What is it?
Prompting is a way of helping students to use a skill or behaviour. Prompts can be offered when a student has difficulty responding to an instruction or cue. They can also be used to create error-less learning by making sure that the student is able to respond correctly and be reinforced for the response. This makes it more likely that the student will use the skill again.
Prompting is an important part of many strategies and would rarely be used by itself; rather, it is likely to be used in conjunction with modelling, reinforcement, visual supports, social narratives and other strategies.
Prompting can take many forms. Some prompts are more intrusive than others e.g. hand over hand support to complete a task compared with a visual support. Different students and different situations will need different types of prompts. It is important to think about how intrusive the prompt is, as well as how easy it will be to ‘fade’ the prompt (that is, gradually reduce the prompt so that the student is more independent).
The types of prompting, from least intrusive to most intrusive, include:
Proximity control - Proximity control is a type of prompt that can help students become aware of their use of behaviour. In its simplest form, a teacher may approach a student’s desk when they are using an inappropriate behaviour e.g. disruptive talking, with the aim of having the student use a more appropriate behaviour (e.g. listening quietly).
Verbal - Verbal prompts are spoken cues that provide information to the student. This includes prompting the student to use a particular form of words e.g. “Say ‘break please’” and providing them with verbal instructions to complete steps in a task. Verbal prompts can be difficult to fade.
Visual - Visual prompts can include pictures, photos or text that provide students with reminders or cues about completing a task or learning a skill. Some students with a preference for visual learning will continue to find visual prompts useful. These prompts might not need to be faded.
Gestural - Simple gestural prompts can include pointing to objects a student needs or in the direction they need to go.
Modelling involves the teacher or a peer demonstrating the skill to the student.
Physical - Physical prompts can involve full physical assistance e.g. hand over hand assistance to perform a task, or partial physical assistance (such as a touch on the wrist or elbow to remind a student of the action required). These types of prompts won’t always be appropriate at school. Some students find physical prompts too overwhelming or intrusive and this form of prompting may not be suitable in some settings. Physical prompts should be faded as the task is learned.
How do I use it?
The steps involved in prompting include:
- Determine when prompting is needed. This is likely to be when a student is struggling to learn a skill.
- Note: it is important to make sure that the student is able to do the skill being prompted. It isn’t possible to prompt a skill that they can’t yet do. The skill should be one that they are able to do but that needs a reminder or help.
- Determine which type of prompt is needed.
- Most of the time, the least intrusive prompt should be tried first.
- If this is not enough information for the student, a more obvious prompt might be needed e.g. if the student does not respond to a verbal prompt to do a new task, they might need a gesture or a model to show them what to do.
- Sometimes, teachers might want to try a higher level prompt first e.g. modelling first and then a verbal prompt to ensure that the student succeeds in doing the task the first time.
- Use the prompt when the student is expected to use a behaviour or skill.
- Once the student has begun to use the skill when prompted, begin to fade the prompt. Fading the prompt can mean using a lower level of prompt or putting a gap between the instruction and the prompt. Three ways to do this are:
- using a less intrusive prompt as skills develop
- increasing the time delay before
- increasing the distance between the prompter and the student.
- Make sure that the student is reinforced for using the skill or behaviour.
Reinforcement is important in teaching new skills. There should be a higher level of reinforcement when the student does the skill without a prompt.
Prompting is appropriate for all ages, with modifications made for the student’s cognitive and language levels.
Where can I learn more?