A Guide for Using Prompts when Teaching Individuals with Special Needs

Research shows that prompts are an effective teaching tool and as such are an integral part of most interventions, regardless of therapy type.


Prompts however are useful for individuals without special needs as well. For example, have you ever written yourself a note to remind yourself not to forget something? Or, has someone pointed to show you where something is? If so, consider yourself prompted!



What is a Prompt?


Prompts can take the form of instructions, gestures, demonstration, physical touch, or other things that we arrange or do to increase the likelihood of a correct response.


Why Use Prompts?


Prompts go hand in hand with errorless teaching and have many benefits to their use, including:


  • Using prompts aids in success and encourages learning because learners continually make progress and aren’t discouraged by making frequent errors or being told “no” or “try again.”


  • Often times when the word “no” is over-used in therapy, learners can become desensitized to it. Not only is this ineffective when it comes to teaching but it can become concerning if a learner stops responding to “no” altogether especially when faced with a dangerous situation like running into the street.


  • Because there are a variety of different types of prompts, they can be easily tailored to the learners learning style.


You can determine what the best type of prompt to use with your learner by taking into consideration how much support they need as well as their unique learning style or challenges.



Types of Prompts:


Gestural Prompts

This can include pointing or other hand motions that guide the learner in the right direction.

Example: Putting your finger to your mouth to remind students to be quiet.


Full Physical Prompts

Providing physical assistance to guide the learner through the entire requested activity.

Example: Asking the learner to point to their nose and holding the learner’s finger while guiding their hand towards their nose to touch it.


Partial Physical Prompts

Providing some assistance to guide the learner through part of the requested activity.

Example: Asking the learner to point to their nose and holding the learner’s finger, and gently nudging the learner’s finger towards their nose.


Full Verbal Prompt

Providing the learner with a spoken, complete response to the question.

Example: Asking a learner, “What’s your name?” and then modeling, “Johnny.”


Partial Verbal Prompt or Phonemic Cue

Providing the learner with part of the response to the question asked by saying part of the word or just the first phoneme of the word.

Example: Asking a learner, “What’s your name?” and then stating “Joh.”


Visual Prompt

This can include modeling, video demonstrations, photographs, line drawings or written words.

Example: Asking a learner to round their lips, and then demonstrating/modeling lip rounding.


Positional Prompts

Placing the correct response closest to the learner.

Example: Placing 3 objects on the table (ball, shoe, apple) with the apple closest to the learner and asking, “Show me something that you eat.”




Prompting Considerations:


Always use the most effective, yet less intrusive prompt possible. Be sure that you fade prompts as quickly as possible to avoid prompt dependency in which the learner relies on prompts too much.


Ideally you should try to fade prompts after each teaching opportunity. For example, if you provide a full physical prompt when teaching your learner to touch their nose, fade to a partial physical prompt the next time you ask them to touch their nose. While you may not be able to fade that quickly with each learner, just keep in mind the basic rule that your goal should always be to ultimately reduce the need for prompts.