How to Use a Picture Story Sequence to learn New Skills

picture story sequence

One tool that a therapy provider has in their toolbox is the picture story sequence. You might be wondering what we mean by this, but you probably have seen a picture sequence in one place or another every day! From picture instructions, to safety visuals, to everyday visual schedules, we all use picture story sequences! Using a sequence of pictures, we can support children in learning new skills, life skills, and comprehension of learning. Let’s break down picture story sequences as a tool.

In this article, we’ll explore the power of visual cues and provide tips on creating effective picture story sequences to help your kids learn new tasks. You’ll learn what picture story sequences are, why they work, how to create them, and how to use pictures to work on life skills.

Picture story sequence to teach kids life skills

What is a Picture Story Sequence?

Picture story sequences are a visual aid that helps learners comprehend information more easily. They comprise a series of images that show the steps to take when doing a task, along with a brief description of each step. Picture story sequences work to teach the steps of a task.

Sometimes, traditional methods of teaching just don’t cut it. That’s where visual prompts can make a world of difference. Did you know that picture story sequences can greatly aid in understanding and retaining information?

Research shows that sequencing pictures are an effective tool for teaching children essential life skills.

This is an effective tool for so many individuals because they engage multiple senses, including sight, which is a powerful learning tool. They break down complex or abstract concepts into more manageable pieces, making it easier for kids to understand and remember them.

Specifically, a picture story sequence is a series of images or illustrations that depict a sequence of events. These images are arranged in a specific order to convey a narrative or convey information about a particular topic or skill.

Picture Story Sequences for Learning

Picture story sequences can be used as visual aids to support learning, especially for children who may have difficulty understanding abstract concepts or have limited language skills.

A sequence of images may also be used to tell a story. You can teach young learners about first, middle, next, last, and other time-based concepts using the key events of a story. There are several skills that are covered when using pictures to tell about events of a story:

  • sequencing
  • cause and effect
  • problem-solving
  • context
  • comprehension
  • language development
  • creativity and imagination

In a picture story sequence, the images usually have captions or labels that describe what is happening, helping the viewer to understand the sequence of events and the context of each image.

One visual graphic example of a sequence of events along with a dialogue the individual can use in a functional task is a social story. This version supports individuals by following a visual expression of the progression of a task.

How do picture story sequences work?

By following picture story sequences, kids learn to organize their thoughts and systematically follow instructions. They also improve their memory and attention skills, as they have to recall the steps in the right order.

Picture story sequences also allow kids to work independently and at their pace, as they can refer to the images and the text as many times as they need.

  • A young learner can use a picture that represents a part of a task to put the steps into order.
  • A sequence of images can also be used to identify materials that are needed for life skills tasks. For example, a learner can identify cooking life skill materials needed to wash the dishes by using the images.
  • The steps of a task can be used in both forward chaining and backward chaining to support success with task completion
  • Sequencing tools can be used to develop and enhance executive functioning skills by targeting planning, prioritization, task completion, and working memory.

Visual Sequencing Pictures and Life Skills

Learners can use visual cue cards or picture cards to support life skill work. A user might place the picture cards in a sequential order as they talk through an activity. Then, the individual can identify materials that might be needed.

A therapy provider can ask about difficulties that might come up to address problem solving and target cognition.

Some of these sequencing tools can include:

Sequencing Cards for Storytelling

When you use a story sequence to retell a story, children can place the images in order to identify parts of the story from beginning to end. This might look like placing picture cards on a table as they re-tell the story using the visual cue cards. Plus it can be a fun and interactive way to incorporate creative storytelling with visuals.

When used to re-tell a story, kids can work on:

  • Comprehension
  • First, middle, last
  • Pulling out important features of a story or test
  • Re-telling skills
  • Problem solving
  • Empathy
  • Creativity to come up with different endings or scenarios for a story
  • Language development-identifying what a character might have done or said instead
  • Understanding consequences of actions in a story

Social emotional learning

Visual sequencing cards can also be used to target social emotional learning. A therapy provider can ask a client or student to identify what event might have led to an emotional expression and then the next steps that should occur.

This is great practice for a student to talk through and problem solve in a stress-free environment. It’s an activity that supports development of empathy and conflict resolution.

Using pictures to show progress through a situation supports a child as they become more aware of situations and the feelings of others as they grow in the stages of empathy development.

How to Create Picture Story Sequences

Effective sequences can be created by keeping it simple, using clear images, and making them relatable to your child’s everyday life.

To create an effective picture story sequence, start by identifying the task or skill you want to teach. Break it down into steps and determine what visual aids would be helpful to represent each step. Use clear, simple images that accurately depict each stage of the process.

  1. Break down the task- write out the steps or identify the steps of a task in order.
  2. Take pictures of the activity being done. Or, use clip art, or photos found online to depict the steps of the activity or story.
  3. Create cards by gluing the images onto index cards, cardstock, or cardboard.
  4. If needed, add Velcro to the back of the cards. The cards can then be stuck to the other side of the Velcro attachment on a sequencing board.

Using Picture Story Sequences to Teach Life Skills

Picture story sequences aren’t just useful for teaching new tasks, they can also be a powerful tool for teaching essential life skills. From personal hygiene routines to independent living skills, picture sequences can provide a visual roadmap for children to follow as they learn critical skills that will help them navigate the world around them.

For example, picture sequences can be used to teach children how to keep themselves clean and healthy. With a sequence of images showing each step of the process, children can learn how to properly wash their hands, brush their teeth, and take care of other basic hygiene tasks.

Picture sequences can also be used to teach important life skills such as cooking, grocery shopping, and budgeting. By breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, children can gain a better understanding of how to perform these tasks successfully.

One way to do this is to use our life skills cards and work through essential daily tasks using images specific to the individual.

Tips for Using Picture Story Sequences

Picture story sequences are an effective tool for teaching children new skills and concepts. However, to get the most out of this learning method, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of picture story sequences with your child:

Consider the sequence of the steps carefully and ensure they follow a chronological order that makes sense to the child. Use text to supplement the images, adding brief descriptions or instructions that the child can easily understand.

Make the sequence interactive by involving the child in the process of creating it. Ask them to provide feedback on the images and text, and encourage them to identify any steps that may be confusing or unclear.

Review the sequence with the child several times, ensuring they understand each step before progressing to the next one. Encourage them to refer back to the sequence as often as they need to reinforce their understanding.

  1. Start with simple tasks: Begin with tasks that are easy to understand and execute. This will help build your child’s confidence and make them feel more comfortable with the learning process.
  2. Use real-life scenarios: Incorporating real-life scenarios into the picture story sequence can make it more engaging and relevant for your child. For instance, if you are teaching them how to make a bed, use pictures of their own bed rather than generic images.
  3. Use age-appropriate language: Make sure that the language used in the sequence is appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level. Using complex vocabulary or concepts can be overwhelming and confusing for young learners.
  4. Add variety: Keep things interesting by including a variety of tasks and activities in your picture story sequences. This can help prevent boredom and maintain your child’s attention throughout the learning process.
  5. Encourage participation: Encourage your child to participate actively in the learning process by asking them questions, soliciting their feedback, and incorporating their ideas into the sequence.

Picture story sequences are a powerful tool for therapy providers, educators, and parents to use with children. By breaking tasks down into manageable steps and providing visual cues, kids are better able to understand and retain information in both literary and life skill events.

By implementing picture story sequences, you can help your child succeed in learning new tasks while building their confidence and independence. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to