The Benefits of Independent Work Systems

Independent Work Systems

Independent Work Systems, or sometimes called structured work systems, involve bins or baskets of tasks with visual cues. These visual cues help special education students work through the tasks on their own, without prompting. These work systems answer the following questions for our students:

  1. What work needs to be done?
  2. How much work needs to be done?
  3. How do I know when I’m finished?
  4. What do I do next?

Using independent work systems with my own students opened my eyes to the wide range of benefits these systems have. These benefits aren't only for my students, but also for me, my classroom, and the families I work with.Here are some of the benefits I saw in my own classroom, along with an easy way to get started with independent work systems!

using furniture to create a visual boundary

Benefits for Students

Foster Independence

A strong independent work system will provide students will all tools and materials they need to complete a task, as well as visual reminders of what order to go in, when to stop, etc. This encourages students to use the materials in front of them to answer questions, rather than finding an adult.

Increases Fluency

Allowing students to practice previously mastered skills over and over again increases their ability to complete the tasks faster and faster.  This also increases their confidence.  It is like an added bonus.

Maintenance of Previously Learned Skills

Because we are asking students to complete this work independently, these systems do not work well with new material. Students should have had previous exposure to the skills in their independent work. The benefit of this is reinforcing skills that we want our students to maintain! Independent workstations are excellent for spiral review.


Releasing responsibility to our students boosts engagement. Rather than relying on an adult for verbal cues and prompts to move on to the next task, students rely on themselves to complete their work. This activates a variety of cognitive skills as students sequence the order of the tasks, recall skills they have previously learned, and comprehend the directions on how to complete the tasks. This much active thinking keeps students engaged!

Benefits for Teachers

Decrease Prompt Dependence

Because students have all of the skills and tools they need, they will rely on adult prompting less over time. This is a needed life skill, on top of being beneficial for the teacher. Without the extra prompting, there is more instructional time to work with students in small groups while other students complete their independent workstations.

Free Up an Adult

Without the need for extra prompting for each student, teachers and paraprofessionals are freed up to assist with other student needs. Adults in a special education classroom are always stretched a little too thin. So, it's in our students' best interests to find ways to shift the learning responsibility back to them. This makes us available to target other needs!

Increase Stamina

The more independent work time that students have, the more working stamina they develop. The extra prompting and verbal cues from adults can disrupt stamina development. Students are able to mentally rest while adults are working to figure out what a student should do next. When independent workstations are first introduced, students likely will still need additional prompting. Over time, however, students will be able to solve their own problems and keep working without assistance. 

Benefits for Parents

Time Management

One of the questions that a strong independent workstation should answer is ‘how much work needs to be done?'. Knowing how much work there is to complete and that there is more to do after this task is over, helps students pace themselves! This skill is then transferred from school to home. Families benefit from students understanding that a task has an order, and knowing what to do when they are done.

Problem Solving Skills

If done correctly, independent workstations will reduce the amount that a student relies on adult prompting. They will use the materials in front of them to answer their questions and solve their problems. Teaming up with families can further promote these skills. Adults at home can foster problem-solving skills by cueing students to look at the tools they have to solve their problems. This benefits students both at home and at school.

Benefits for the Classroom

Reduce Behavior Disruptions

A combination of the stamina, engagement, and problem-solving skills that students develop also results in fewer behavior issues. Many behavior disruptions come from places of overwhelm and sensory overload. With these work systems, so many questions are answered upfront for students. They know exactly what to do, how long to do it, and what to do when they are done. Students feel confident in their ability to complete the tasks, which results in fewer behavior disruptions.


Everything in an independent work system has a place. Students know exactly how to return items, and where to store them. This keeps your classroom neat and organized, and decreases the amount of time that you spend cleaning up!

Get Started with Independent Work Systems

Do you want to see more of these positive changes taking place in your classroom? You need independent work systems! Not sure where to get started? I developed an Independent Work Station Starter Pack just for you! This FREE download gets you the labels, schedules, and data collection sheets that you need to get started on the right foot. Grab your free download HERE.

free independent work system starter pack

Another great way to get started with Independent Work Systems is with some professional development!

I have a FREE on-demand training all about getting started with Independent Work Systems and I'd love for you to join us!

Click here to join!

Independent Work systems have been such a game-changer for me and my classroom.  

If you want to save this blog post for later, click on the image below to pin it for later!

what are structured work systems?

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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