A PROMPT is extra support to achieve success when teaching a skill. A CUE is something in the environment that occurs naturally and tells a person what to do.
Prompting procedures are used in conjunction with time delay, reinforcement, and prompt fading to support successive approximations to acquiring a skill. A teacher, skilled at prompting, can balance between allowing the student to attempt a task, maybe struggle, and ensuring his/her success with the appropriate level of prompts. We typically teach skill acquisition using least to most level of prompting. There are instances when full physical assistance is needed in the beginning, usually paired with other types of prompts.
Listed below is the prompt hierarchy in the order of least to most:
Natural Cue - is the naturally occurring stimulus in the environment that tells the student what to do (schedule, bell rings, teacher gives directions). The student responds to a natural cue without prompts.
Indirect Verbal – ask a question that makes them think about it. “What’s next”
Gestural - pointing, looking (eye gaze); often paired with a verbal prompt.
Direct Verbal – tell student exactly what to do
Modeling - demonstrate, show learner what to do.
Partial or Full Physical Prompt – touching or guiding the body with the learner’s cooperation (not physically forcing the child to do things or stop doing things). It can be a graduated guidance, nudging the hand and backing off to shadowing.
Simultaneous prompting is when the teacher/para provides a cue and simultaneously prompts the student to ensure the target skill is successfully achieved. The teacher then presents the cue again and waits for the learner to respond.
Graduated guidance is when the teacher provides the needed level of prompt and just the right amount of prompting based on the learner’s response. The teacher gradually removes or fades a prompt when the learner is being successful or increases the level of prompt as the student needs it. This is a judgment call.
A common problem with prompting, is giving the same prompt multiple times. It's like nagging. The adult will give a verbal prompt over and over until the learner responds. If the student does not respond to a natural cue (within a reasonable amount of time per an individual's ability), provide a prompt as a means of support, not a means of control.
Prompt fading is important to increase independence and prevent prompt dependency. Some students won't initiate a task unless prompted by an adult. Fade a physical prompt by decreasing hand-over-hand to graduated guidance (less pressure) to shadowing to pausing at the last step of a sequence, giving the student a chance to complete the task (which becomes the natural reinforcer).
Fading verbal prompts can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Provide visual supports and teach self-management. Cue the student to “check your schedule” or point to a word/picture of desired behavior. For other activities, lop off the last word or syllable: "Time to go _____(look expectantly for student to respond).” "Get your …(student: ‘backpack’). Or change the prompt to: "Check number 4 again, what's missing?"
Remember to allow time for the student to process the natural cue. Use prompts with the intention of ensuring success on the part of the student (errorless learning) and praise his/her efforts and participation even though you prompted him/her. Provide positive feedback for the effort and accomplishment even if you prompted the skill. “You remembered to…” “You put on your coat. Nice!” Plan to fade the prompts as you work towards independence (data). The completion of the task should become a natural reinforcer ('I did it.' 'I'm done.')
Note: The hierarchy of prompts is presently differently by professionals. Know the level of prompt your learner needs for errorless learning. Pause, allow the learner to process the natural cue. Do not repeat a verbal prompt over and over. Instead, verbally prompt with simple, clear, concise words; wait, then decide which prompt to use next. Reinforce with a specific, positive description; emphasize the effort, the progress, and the increase in independence.
Scroll down to How to Prompting videos
Post a picture of the prompt hierarchy to remind adults. Search Google Images to find one that meets your aesthetic preferences.
Colleen N. Fay, M.S.
Montana Autism Education Project