
  7. For each task, the student removes the leftmost icon, or top icon, from the mini schedule, matches it with the icon on the task, then performs the task. 
  8. When the student is finished with each task, they put it away and move on to the next task. Tasks can be placed in a finished box, or returned to where they were stored if in a central location. 
  9. The final icon on the mini schedule should tell the student what comes after they have finished all tasks, typically reinforcement/desired activity. 


  • When prompting, use non-verbal cues, as this is an independent work area and verbal cues can be the hardest cues to fade, leading to prompt dependence. 
  • Do not take apart or “reset” work where the student can see: this shows a student that the work they have done is meaningless. 
  • The tasks and activities worked on at an independent workstation should be meaningful to a student’s Individual Education Plan and overall functioning. 
  • Independent workstations should not be used to introduce new skills, tasks, or activities. 
  • Rotate activities regularly to keep student’s interest and prevent potential behavior. 
  • See our Toolkit for visual schedule examples and templates. 


  • Also referred to as Independent Work System or Independent Work Station. 
  • Once a student learns how to use a structured work system in a special education setting, the work system (or elements of the work system) can be used in general education settings, job sites and other community settings, and in the home.