6 Transition Activities for Better Student Outcomes

High school students engaged in transition activities in the classroom.
Transition coordinators and special education teachers are painfully aware of the lack of engaging, age-appropriate activities in transition curricula. When browsing through online resources, you instantly notice the almost complete lack of transition activities suitable to classroom settings.

This is no surprise, considering topics such as developing a positive attitude, communication skills, self-determination and self-esteem are rarely given the time and attention they deserve in the classroom.

With access to a range of fun hands-on activities that help students with disabilities better understand the importance of nonacademic skills and connect them to real-world settings, transition coordinators and teachers can markedly improve instruction in these areas.

In this article, we will explore recent data and research that illustrate the gaps in transition instruction before providing 5 examples of ready-made activities you can start using right away to stimulate the teaching of essential skills.

The Role of Transition Activities in Fostering College and Career Readiness

While there are growing trends that suggest post-secondary outcomes for people with disabilities have improved over the past few years, transition results remain unsatisfactory in key areas such as employment and further education.

The graphs below indicate a steady increase in the % of people with disabilities who hold a higher education degree or are in active employment.

Source: Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America (2023)
Source: Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America (2023)

These are positive developments indeed. However, the data continues to highlight the gaping disparities between people with disabilities and those without when it comes to accessing employment and further education. Digging deeper into the Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America, it is also evident people with disabilities continue to earn less than their non-disabled peers, are more likely to experience poverty and are far less likely to have access to benefits such as private health care.

These statistics have prompted a number of researchers to call for schools and districts to start addressing nonacademic skills areas that have been historically underemphasized.

For example, a meta-analysis of secondary transition literature by McConnell et al. sought to identify ‘student nonacademic behaviors associated with post–high school employment and education.’ Their analysis suggested that more attention should be paid to 10 key areas of instruction including knowledge of strengths and limitations, goal setting and attainment, persistence, and self-advocacy.

Moreover, numerous studies cited by June E. Gothberg et al. 2015, point to the benefits of developing competencies such as self-esteem and a positive attitude for academic performance as well as their effects on employability, earning power and well-being in adulthood.

However, teachers remain unconvinced. A widely cited national survey by Wehmeyer et al. indicates that many educators don’t see the value or benefit of instruction in this area. Others, feel unprepared to provide such instruction or claim they lack the necessary resources.

Transition coordinators can address these issues by:

  1. Clearly outlining the immense need for teaching nonacademic skills (as illustrated in this section) and
  2. Providing the necessary resources to facilitate instruction.

This is where transition activities come in.

Graphic organizers, role-playing games and connect-to-home activities are all quick and easy ways to stimulate the teaching of transition skills. They help secondary students reflect on the importance of what they are learning and connect particular skills to real-world situations and emotional states.

So, let’s explore 6 engaging classroom activities for high school students to practice key transition skills. These activities are designed by professional instructional designers at Ori Learning and can be adapted to a wide variety of learning styles and needs.

6 Classroom Activities to Enhance Your Transition Curriculum

I. Setting Personal Goals

Cheerful young student happy for completing a personal goal. Wears a black t-shirt and backpack on yellow background.

Create an action plan for a transition goal involving independent living, education, work or health.

Step 1: Answer these questions.

What is your goal?
When do you expect to meet this goal (date)?
Is your goal S.M.A.R.T?

  • Specific
  • Attainable
  • Measurable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Remember the 5 golden rules:

  1. Set goals that motivate you.
  2. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  3. Set goals in writing.
  4. Set an action plan in place.
  5. Set time to re-evaluate and track your progress toward meeting goals.

Step 2: Use a graphic organizer to break down your goal.

What do I need to do to achieve my goal? What steps will I take to meet my goal?
What help do I need to achieve my goal? What obstacles might get in the way?
When will I check progress for my goal? How will I know if I meet my goal?

Step 3: Get feedback from your teacher, the class, your family or friends.

When giving feedback remember to:

  • Be honest but kind.
  • Take turns and help each other.
  • Give a compliment and a suggestion.
  • Make eye contact.

II. Developing Interpersonal Skills

Three teen girls embracing and smiling at the camera on orange background.

In this role-playing activity, you will analyze a problem and develop a solution that works for both sides.

Scenario 1: Your coworker is texting instead of helping customers.
Scenario 2: You are doing a group project and one of the members of the group is unwilling to do their part of the project.

Step 1: Pick one of the conflicts then decide if you should resolve the conflict.

  • Is there a solution?
  • Is it a big deal?
  • Can you change the person’s mind?

Step 2: Using the scenario you chose, prepare for the conversation you will have with the other person by looking at your own assumptions about their actions.

  • Action: What did the other person actually say or do?
  • Impact: How did this impact me?
  • Assumption: Based on this impact, what assumption am I making about what the other person intended?

Step 3: Use an “I feel…” statement to name your own feelings.

  • “I feel (name your feeling) when you (name the situation) because (name the reason for your feelings).”

Step 4: Imagine how the other person feels. Recognize the other person’s feelings and invite them to share their side of the story.

  • “I think that you feel (name what you believe to be the other person’s feelings) when (describe the situation and add an invitation to talk).”

Step 5: Imagine what the other person might say. Listen actively to understand the other person’s side of the story, share your own viewpoint, and then acknowledge the other person’s feelings.

  • What is their side of the story?
  • How can you acknowledge their feelings?

