The 3 Essential Layers to Your Student’s IEPizza

Courtesy of  Pizza Hut
*Image courtesy of Pizza Hut*

“An IEP is a waste of paper! Just tell me what services the student receives.”

Have you ever had this thought, before?

If you’ve sat in enough IEPs you’ve had this thought dozens of times and know exactly what you’re getting into at each meeting. However, if you don’t sit in these meeting as often or are new to them, I’d like to help by explaining the gist of the IEP.

Now before I get into the 3 layers, you must understand that each layer is designed to build upon the point before. Since I’m hungry right now, I’ll use the analogy of a pizza to explain. At the base of the IEP, we have the PLOPs which will be our dough. On top of that, we glaze on the saucy, but not so much cheesy goals. And finally, we add on the perfect combination of pepperoni and pineapple (supports and services) toppings that bring it all together.

Now that you’re hungry too, let’s start with the foundation of the pizza – the Dough

LAYER 1: The Dough

Our PLOPs will act as our fluffy dough. Present Level of Performances, or PLOPs, are your student’s baselines and should include all academic areas – writing, mathematics, reading, and language arts – as well as many functional skills such as fine and gross motor skills, social skills, community participation and behavior. For each of these areas, there should be at least some short notation to your student’s strengths and concerns. Just like the rest of the IEP, all team members can add their own narratives to this section of the IEP. Just be sure that what you’re reading in the PLOPs sounds like your student. If it doesn’t, politely ask questions to identify why that narrative is in the student’s IEP. It may be a typo, or it may be a difference of opinion. Either way, it is best to make sure the PLOPs are in order before moving onto the goals.

LAYER 2: Sauce and Cheese

Now that we have our foundation prepared, it’s time to add some Goals onto the dough. Just like sauces and cheeses, goals come in many varieties. While I won’t get into the details of forming great goals here, what you need to know is that the goals need to merge with the PLOPs like the melted cheese on the dough. Goals should be an extension of the PLOPs. When in the PLOPs there is a concern about the student’s mathematic skills, then a goal should be created to address this concern. The same should occur for all other areas of concern – both functional and academic areas. Again, it is important to iterate that all team members can, and should, have input into what goals the student should meet for the upcoming year. Make sure that all necessary concerns are addressed with a goal, as they will now be the base for our S&S toppings.

LAYER 3: The Toppings

This brings us to our toppings, the Supports and Services. Supports and services are the specific professionals and tools that will be provided to the student in order to help them access their education. And just like I would never eat pineapple and pepperoni without the dough and cheese, never would I offer my services to a student before knowing what their PLOPs and Goals were.

Based upon a student’s goals, the IEP team is supposed to determine which and with what frequency the student requires services and supports. While some students may have only 1 or 2 services other students may see 4 different specialists in order to access their education. Similarly, some students may require the support of extra time, while others require a quiet space. Again, these are all individualized and related to the student’s goals.

Time to throw it in the oven! 

There you have it, the 3 essential layers to your student’s IEPizza – The PLOPs, the Goals, and the supports and services. When layered correctly and with the help of the entire team, they can blend perfectly. However, without balance and sequential order you can end up with a very messy pizza. If you are a teacher or other provider, I hope this helps to understand why the IEP is ordered in the way that is is. And for the parents out there, I hope you understand a bit more about the services your child receives and why the school offered to provide those services. In any good IEP, you should be able to see the progression from the PLOPs-to-Goals-to-Supports and Services.

Thank you all for visiting my site. If you have any questions or would simply like to make your thoughts about this topic known to others who may need help, please use the comments sections below or email me at OTtoolsblog@gmail.com

Thanks again,


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1st Grade Common Core and a Free Tool to Improve Your Student’s Writing!

1st Grade common core standards

Hey everyone, I’ve got a freebie for you all to use with your kids, but first let me explain.

If there is one thing I am learning from writing this blog, it is that there is a ton of Common Core State Standards for each and every single grade. None of them are more blatantly, in your face, related to occupational therapy as is CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.1.A – “Print all upper- and lowercase letters.” This standard screams occupational therapy to any 1st grade teacher who 1) knows what OT is, and 2) sees a child continuously squishing their letters/words together or forming all lowercase and capital letters the same size with no regard for the base, mid, and top line.

For me, these 2 concerns have got to be up there in the top-5 reasons for a referral, along with sensory worries (more on that in an upcoming blog). While it may be a first grade standard, a referral to OT almost always stems from a child being unable to meet CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.1.A. Well today, I Just want to provide you all with a support tool. This is one I keep handy at all times and hand out to special education teachers and general education teachers alike. It’s nothing special, but it helps kids with sizing, spacing, and placing their letters on the line. The best part about it, is that you can make as many copies as you’d like.

I call it Gray-space paper and I recently created several versions that can be used from pre-K up to about 3rd grade if we are talking about typically developing kids. You likely have seen paper that use aspects of this paper, but when I couldn’t find paper that had both aspects of the paper kids seemed to respond to, I create this paper.

So anyways, I want you to have it. Just click anywhere on this paragraph to sign up. Simply leave your info and you will soon receive an email with the Gray-space paper attached.

And if for some reason you do not want the paper for free, but still want it… You can purchase it for $1.99 at teacherpayteachers.com. You may also want to take a look at the Hi-write paper down at the bottom of the page. This is also a commonly used adapted paper.

Thank you again. I hope this resource is able to help at least one of your kids and maybe even an entire 1st grade class.


Hi-Write paper (Picture is a Link to Amazon)

Paint Writing

Paint Writing


paint bag


Hello again,

I just wanted to share this quick, easy, – and most importantly – fun activity. It can be used to work on many of the skills required for pre-writing and writing skills. Some of the many skills include: following individual or multiple steps, finger isolation, pincer grasp, functional pencil grasp if using a Q-tip as a stylus or a dry erase marker, and shape and letter formation sizing, and placement.

