Prompting is an instructional strategy to guide a learner’s behavior. It can help a student learn a new skill or engage in a desired goal behavior.
Prompting examples include the teacher making a verbal comment, displaying a gesture, modeling, or using a visual prompt such as pointing to a photograph or video.
Sometimes a child may need a stronger form of assistance; other types of prompts include a partial physical or full physical prompt:
- A partial physical prompt involves the teacher using their hands to adjust or guide the student’s behavior in the right direction.
- A full physical prompt involves the teacher using their hands to completely control the movements of the student through the entire sequence of the target behavior.
Prompting is often used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to assist children with learning difficulties in acquiring target behavior.
The below examples of prompting are split into three types of prompting:
- Verbal Prompts: These include all the ways a teacher, guide, or parent stimulates thinking through verbal communication.
- Nonverbal Prompts: These include nonverbal prompts that often involve the educator using their hands or body language as a guide for learners.
- Model Prompts: This involves using ideal models as something for the learner to look at and aspire toward, such as having a model picture as a stimulus when painting your own picture.
Verbal Prompt Examples
- Verbal instructions: This involves giving clear, structured, step-by-step verbal instructions that will help to guide the student through the task. For example, if teaching someone to make a sandwich, the instructor might say “First, take two slices of bread and place them on a plate.” (see also: verbal communication).
- Verbal cues: Verbal cues are less structured than verbal instructions. They are used as just-in-time instructional scaffolding to move the student in the right direction. For example, if coaching someone on how to perform a certain dance move, the coach might say “Don’t forget to step to the right before you turn.”
- Verbal praise: Praise is a form of prompting because it lets people know they are on the right track and encourages them to keep going. Positive feedback encourages and reinforces desired behaviors. For example, if a child puts away their toys, the parent might say “Great job! You put your toys away all by yourself! Let’s go get some ice cream!”
- Open-Ended Questioning: Open-ended questions are some of the most effective prompts. They require people to answer questions with full sentences rather than just “yes” or “no”. This helps them to verbalize their thoughts and get through mental blocks.
- Higher-Order Questioning: These are guiding questions that try to direct students’ attention to higher-level understanding, such as pointing them toward analytical questions, evaluations, and critical thinking.
- Verbal redirection: Using verbal cues to redirect the individual’s attention or behavior to a more appropriate activity or task. For example, if a child is playing with their toys instead of doing their homework, the parent might say “Remember, it’s time to do your homework now.”
- Verbal modeling: Providing verbal descriptions of how to perform a task or activity while demonstrating it at the same time. For example, if teaching someone how to do a certain yoga pose, the instructor might say “Extend your arms out in front of you, and then slowly lower your torso towards the ground.”
Nonverbal Prompting Examples
- Pointing: Pointing is literally what it sounds like. It involves directing the student’s attention towards something by pointing at it. This can help direct their attention and get them through a cognitive block. For example, if a student chef is trying to thing about what ingredient to include, the master chef can point in the direction of the spices to get them thinking about which spice should be included.
- Hand-over-hand guidance: Often used with young children when performing fine motor skills or writing task, this involves physically guiding the individual’s hands through the steps of a task or activity. For example, if teaching someone how to use scissors, the instructor might place their hands over the individual’s hands and guide them through the cutting motion.
- Facial expressions: Even facial expressions can be a prompt. A teacher might raise one eyebrow to show the student just made a mistake, or give a wink and a smile to silently let them know they’re on the right track and should keep going.
- Physical redirection: This involves the use of physical cues to redirect people’s attention away from something that’s distracting (or in the wrong direction) and toward a more productive line of inquiry. For example, if a student is struggling with comprehending a reading task, the teacher might point away from the text and toward the pictures to see if that helps them comprehend better.
- Visual Prompts: Using visual aids such as pictures, symbols, or written instructions to prompt the individual. For example, if teaching a child to follow a routine, the adult may use a picture schedule to visually guide the child through the steps of the routine.
- Written cues: Written cues can be strategically placed around the place for students to look to when they’re stuck. For example, if coaching someone on how to perform a certain dance move, the coach might provide written cues on the floor to remind the individual of the specific steps involved.
Model Prompting Examples
- Imitation: Teachers can demonstrate a task, then ask for the students to imitate that task. For example, if teaching a child how to say “please,” the adult might say “please” and encourage the child to repeat it.
- Modeled Instruction: A more complete version of model prompting, this involves the teacher moving from demonstrating a task, to doing the task with the class as a group, then having the students do the task individually. The initial model is the key prompt, but throughout the subsequent steps, the teacher continues to use prompting strategies such as verbal cues.
- Role-playing: This involves demonstrating to the learner how to handle a specific situation or scenario by putting yourself in the shoes of the characters in the scenario and acting it out. For example, if teaching someone how to handle conflict in a workplace, the instructor might role-play a scenario where two colleagues have a disagreement.
