Pictorial Directions

Pictorial Instructions, Picture Directions

UDL 3.3 UDL 5.3

Pictorial Directions are visual task outlines in which students are given images, such as pictures, photos, or diagrams in sequence, in order to navigate the actions required to successfully complete classroom tasks (e.g., daily morning routines, center time responsibilities, small group or independent work). A teacher uses simple images for Pictorial Directions (e.g., hand drawn, free clip art images, actual photographs) to support visual learners as well as students with hearing loss that might have difficulty processing instructions presented verbally for a task. Pictorial Directions are typically displayed in a highly accessible area while a student is completing the task (e.g., at the student’s desk, on a wall near a center/activity location). While strategies like a checklist also support students that have difficulty independently following multistep directions, Pictorial Directions differs in that it provides students with imagery while completing a variety of tasks.

Ready-to-Use Resources

Self-Regulation Tool

First-Then Board Templates

A set of First-Then Boards to visually support students in positive behavior choices.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 · Behavior & SEL · 2 pages

Self-Regulation Tool

Visual Schedule: 3-Step (First, Next, Last)

A vertical 3-Step Visual Schedule that can be used to introduce foundational skills for telling time, as a visual schedule, or a behavioral modification tool, with Word and PDF versions included.

Grade K, 1, 2 · Behavior & SEL · 1 pages

Self-Regulation Tool

First-Then Board Picture Choices

A set of picture choices for First-Then Boards to visually support students in positive behavior choices. Also includes a blank picture template.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 · Behavior & SEL · 5 pages

Implementation Tips

Image selection
Choose images that explicitly demonstrate each action of a task, similar to this [[ | hand washing sample ]] using free clip art. Alternatively, take actual photos of task steps and arrange the photos sequentially in a printable document to create personalized Pictorial Directions that are easy to duplicate or modify.
Modeling Pictorial Directions
Introduce any new set of Pictorial Directions by modeling how the images match the steps necessary to complete a given task (e.g., point to the picture, provide direct demonstration, repeat with each step). Offer guidance as a student uses Pictorial Directions to practice task steps before independent use.
Featured Photographs
Take photos of the student completing each step of a task to clearly represent the actions needed for a frequently used multi-step task (e.g., pack up routine). Since the student is part of the visual reference, this will help build the learner’s connection to the task at hand when viewing the images at a later time.
Display Pictorial Directions in highly accessible areas for a student to reference while completing specific tasks. This might include taping them onto a desk or inside of a folder/notebook, hanging the directions inside of a locker, or simply handing a printout to the student depending on the task required.
Personalizing Pictorial Directions
Add a student’s interests to Pictorial Directions (e.g., student’s favorite color, animal, sports team symbol, cartoon/book character) or simply use colorful borders to help draw attention and build motivation for a student while using the visual outline. Do not include these if they become highly distractible.
Building Independence
Design Pictorial Directions in a way that can build student independence. For example, laminate the visual and allow the student to check off each step as it’s completed (e.g., with a dry erase marker), or use Velcro tabs on each image and ask the student to independently move images from a “Do” to a “Finished” column.
Motivating Learners
Build incentive to encourage a student to complete a multi-step task independently using a Pictorial Directions visual by acknowledging the student’s efforts after successful completion (e.g., give the student a sticker or draw a star on a reward chart that can lead to a short preferred activity).


Daily Morning Routines
At the beginning of the school year, a teacher notices several students having difficulty remembering the morning routine steps (e.g., put away backpack, take out binder, turn in homework, choose lunch, begin morning work). To support students, the teacher creates [[ | Pictorial Directions ]] to outline each step of the daily routine. Clear, simple images are selected and paired with short text descriptions as well as different colored borders to signify each step. The next day, the teacher displays the reference on the front board for high visibility and points to each image while modeling each step. Some students are also given individual copies of the same visual to follow as a guide.
Expectation Setting
Before having students participate in a new listening center, a teacher presents Pictorial Directions to help students remember expectations while working independently. The teacher explains, “When you are at the listening center, this visual will be on the table to guide you.” Each step is modeled by the teacher and then students are asked if any of the steps require clarification. After, students independently use the [[ | Pictorial Directions ]] while visiting the station. The teacher also creates a modified version of the visual to help motivate and engage a student that is highly distractible, by covering each face of the current image icons with their favorite basketball player’s face.
Supporting Multi-Step Tasks Across Content Areas
While planning a new class experiment, a science teacher decides to use Pictorial Directions to help explicitly outline the steps required for making a volcano, similar to [[ | this sample ]]. While introducing the activity, the teacher explains what each image means and reads the related text. After, each group is provided with a copy of the Pictorial Directions. As students begin the experiment in small groups, the teacher offers guidance by referring to the Pictorial Directions for support (e.g., “I noticed that your group still has the bottle on the desk for Step 1. If you look at the picture, where should it be?”).

Related Strategies