Supporting Self-Regulation with Cues and Visuals

example of visual cue
source: istock/SerrNovik

We all rely on cues from our environment to help us regulate our behavior — from to-do lists, to alarms, to roadway signs! Cues help students manage their emotions and behavior, and internalize classroom rules. Cues can be verbal (e.g., spoken words or songs) or non-verbal (e.g., physical gestures or visuals)—what’s most important is that you customize them to fit the needs and interests of your unique classroom.

Tips for Using Cues and Visuals:

Teach the meanings of cues to your class and provide frequent reminders for their use.
Make them positive by focusing on the behaviors you expect your students to display rather than the behaviors you wish to reduce.
Acknowledge students when they use the cue or visual to help guide their behavior.

See Guide to Using Cues and Visuals for more tips and suggestions!

VERBAL CUES
Using rhymes or call-and-response phrases can help make cues fun and easy to remember. Choosing a specific song is another great way to signal to students that a transition is coming, or to remind them of a rule without having to fully explain the rule each time.

Examples of Verbal Cues:

• Call out “Macaroni and Cheese!” and have your students respond by saying “Everybody Freeze!” as a signal that they have paused and are ready to listen.
• To signal that it is time to clean up: take the words of a familiar song and replace them with reminders, such as “Twinkle, twinkle little star, it’s time to clean up where you are!”
• To promote good listening skills, remind your students to “SHINE”, which stands for: Sit up straight, Hands folded, In your own space, No noise, Eyes on the speaker. A visual depiction of this acronym will also help students remember each part.

VISUAL CUES
Visual depictions of rules or activities serve as reminders of how to complete every day activities, such as participating in group lessons, using learning materials at different centers around the room, or washing hands properly. Incorporate visuals that help with emotional self-regulation, such as emotion charts, and steps or strategies for calming down and problem solving during moments of frustration.

Examples of Visual Cues:

• To remind students of the morning routine: print or draw images to represent each task (e.g., hang backpack, put folder in desk, read a book or write in journal, sit for morning meeting) and position them where children will see them as they enter the room.

• To provide problem-solving strategies: Draw or print images to remind students of strategies to use when they experience social conflicts. Here are some examples:

printed strategy reminders
Source: http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/strategies.html

• To remind students of the steps for completing an activity: print cards with numbers on them, and cards with images to represent simple tasks such as “use a pencil”, “color”, “cut”, and “glue”. Place the images next to the numbers to show the order. If you use magnets or Velcro stickers, these cards can be rearranged and reused for countless activities!

And remember, if you create a visual and hang it in your classroom but don’t use it, it will not be meaningful for children!

Finally, we often think to use cues and visuals at the universal or classroom level. But, creating individualized cues and visuals for a student is an excellent way to provide the support a particular student needs to engage fully in the classroom.


More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email vkrp@virginia.edu, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.