- Chaining: This involves breaking down a complex task or activity into smaller steps or ‘chains’ in a process. Then, you model each step in sequence. For example, if teaching someone how to tie their shoes, the instructor might first demonstrate how to make the loop, then how to tie the knot, and so on (see also: chunking).
- Spaced interval schedules: Across spaced intervals (either fixed or randomized), the teacher asks the student a question or poses a challenge that addresses a key piece of knowledge. This return to a challenge over and over again acts as a prompt that helps to ensure the information isn’t forgotten over time.
Improve your Promts with Prompting Hierarchies
The term ‘prompting hierarchy’ refers to the process of using a stage-based approach to applying prompts based upon students’ learning and development.
It may involve a series of prompts or cues provided in a specific sequence, such as in the guided practice model, or separating reinforcements across time using spaced repetition (eg: fixed interval schedules).
Generally, the educator starts with the most intrusive or direct prompts and gradually reduces the level of assistance until the individual is able to complete the task independently. This is based on the sociocultural learning theory’s model of scaffolding (see: scaffolding examples)
Some examples of prompting hierarchies include:
- Prompt Fading: This involves gradually reducing the level of assistance until the student is able to complete the task independently. For example, a parent might start with one-to-one work with the student for each question on a test. Then, the next time, they check-in on one in every five questions, then finally, they let the student take the test alone and grade it at the end.
- Most-to-Least Prompts: This version of prompt fading involves starting with the most intrusive or direct prompt and gradually reducing the level of assistance until the student is able to complete the task independently. For example, when preparing for school, a parent starts out with getting their child to go through a checklist of preparation tasks each day (get dressed, brush teeth, etc.). Then, over time, they fade to just asking the key tasks, then finally, the child does all tasks without prompting.
- Least-to-Most Prompts: This involves starting with the least intrusive prompt and gradually increasing the level of assistance if required. This model gives the most freedom and leeway to the learner to encourage their own creativity, but provides additional differentiated interventions for those students who need them.
- Time Delay Prompts: This involves introducing a delay between the initial request or instruction and the prompt to allow the individual time to think through the task without interference. For example, if asking a child how to say “Hello” in Spanish, the adult may wait a few seconds to let the child think, before providing a prompt to help them.
Case Studies of Prompting in Education
1. Visual Prompts for Autistic Individuals
For those that suffer from autism, the world can be overwhelming because of the number of stimuli present at any one time. For this reason, it is helpful for teachers and parents to reduce stimulus overload and simplify tasks as much as possible.
This is one reason that using visual prompts are so effective. A picture that is simple reduces the number of distracting elements and allows for the autistic individual to more easily process the key concept.
Similarly, it is also helpful to break a routine such as getting dressed, or eating a meal, down to its most basic steps.
As shown in this video, a child uses a specially designed apparatus to help them communicate their needs during a meal. The child can simply press on the picture card that indicates what they want, and the machine will play an audio that matches that picture card.
The video also shows several other types of visual prompts that help autistic individuals make sense of the world around them and function more easily.
2. Visual Prompts for Remote Instruction
Remote instruction is becoming increasingly popular. As technology makes online platforms more interactive and user-friendly, this form of learning will continue to grow.
Even though remote learning is very convenient, there are a number of serious obstacles. Putting the technical aspects aside, the biggest challenge is keeping students on-task.
When students are at home there are just too many distractions that compete with the teacher’s efforts. A lot of times, the teacher is going to lose that contest.
However, there are some things teachers can do to help maintain student focus.
For example, this online teacher has created several visual prompts that will help get students back on-task.
These prompts are simple to create, and silly enough to capture the interest of younger students.
Prompting is a technique in ABA designed to help children acquire a target behavior. It is often used with children that have learning difficulties, but the techniques also works with other learner profiles.
A prompt is a stimulus or action that steers the student’s behavior towards the target.
Prompts can be verbal, gestural, or involve making gentle physical contact with the child.
Teachers rely on a prompt hierarchy to identify the level of prompt that is appropriate for a particular child. At the top of the hierarchy are prompts that are the least directive, such as a making a verbal comment or slight gesture.
If necessary, a teacher will apply a prompt further down the hierarchy that provides greater assistance. This can involve gently nudging their arm or hand, or a hand-over-hand maneuver that positions the child’s hand where it needs to be to complete the task.
As the child’s behavior progresses, the teacher should implement fading so that they provide less and less assistance. Eventually, the child will be able to perform the target behavior completely independently.
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Sam, A., & AFIRM Team. (2015). Prompting. Chapel Hill, NC: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder, FPG Child Development Center, University of North Carolina. Retrieved from http://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/prompting