I used this activity with a general education first grade classroom to work on following multiple step directions and then we focused on our letter formation, sizing, and linear placement. Both the teacher and the kids loved drawing shapes, forming letters and spelling words.

Possibly the best aspects of this activity are how easy it is to create and that the paint bags are reusable. To create this project, all that is needed is some acrylic paint, sandwich bags, masking tape, and a sharpie if you plan to sketch some lines on the bag for writing. A q-tip or dry erase marker can also be used by the children to make indentations or draw on the bag.

Some additional tips:

Be sure to use ample paint and try to get all of the air out before sealing the bag. Then there is air, the drawings/letter do not come out as sharp.

Black and white paint aren’t as fun. And they just don’t show up as well. Blue and green seemed to yield the best results.

If sealed tightly, the paint will not dry up for a few days. The teacher I worked with has used them several times to practice spelling words with the class. They still enjoy it.

Well that is it for this post. Let me know what you think about this idea or how you would adapt it for your kids. If you have seen something like this before or used this activity, share your experiences or even pictures. Any questions are also welcome.

Thank you for taking the time to learn about a new activity. If you appreciate this text and wish to view more when available, please subscribe HERE to my email list. As a thank you, I’ll send you a free printable adapted paper you can read more about HERE



Kindergarten Expectations: Common Core Standards and Writing development

Kindergarten Expectations: Common Core Standards and Writing development

Common Core State Standards:

Over the last several years, state after state has adopted what is called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These standards are research based and have been implemented in large part to develop critical thinking skills in children at an early age.

Each grade has a set of Mathematics Standards and English Language Arts (ELA) Standards. By the end of their kindergarten year, our first year students are expected to: (There are a lot, so I am going to summarize and condense the best I can. For a full list, visit www.corestandards.org)


  1. Count objects and compare different whole numbers up to 19.
  2. Understand simple addition and subtraction.
  3. Compare and sort objects by a measurable attribute.
  4. Identify shapes as well as compare and compose them.

English Language Arts (ELA)

  1. Ask questions regarding a text as well as identify key concepts and details such as characters and setting.
  2. Derive the meaning of unknown words from a text.
  3. Compare illustrations and stories.
  4. Scan a page from left to right, top to bottom, and page to page.
  5. Understand that words represent text.
  6. Recognize that words are separated by a space on paper.
  7. Identify and print all upper and lowercase letters.
  8. Pronounce and count syllables in spoken words.
  9. Produce the primary sounds of each letters.
  10. Read similar, yet different, sight words.
  11. Use drawings, text, and dictation to compose stories, opinion, and explanatory pieces.
  12. Use commonly used nouns, verbs, prepositions, and question words to form complete sentences.
  13. Use capitalization for first word of sentences and use punctuation at the end of a sentence.
  14. Spell simple words phonetically

As you can see, in kindergarten our students are learning the foundations of their educational careers. For this reason it is important to ensure they are using the most efficient methods and mechanics so that they may continue for the rest of their lives.


Kids typically are enrolled into kindergarten at the age of five; thus, I will be focusing here on the development of fine motor development that occur as a child reaches his/her 5th birthday. These skills will be geared toward beginning to compose written work including shapes, letters, and numbers. Before a child reaches school, much of what they do is unstructured and “free play.” As they start school, they will learn strategies to further their scribbles into shapes and letters.

One of the foundational developmental skills that I tend to look for first is whether or not a child has established a clear dominant hand. By age 5, hand dominance should be well established. While some children may appear to be ambidextrous, at this age they should really be favoring one hand over the other. Developmentally, it is more functional to have one hand that works really well, rather than both hands working moderately. At this point kids should be able to use their non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper they are writing on, even if they requires a cue from the paper moving to do so.

The second skill I look for is their grasp on a pencil and how they are manipulating it. Research has indicated that both a 3-finger grasp and a 4-finger grasp are considered functional (Schwellnus et al.). The key points to emphasize here are encouraging the child to hold the pencil with the tips or pads of their fingers and to keep an open web space between the thumb and index finger.

Examples of functional grasps. Top Left: Dynamic Tripod grasp; Top Right: Quadrupod grasp; Bottom Left: Unconventional Tripod; Bottom Right: Tripod Grasp with Thumb Wrap (Mickey is clearly interested)
Examples of functional grasps. Top Left: Dynamic Tripod grasp; Top Right: Quadrupod grasp; Bottom Left: Unconventional Tripod; Bottom Right: Tripod Grasp with Thumb Wrap (Mickey is clearly interested)

Finally, once I see that they have an established hand dominance and appropriate grasp, I look to see what muscles they are using to manipulate the pencil and write with. They should be using their fingers and wrist to manipulate the pencil rather than their entire arm. If a child is holding the pencil with a fisted grip it would be unfair to expect this because they would not be able to use their fingers to manipulate the tool. By giving a child the opportunity to write on a vertical surface (wall, chalk/white board, easel) they can develop an appropriate grasp and the finger coordination required to manipulate the writing tool.

By looking at these three prewriting skills in a child, a parent, teacher or guardian can help a child get a good start to kindergarten. If a child appears to have these skills down and is still struggling to trace simple shapes and letters as they progress through school, it may be an indicator that an Occupational Therapy screening or evaluation is appropriate.

Thank you for taking the time to read my very first post. If you appreciate this text and wish to view more when available, please subscribe HERE to my email list. As a thank you, I’ll send you a free printable adapted paper you can read more about HERE

Thanks again,