Chunking Tasks

The Strategy

Chunking refers to breaking a large, lengthy, or difficult assignment or task into smaller parts. Teachers inform the student of the chunk to be completed and check in with the student at the end of each chunk to provide encouragement and/or feedback. In theory, by chunking, the student will feel less overwhelmed by the length of the assignment, will be able to be more attentive to the content that is presented, and complete the assignment with higher quality. For students who struggle with sustained attention, chunking is designed to maximize performance before the student is drawn off-task. Chunking can be used in conjunction with more frequent breaks as a reward for completing each chunk of the assignment.  In theory, this break allows the student to refocus attention. Chunking also can be used in conjunction with emotional management training to help students manage their negative thoughts and feelings related to difficult assignments  

  1. Identify content areas or specific times of the day that the target student(s) may be more prone to disruptive behavior, restlessness, or may be more emotionally reactive to the assignment.  As you plan those lessons, consider the independent or group work being assigned. Identify opportunities to divide up a task or assignment. For example, if students are being asked to complete a math worksheet, break the tasks into two, three, or four chunks for the target student/s. As a reminder, note these options within your lesson plans.
  2. When providing instruction about the activity or assignment, indicate to the student that the material can be completed in chunks or sections and provide the first instruction. Allow the student time to complete the initial section.
  3. Check in with student as s/he completes the assignment. Praise compliance and effort. Consider providing the opportunity for a brief break before moving on to the next chunk (see More Frequent Breaks strategy content for more on this).
  4. Use Beacon progress monitoring tools to evaluate the extent to which this strategy is improving the target behaviors as intended.

  • Speaking to the student in advance of the activity may be helpful in gaining student buy-in and ensuring that you have similar expectations for the procedure

    • I have an idea that may help you stay focused (or not feel so overwhelmed by our class assignments). We’re going to use a strategy called Chunking. I will break the assignment into smaller parts, called chunks. I’ll give you a chance to ask questions about the first chunk then you can just focus on that part. Then I’ll check back in with you at the end of the chunk to see how it went. We can make sure you are successful with this before moving onto the next chunk. If you need a 2 minute stretch break at that time, you can take one. What do you think? Is there anything else that might help? 

  • For students who are overwhelmed by the assignment, consider given them coping statements to use at the start of each chunk

    • Let’s say this aloud together “It’s only a small chunk. I think I can do it” 
    • “All I have to do is this small part, then Ms. [Name] will check back in with me”
    • “I can try this small chunk, then ask for help”

  • For students who benefit from visual reminders, you can cut horizontal slats in a manila folder to make three flaps. Put the assignment in and only open the flap for the chunk the student is working on (e.g., open the top flap for the first chunk, then the middle flap, then the bottom flap).
  • Consider using timers for each chunk or for each break between chunks.
  • Typically, students will struggle with remaining focused for any extended period of time (e.g., more than 30 minutes). This will be particularly difficult for students with behavioral problems.  Although this strategy can be used for one student, you may want to consider using this strategy with the entire class during longer periods of independent work or more involved assignments.
  • By chunking tasks, teachers have additional opportunities to provide feedback to the students. Maximize these opportunities by looking for things to praise, as well as behavior or academic performance that may need correction. Providing intermediate praise will help reinforce the student’s work behavior and encourage them to persist with the remaining chunks of the assignment or task. Use stickers, high fives, drawn smiley faces, or silent cheers at the end of each chunk for students who may be motivated by more demonstrable praise.
  • Chunking of assignments can be used as a strategy in the classroom or for homework, particularly when assigning larger, long term projects. For example, if students are working on a research report and related diorama, provide intermediate due dates to help provide structure and opportunities for praise and feedback.

Because chunking tasks does not effectively build the skills students need to independently meet age-appropriate expectations, it cannot be evaluated for effectiveness. The goal of chunking tasks is to provide the student with smaller, more manageable tasks that the student perceives as less overwhelming and more manageable than facing everything at once. If this strategy is selected for use in the short term, it is recommended that it be replaced at some point with an intervention to help the student develop the skills needed to independently meet age-appropriate expectations for managing and completing large assignments.

Intervention Scorecard

This intervention is recommended for the following presenting problems.

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Other suitable presenting problems