Think of a skill someone recently taught you. Maybe you learned how to use a new online IEP system, learned how to use your new phone, learned how to ski, or learned how to sew. Did the person teaching you model some steps? Give you pictures or diagrams? Provide supplemental verbal hints? Point to things to guide you? Or provide any extra cues? It is likely that you answered “Yes!” to one or more of these. When teaching new skills, all instructional methods require prompting.
What is a Prompt?
A prompt is a supplemental cue that is given before or during a learner’s response, which increases the likelihood that the learner will respond correctly. In the A-B-C behavior chain, a prompt is presented after the antecedent (A) and before, or right as, the learner is about to do the behavior (B) as shown in the graphic below.
A – Teacher shows learner a card with the word “blue” on it and says, “Read this word.”
Prompt: Teacher provides a visual prompt of a picture card with a blue paint scribble on it.
B – Student says “blue”
C – Teacher says, “Great job! You read the word blue!”
There are a few things to consider when deciding which prompts to use when teaching a skill.
- What type of skill are you trying to teach? Certain prompts work better with certain skills.
- What skill set does the learner have? Some students may not have the skills necessary to respond to some types of prompts.
- What is the learner’s previous history with prompts? A learner may respond to some prompts better than others because they have been taught with those prompts in the past.
- What is the least intrusive prompt that can be used? Some types of prompts may support more independence.
A prompt hierarchy is a tool to help consider the level of intrusiveness of prompts and to help determine which prompts you will use to enable a learner to complete a task as independently as possible. There is not a specific order to the hierarchy, and it will vary by learner and task; however, physical prompts are the most intrusive, verbal prompts are the often the hardest to fade, and the goal is always independence with a natural cue.
Prompt fading is essential for preventing and reducing prompt dependency, which can impede skill acquisition and independence. Prompt fading is the process of gradually reducing the level, magnitude, timing, etc. of prompts to work towards independence. A plan for fading prompts should be in place at the onset of instruction. If used and faded appropriately, prompts are a powerful tool for building skills and independence. The graphic below provides tips for successful prompt fading.
Connecting Prompts to High Leverage Practices
High Leverage Practice #16 is to use explicit instruction. Effective teachers make instruction explicit by showing or telling students what to do while completing tasks; they model and scaffold steps and processes in order for students to complete tasks successfully and independently (McLeskey, et al., 2017). Prompting is a means of explicitly showing students what to do and ensuring successful completion of tasks with the end goal of independence.
Want More Information?
Complete the AFIRM Prompting Module
Visit the VCU-ACE How To Video Series page and select Prompting from the drop down menu
For more information on High Leverage Practices, visit the CEC’s High Leverage Practices website
McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.