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What Goals Can You Work On With Community-Based Instruction?

Student looking at items in the store.

At a Glance

Explore the range of skills developed through Community-Based Instruction, including executive functioning and independent living skills.

Discuss the importance of aligning CBI activities with students' individual goals for practical, real-world application.

Highlight the role of CBI in building specific routines and familiarizing students with community environments and norms.

Welcome back to our Community-Based Instruction (CBI) series, where we spent part 1 talking about the basics of this valuable activity and part 2 talking about the wide variety of CBI that can be planned in a given community. In part 3 we are going to take a closer look at the types of skills students can work on in the context of a CBI environment, and how various CBI environments can offer additional value on top of other more low commitment activities that take place at school. 

If you are considering the potential for organizing a CBI outing, a great place to start can be with the types of skills most tied to your students’ goals and seeking out locations that best align with those goals. When seeking out approval for a CBI outing, offering a clear picture of the variety of skills students can work on during that time can make a big difference!

So let’s take a closer look at some of the broad categories of skills that students might learn and the types of CBI outings that might be particularly conducive to each.

Executive Functioning Skills

Most executive functioning skills can be practiced in the classroom to some degree, but can also benefit from being practicing their application in specific environments. A great example of this type of skill is task initiation. While it is possible to work on task initiation in the classroom, work tasks are often more complicated procedures and may require lots of preparation steps. 

For a student who has a relevant goal related to finding strategies for initiating important tasks, navigating obstacles related to those tasks, and breaking down a specific plan on how to get started consistently, doing so in an environment that is reflective of their future career goals can be incredibly valuable practice and sense of environment that not every student has the opportunity to experience.

Another skillset worth considering is working memory. The crucial component of working memory is not necessarily about learning a specific task, but identifying what tools are both effective to a student consistently remembering how to carry out a task and practical to use in a work environment to which it might apply. Offering a student the opportunity to explore a more realistic setting after exploring and deciding on which tools are helpful in a classroom setting can help further clarify for the student which feel most reliable for remembering how to carry out important tasks.

Another great opportunity to explore is the unique ways that specific community locations might require us to practice our time management skills. Time management can certainly cover things like getting work done in a classroom, but what about taking the bus several stops down the road to make it on time to see a specific scheduled movie at the movie theater?

As valuable as all practice around executive functioning can be, CBIs offer a unique opportunity to focus on a specific context to which they may apply, ideally in support and acknowledgement of a student’s long term goals whether it is being able to access community events or practice for a specific type of job.

Social Skills and/or Norms

One thing we find important to make clear when talking about social skills and social norms is to reinforce the idea that the best outings are ones that give students the opportunity to navigate situations the way they feel best with the confidence that they are in a safe environment to practice. 

So when we talk about social skills and social norms we are not saying that a student must master a specific set of behaviors to, for example, go to the movies. Rather, the goal is to share what norms exist and to strategize over what tools are best for navigating them based on each individual’s needs and priorities. 

If you went to a big retail store to practice job interviews, for example, you might explain the social norm that some hiring managers might judge you based on whether you make eye contact. But while some students might decide they want to try to make more eye contact to avoid that problem, others might decide they want to talk about it with the manager ahead of time or just not say anything and hope for the best. 

The important thing is to offer an opportunity to work on navigating those situations in the way they see best, rather than the often counterproductive suggestion that there is just one correct way to do it. Often social skills and norms in the context of CBI will come in the context of accessing a service, including going to a restaurant, interacting with a cashier, or seeking assistance at a more specialized service like the post office or mechanic.

Community Living Skills

While we talk about how some other types of skills can be practiced in settings like movie theaters or restaurants or other types of social outings, engaging in community living is a skill worth pursuing in its own right and one that can be fun and beneficial for many students. Being able to order from a restaurant and perhaps even several different types of restaurants from delis to sit down locations to fast food.

But community living isn’t just about going to the grocery store or to a show. Sometimes it can be about meeting specific people with important roles in the community, while other times the focus might be on community safety skills like reading signs and knowing when it is safe to cross the road. Don’t underestimate the value and repeatability of being able to go on a walk to check on some of the signs near the school and check if we can all remember what they mean!

If you want to be able to practice some community living skills with your students but aren’t sure where to start, a great place to look for some starting points is our Community Skills IEP Goals blog post , which outlines a huge variety of skills that can be practiced directly in the community.

Independent Living Skills

While there can be some overlap between community and independent living, the best way for you to define a particular skill is often the way it is intended to meet a given student’s needs. Grocery shopping for example is a skill that can entail executive functioning and community living skills, but is also frequently considered an independent living skill because it can be a crucial component of many adults feeling sufficiently independent in their lives.

One other angle worth considering however, particularly if you are in a school setting where it is not easy to practice skills that might require special equipment to practice in a way that is more realistic to independent living situations. A classic example is cooking in the kitchen - while some schools might have access to home ec classrooms with oven, many do not and a trip to a working kitchen or school with an additional focus on independent living skills can allow students to practice the types of cooking skills that simply aren’t practical to learn in many school settings. 

Whether it’s learning to boil pasta, use a skillet, cut vegetables, or bake a tray of brownies, the experience of doing it in a real setting with some specialized guidance and the ability to see an end result can make a big difference in remembering and wanting to continue to work on those skills independently.

Building Specific Routines

One hugely underrated component of community outings is doing so with the goal of building specific routines for specific students. Many students in the future will be living in the area in which they are currently learning, and while learning about the big picture of how lots of public services work is certainly valuable, it can also be valuable for students to whom the circumstances fit to outline a specific routine that the student intends to rely on frequently in the future. 

The classic example is building a specific transportation routine, which might involve practicing going to the stop where a given student is expecting to find work after graduation or to a specific postsecondary learning institution. It might involve practicing making the order they always get at their favorite restaurant and building up a sense of familiarity with the people working there who might be serving that student for years to come.

When working with students you know will be living in the local community after graduation, consider working together discussing the specific types of routines they might expect to use frequently in adulthood, and consider how actively practicing those routines can both benefit those students from a real world experience standpoint and from a standpoint of establishing their presence in the community and grow a familiarity and rapport with the people who provide those services.


We hope covering some different types of skills you can work on in a CBI context and has offered some interesting frameworks to apply to the resources available to you locally. If you are still looking for different types of skills to inspire you, consider checking out our IEP Goal Bank Collection, which is 100% free. Not every skill will easily overlap with a specific CBI activity, but there are plenty that will spur your thinking! 

In the meantime if you have any feedback or thoughts you’d like to share we can always be reached at and we will be back next week with part 4 where we will dig into how to plan for a CBI outing.

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