How to Use a First Then Board

By Shari Kurtzman

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First Then Boards are a visual support system that allows young children or children with language delays to understand routines, expectations, and reward systems in more accessible ways. By providing a visual support along with language and social interaction, students are able to participate more independently and with less frustration in everyday activities. The simple layout of two spaces allows for the caregiver to update the board frequently and adjust depending on the student’s needs. Often a binder or pocket folder with Velcro to hold many cards makes the system compact and usable throughout the routine.

First Then Board Examples


  • First Circle, Then Playground
  • First Brush Teeth, Then Bus
  • First Art, Then Good-Bye


  • First Potty, Then Wash Hands
  • First Wash Hands, Then Eat
  • First Play, Then Clean Up

Reward Systems

  • First Veggies, Then Cookie
  • First Clean Up, Then Screen Time
  • First Make Bed, Then Breakfast

First Book Then Bubble Example


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The primary philosophy behind First Then Boards is the Premack Principle, which suggests engaging the student in doing a less preferred activity before a more preferred activity. This principle helps students extend their attention on a learning task and builds positive relationships between caregivers and students. This is done through consistency using expectations and following through on promises or expectations on both sides. Teachers and caregivers feel like their day continues to move forward (instead of having to handle a tantrum or fight) while students feel like they understand and are “rewarded” or are getting the feedback they need.

A First Then Board can be used to support any challenging transition or for new routines. These visual supports are helpful for new concepts, new language, and for explaining how to get from one activity to another. “First clean up, and then parachute!”

Any child can benefit from this approach. It is helpful for adults to slow down and break down ideas for any child. Simply setting expectations with pictures and discussing a plan or timeline often alleviates much of the push-back parents/caregivers see in students.

When Should I Use a First Then Board?

You may want to try a First Then Board with your student if:

Use one of Storyboard That’s example boards or make your own by going to “Create a Storyboard”. You can use pictures from the Storyboard That art library (see Strategies to Support Language and Social Skills) or upload your own photographs to help students understand exactly where to go or what is expected in their environment. Only simple text and images are required on the board, mostly to facilitate adult usage and consistency of language. You want simple, straightforward pictures that the child can identify or label easily. Avoid very detailed, large pictures and stick with single objects or places that are familiar to the student.

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First Then Boards are a great way to consistently model language, expectations and routine! Show us your favorite way you use your visual supports @StoryboardThat!

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