Chunking: Breaking Tasks into Manageable Parts

Middle eastern mother helping her child with homework.
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Chunking (Chunk is used as a verb here) is breaking skills or information into smaller, more manageable segments in order to help students in special education succeed. The term can often be found in Specially Designed Instruction (SDIs) as a way to adapt the curriculum in a Child's ​ IEP.

Chunking Academic Tasks

A pair of scissors is a great chunking tool.  Students who quit when given a worksheet with twenty problems may do just fine with 10 or 12.   Knowing your students is critical to making decisions how much each student can do at each step of chunking will help you make decisions about how many problems, steps or words a child will handle at each stage.  In other words, you will learn how to "chunk" the scaffolding of skills as students acquire them. 

Thanks to the "Cut" and "Paste" commands on your computer, it is also possible to scan and modify assignments, providing broader practice on fewer items.  It is also possible to making "chunking" assignments part of a students "accommodations." 

Chunking Projects in Secondary Content Classes

Secondary (middle and high school) students are often given multiple step projects to build research skills and to fully engage them in the academic discipline.  A geography class may require a student to collaborate on a mapping project, or building a virtual community.  Projects like these these offer students with disabilities opportunities to partner with typical peers and learn from the models they may provide. 

Students with disabilities often give up when they feel that a task is too big to manage.  They often are daunted before they even take up the task.  By chunking, or breaking a task into manageable parts, it helps scaffold students into longer and more complex tasks.  At the same time, careful chunking can help students learn to strategize their approach to academic tasks.  This helps build executive function, the ability to intellectually structure and plan a series of behaviors, like writing a paper, or completing a complex assignment.  Using a rubric can be a helpful way to "chunk' an assignment.  When supporting a student in a general education setting, it is invaluable to work with your general education partner (teacher) to create structured rubrics that will support your students.  Once that is in hand, lay out a schedule that helps your student meet multiple deadlines. 

Chunking and 504 Plans

Students who may not actually qualify for an IEP may qualify for a 504 plan, which will provide ways to support students with behavioral or other challenges.  "Chunking" assignments is often part of the accommodations provided for the student. 

Also Known As: Chunk or Segment

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Webster, Jerry. "Chunking: Breaking Tasks into Manageable Parts." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Webster, Jerry. (2020, August 27). Chunking: Breaking Tasks into Manageable Parts. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Chunking: Breaking Tasks into Manageable Parts." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 25, 2023).