three pictures of plastic boxes and file folders to hold work tasks next to black text 3 tips for setting up independent work stations

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Do you use independent work stations in your special education classroom? These were a game-changer for both myself and my students when I was in the classroom. Read more below to find out 3 tips for setting up an independent work station in your special education classroom.

Independent Work Stations in Special Education

What are independent work stations in a special education classroom? It is a time in which students must complete work on their own without an adult helping them or prompting them. It is work completed by the student completely INDEPENDENTLY. I always had built-in time for independent work in my classroom; it was part of our daily schedule. While students are working at an independent work center, you can take that opportunity to work with a small group of students or an individual student to collect data on IEP goals.

independent work station with labels

How to Set Up Independent Work Stations

Setting up your independent work station area for success is super important. You want things to run smoothly during this time and you want to have everything set up so that students CAN be totally independent during stations. Let’s look at all the materials you will need and how to structure your independent work station area so that students will be successful (and independent!).

how to set up independent work stations

1. Look at IEP Goals to Create Independent Work Station Ideas

The first place that I always begin when I set up my independent work stations at the beginning of the school year is looking at my student’s IEP goals. I want them working on tasks that they can be independent in but also goals that they need to work on and master before the end of the IEP year. When we are learning how to do independent work stations at the beginning of the year, I always use independent work that my students can feel confident with and complete easily such as errorless work tasks.

Independent work stations are often filled with shoe box tasks, paper tasks, or laminated tasks like file folders. However, I want you to also consider putting TOYS in your work stations too! Why? In addition to making independent work stations really fun and something students look forward to, toys have the added benefit of teaching play! I’ve even created a blog post all about the 10 best toys for independent work tasks.

Visual schedule for independent work station

2. Get Organized

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After deciding what kinds of independent work you want to use in your stations, it’s time to get organized! Do you want to put each independent work task in a clear plastic bin like the ones that I use from Amazon? Or, would you rather simply use cardboard file folder boxes for the materials?

Next, attach velcro to the containers that you decide on and then print these task box labels for your independent work station. These are what help keep things running smoothly and how I stayed organized and my students stayed on schedule. I printed a green and red visual schedule for each student and then I posted the task box label icon of which task box they needed to complete for that day. The matching icon will be on the task box that they need. For some students, I have the task boxes sitting over in the independent work station area. For other students, I have the task boxes sitting on a shelf and they have to go find the correct one. This is how I differentiate the activity a bit as well. Once they complete the task, they move the icon to the red “all done” side.

Get clear plastic tubs with lids to stay organized in your independent task box area.


Grab the task box labels for your independent work station

3. Keep it Simple

Finally, keep it simple. Don’t give the students 10 tasks to complete during this time or they will get overwhelmed. I have found over the years that 3-5 tasks is plenty and usually takes 30-45 minutes to complete, depending on the student’s level. This gives you an adequate amount of time to work with another student or small group of students or even take a lunch break while a paraprofessional is in the room. Keep the tasks simple yet fun as well. As I said above, my favorite items to use for independent work tasks are:

Errorless Learning Activities

Put in / Push On Toys

File Folders

Cut and Paste Worksheets


monthly file folders subscription that is perfect for independent work stations
3 Tips for Setting Up Independent Work Stations