Tools For Your RTI Toolbox: Following Directions!


Do you have a student struggling with following directions?  Do you know a teacher that has concerns with a student in this area?  Have no fear, some strategies are here!

RTI Strategies for Following Directions

Before we can tackle strategies, we need to think…what are the possible causes?  Think of the student you have in mind.  Which one of these best represents the reason they are struggling to follow directions?

RTI Strategies for Following Directions - Possible Causes

  1.  Focusing:  You may think, “Are they paying attention?”  This student may have ADHD-like qualities.  Their inability to focus on a task or attend is impacting their ability to follow directions given.
  2. Processing: This student hears you but does not seem to understand what you are saying or what is expected of them.  You can speak with the school nurse to see if they passed their last hearing screening.  This type of difficulty would mean that their hearing is FINE!  They struggle to know what to do with the information heard.
  3. Memory: They hear and understand but cannot get past the first step.  They have a poor working memory that is impacting their ability to follow directions or hold onto the information.
  4. Language: If a student has a weak vocabulary, this can impact their ability to know what to do when directions are given.  They may have difficulties with multiple meaning words or figurative language.

Ok, so now that you thought about what could cause the issue, feel free to brainstorm with the school psychologist (about focusing/memory), nurse, a special education teacher, or the school SLP (processing/language).  Now let's discuss some possible strategies to try:

Visual Aids:

RTI Strategies for Following Directions

If you have student having difficulties focusing, you can give them visual reminders on what they need to do in order to focus and attend to auditory information.


If a student is struggling with any of the above difficulties, they can benefit from visuals with pictures.  You can display on a dry erase board the steps to complete a task with words/pictures.  No need to have fancy pictures, if you can easily draw it, that works too!  It will help them stay focused if they know exactly what they need to do.  Poor memory, nothing to remember!


For students struggling with any of the above, break down the directions on a worksheet and make it visual.  You can conference with the student to see if they can tell you the steps.  Make is simple, short sentences or bullets, and to the point.  In the picture above, the worksheet has TONS of tasks and steps.  Granted this activity was designed to do as a group to work on all the different skills.  But if you wanted a student to practice following directions and completing a task independently, you can give them a list of tasks and they can go down the list to complete them.  Make sure they understand the vocabulary used on the list!  (Worksheet from my Text Evidence Print and Go Worksheets Pack)

Break it Down


Another way you can break tasks down is by using plastic cups.  If you want students to complete tasks in a specific order with different tools, give them the tools in the order and visually available.

The break it down strategy also is helpful when working on understanding the directions for math problems.  Teach students to identify key words to represent the different types of math problems.

Another way to break it down is to use short, simplified language!  If a student is struggling to follow multi-step directions, try out giving them 1 step at a time.  How about simpler vocabulary?  For example, instead of giving the direction “Before you take out your math book, take out your sharpened pencil and move your desk closer to your peer.”  Try telling them, “1st grab your pencil, 2nd sit next to a friend, 3rd grab your math book.”  Putting in a sequence is easier rather than using terms like “before” and “after.”  “Friend” is also easier than “peer.”

Repeat and Wait

Repeat and Wait - RTI Strategies for Following Directions

Many students can benefit from repetition and waiting time.  If they struggle to attend, hearing it again can help them refocus.  If they having difficulties processing, hearing it again and waiting for them to make sure they comprehend can help.  Encourage your students to ask for repetition if they need it.  They can even ask for more time if they start to recognize that they often need it.  Be patient!

Try these strategies out!  Bring the results to your RTI team.  Let them know if one or more of these strategies work or did not work.  They can help determine a plan based on the results.  If your school has data forms you are required to use, use them and document these strategies tried.  If they do not have a standard form and you do not know where to begin, there are TONS of free RTI record sheets available on TpT.  However, all you need to do is take a piece of paper, document when you tried one of these strategies (date/time of day/subject) and + or – if it worked.

I asked SLPs on Instagram and Twitter how they work on following directions and what strategies work best for them and their students!  See their responses below:


Remember, are all in this together!  It is OK to ask for help and ask for strategies!