What’s In The Bag: A Great Activity For Autistic Learners

‘What’s in the bag’ is a fun and engaging activity for Autistic students and Early Years learners. It’s great for teaching students to increase attention, for extending language and teaching Augmentative and Alternative Communication (A.A.C.) core words. Read on to find out how I do it and view a video example.

‘What’s In The Bag’. What is it all about?

It is all about you as the teacher using over exaggerated facial expression and body language, to gain and keep the students’ attention. ‘What’s in the Bag’ is one of those activities that I use year after year. Put simply, it is about creating excitement for whatever is in the bag. But in reality it is a great teaching tool. The main components to the activity are you, a bag or a box and, a toy or two.

What is the Purpose of the Activity?

Many students with Autism struggle to know what to focus on. It is a challenge for them to filter all the information coming into their heightened sensors. Young learners are very busy and have limited attention spans.

‘What’s in the bag?’, will quickly become a preferred activity to teach students to attend for increasing periods of learning. It is also a great way to teach A.A.C. Particularly good for core words such as ‘in’, ‘what’, ‘put’, ‘feel’. If you are interested in more information around teaching core words check out this post.

The activity is great for extending receptive language for young children and those in SpEd. ‘What’s in the Bag’ is also really handy to have when students are producing some unwanted behaviour. It moves eyes away from the culprit and reduces attention to the behaviour.

Photo of Ann from Aroha Special Ed smiling holding a bag with captions that read 'What's in the Bag? and A great activity for SPED or Early Years

How To Teach: ‘What’s in the Bag?’

There are two ways I utilise this activity.

  • One is to plan the toys, theme, number, ELA or science resources, to suggest a few. If I am going to have the students describe and guess what they are feeling, I would show them the choices of the items first. I would cover them and remove one and place it in the bag. Next, either the teacher describes and the students guess or invite one of the students to place their hand in the bag and guess the item.
  • Sometimes I simply put in fun items with a view to model A.A.C. language. I base this on the core words of the week I am working on and also to extend vocabulary. It is a great activity for online learning via Zoom (or similar).
  • The second way I utilise the activity is to commence spontaneously. If there is 5 minutes to fill; for settling after a transition; to distract while other staff are seeing to an unsettled student; to end the day. It really is about the drama of the act so any toy, book, musical instrument, iPod song will do.
  • I always keep the bag in the same spot, with some fun, highly preferred objects in. This way all the team know where it is, ready to pull out in a hurry when needed.

‘What’s In the Bag’ is Fun

I hope you walked away with some ideas about how to utilise this great activity in your classroom; for distance learning or at home. This is a similar idea to stage one of Attention Autism. Click here to view a clip from Gina Davis on how to engage attention by inviting irresistible participation.

Try it. You will have fun and so will your students.

Aroha, Ann

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