Step 6: Once you both understand that there is a problem, agree on an end goal.

  • What do you both ultimately want?

Step 7: List any obstacles stopping you from solving your problem.

  • What are some possible things stopping you both from getting what you want?

Step 8: Work together to come up with two or three possible solutions to help you solve your problem.

  • Who? Is there anyone that can help you solve this problem?
  • What? What is causing this problem? Can you fix it or change it?
  • Where? Where is the problem happening? Is the location causing the problem?
  • When? When is the problem happening? Will changing the time help?
  • Why? Why is the problem happening? What can you do about it?
  • How? How did the problem start? Did something change?

Step 9: List out the pros and cons of the solutions that you came up with. Once you’ve done that, pick one to try.

Step 10: Once you’ve tried out your solution, evaluate it. Did it work? Why or why not?

III. Identifying Personal Strengths

Teenager wearing denim shirt and white t-shirt with a backpack and headphones carrying school books. Yellow background.

Write a speech to a potential employer answering the question “Why would you be a good addition to our team?”. Use the template below to structure your speech and practice giving it to others.

Here’s an example:

I would be a great addition to your day care center because I have a lot of creativity. This means that I am always thinking of new and interesting ideas. This character strength helped me to work with my high school’s mural committee to paint murals on the walls of my high school. These murals made my school beautiful and were also educational. Having creativity will also help me in your day care center because I will use my creativity to help make many beautiful and educational art projects with the children. If I am given the chance to join your organization, this is just one of the many character strengths of mine you will see.

Step 1: Introduction

  • One of the challenges that I was able to overcome was (insert challenge). This means that (explain what your challenge was).

Remember to:

  • Restate the question.
  • Use transition words.
  • List a character strength.
  • Give an example.

Step 2: Supporting Details/Evidence

I realized that my (insert the challenge) stopped me from (explain the situation at the school, home, or elsewhere when the challenge stopped you from living up to your potential).

Make sure your evidence is:

  • Specific
  • Clear
  • A reasonable length (not too long)
  • Able to prove the point

Step 3: Conclusion

Overcoming (insert the challenge) taught me that (insert your conclusion). If I am given the chance to join your organization, this is just one of the many character strengths of mine that you will see.

In your conclusion, avoid:

  • Too much details.
  • Adding new details.

Step 4: Present Your Speech

Use a checklist like the one below to evaluate your own presentation and that of your classmates.

1: Did Not Meet 2: Meets Some 3: Meets All
Eye Contact
Body Language
Staying Focused
Taking Turns

IV. Career Exploration 

Student sits in front of open laptop and smiles to the camera.

Write a job description for your ideal future job. Use the template below. 

Describe the Ideal Company.
What is the Job Title?
Describe the Job Duties and Responsibilities.
What are the Education or Skill Requirements?
What are the Salary and Benefits for this Job?
Write a Brief Summary About the Position for a Newspaper or Online Advertisement.

V. Self-Determination

Smiling teen with red hat and sweater carrying a skateboard.

Complete this action plan before your next IEP transition meeting and use it to lead the discussion about your future. 

Step 1: People You Can Count On

  • Which people in your life are your biggest supports? Make sure to include role models, mentors, friends, family members, teachers and other people you can count on.

Step 2: Strengths & Preferences

  • List your strengths
  • List your preferences

Step 3: Needs & Obstacles

  • List your needs
  • List your obstacles

Step 4: Future Goals

  • When you think about the future, what do you see for yourself in each of the areas listed below?
House Work Education Relationships

Step 5: Additional Support

  • What supports do you need to make these goals come true?
House Work Education Relationships

Step 6: Accommodations & Services

  • Which accommodations or services have worked best for you and will need to continue after you graduate from high school?

Step 7: You & Your Future

  • What is the one thing you want everyone at your IEP transition meeting to know about you and your plans for the future?

VI. Cultivating Communication Skills

Teenagers wearing backpacks walking and talking on an empty street.

This is a role-playing activity you can complete with a teacher, friend or family member. 

Step 1: Read the scenarios and decide which conversation you want to write about.

  • Riding an elevator with someone you have a class with.
  • Speaking to a friend about your plans for the weekend.
  • Sitting at the lunch table with a new student.

Step 2: Review the Conversation Checklist.

Start the conversation with a greeting.
Exchange pleasantries.
Initiate conversation by tying a comment to an open-ended question.
Keep the conversation going by asking at least two questions.
Identify when you should end the conversation.
End the conversation by giving a reason, making plans for the future, or by making a positive comment about the conversation. Then say goodbye.
Show the conversation is done by leaving or doing something else.

Step 3: Write a draft of your conversation. Include notes on:

  • Greetings
  • Pleasantries
  • Small talk
  • Open-ended questions
  • Conversation closer

Step 4: Practice with your partner.

Step 5: Switch! And give each other feedback.

Step 6: Compose a follow-up email thanking your partner for the feedback they gave you.

Access Even More Transition Activities

Below you will find even more lesson ideas and engaging activities on topics such as:

This is just a small selection of the over 250 engaging and age-appropriate lessons in Ori’s Transition Curriculum. Designed for students aged 14+, it is your complete package for supporting students with mild to mild-moderate disabilities as they transition to the next phase of their lives. Request your Scope & Sequence today to get a free end-to-end transition lesson.