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Ethical Advocate for Accurate Application & Dissemination of Behavior Analysis

ABA Teaching Tools

Active Student Responding (ASR)

A classroom teaching technique that increases participation and decreases disruption is active student responding (ASR).  Active student responding measures include guided notes, response cards, and choral responding.  Each have their advantages and times in which they may be more useful than another.  The benefits to active student responding is that it allows for informal assessment of student skills, provides increased opportunity to respond (and receive reinforcement), teachers report that methods are easy to implement, and students report finding it to be fun!

Activity Schedules

Activity schedules are visual or textual prompts that promote engagement of leisure skills, increase appropriate toy play, and facilitate independence with familiar routines.  With an activity schedule, there is one item or activity depicted per page.  The child initiates, completes, and terminates the activity on their own.  The length of the activity can vary depending on the skill level of the child.  With systematic planning, children can willingly engage with these activity play books in a way that is meaningful for the child and their family.  Activity schedules have also been evaluated as tools for facilitating peer engagement.  Read the study 

Behavior Contracts

A behavior contract is a plan of action that is negotiated between a client, child, spouse, etc. and concerned others. Often the behavior contract will include both short- and long-term goals. The contract objectively specifies what is expected of the person and the consequences that follow behavior.


Essentially, behavior contracts state:

1) what the rule or expectation is

2) what reward or reinforcer is available for desired behavior

3) outcome/consequence is delivered for undesired behavior


While it is easy to "assume" that students "know" the rules, it is often better to ensure that all expectations are clearly outlined. Sometimes putting them in writing (or using visuals) can be very helpful.

Discrete Trial Teaching

Explicit teaching of skills in discrete, basic behaviors.  With discrete trial teaching, an instruction is given, a response occurs (or is prompted to occur), and reinforcement (or feedback) is given.  The premise behind discrete trial teaching is increased opportunities for repeated instruction, modeling, feedback and reinforcement.  The goal of discrete trial teaching is to generalize the skill to the natural environment, with people and across places other than where the skill was explicitly taught.  Instruction is often conducted at a table-top.  Based on applications of behavior analysis as researched by Lovaas. More information on discrete trial teaching (DTT)

First/Then (Premack Principle)

First / Then (also known as the Premack Principle or "Grandma's Law") is essentially when a request for a (less) non-preferred task (e.g., completing homework) is followed by a highly preferred activity (e.g., going to a friend's house).


Specifically, the Premack Principle states that making the opportunity to go to a friend's house dependent on completing homework, it will serve as reinforcement for the less preferred activity (Cooper, Heron, and Heward, 2007).

Incidental Teaching 

"Incidental teaching provides structured learning opportunities in the natural environment by using the child's interests and natural motivation. Incidental teaching was developed to increase language and social responses by maximizing the power of reinforcement and encouraging generalization (Hart & Risley, 1968, 1974)". The idea behind incidental teaching is an elaboration of language (e.g. instead of "car", you may ask, "which car" to increase the likelihood that the chid will say "blue car" or "big car".) "Those primarily focused on developing and using strategies embedded in natural settings that promote generalization refer to their interventions as naturalistic teaching approaches (NTAs)" (Leblanc et al., 2006). 

Precision Teaching

To be precise or accurate, one must also be timely in their reply. Precision teaching approaches look at increasing a learners fluency with concepts being studied.  Precision teaching is a type of programmed instruction, involving timed trials.  An example where precision teaching may be used in teaching is with sight word recognition/reading.  The faster a student can read/label a word, the more capable they will be to read sentences, paragraphs, and pages of information in their environment.

Self-Monitoring

There are five steps involved in planning a self-monitoring intervention:

1) Identify the target behavior.

2) Select/design a self-monitoring system.

3) Choose reinforcers and how the student will earn them.

4) Teach the student to use the system.

5) Fade the role of the adult in the intervention.


Animated video on Self-Monitoring 

How to Manage Classroom Behavior Through Self-Monitoring

Intervention Sheet: Teaching Students How to Self Monitor Behavior

Social Stories

Social Stories were created by Carol Gray in 1991. They are short descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why.

TAGteach (teaching with acoustical guidance)

Teaching with acoustical guidance (TAGteach) is the use of clickers, or audible markers that are used to indicate correct responding.  For some, the sound of the click becomes reinforcing after being paired with preferred items or edibles.  For other learners, you can simply state the rule, "when you hear the click that means you did it right".  The benefit to using acoustical markers is the immediacy they offer.  Think about riding a bike, or tying a shoe.  By the time we've managed to say "great job" they are doing something else, and may have potentially fumbled. We do not want to inadvertently reinforce errors, so the more immediate we can reinforce, the more effective our teaching will be.

Task Analysis 

A task analysis requires breaking larger skills/routines into small, discrete steps. This can be a helpful tool for sequencing and chaining together multiple behaviors to complete larger tasks. A task analysis (TA) easily lends itself to include a self-monitoring component. The individual can use the steps as a guide/reminder of which steps to complete and in which order.  It can also be used to rate one's own performance.  Self-monitoring is important when developing independence and in teaching reflection and developing perspective.

Token Economy

Token systems are an effective way to provide praise and reflect progress. They may look different but they serve the same function. Money is a great example of a token in that by itself it is just a piece of paper BUT by exchanging it one can freely gain access to primary and secondary reinforcers (water, food, snacks, entertainment, etc.). Most adults go to work, earn a paycheck, and use it to pay for preferred or desired items and activities.


Three major components of token systems include: 

1) a specified list of behaviors to reinforce, 

2) tokens or points for emitting those behaviors, and 

3) a menu of back-up reinforcers for which the learner can exchange tokens

Verbal Behavior  - Mand Training

Based on the work of B. F. Skinner, a verbal behavior approach takes a functional look at language.  That is, it is based on the premise that language serves a purpose and is often acquired in a particular order.  The first stage is what is referred to as "mand training".  The word "mand" originates from  "comMAND" and  "deMAND".  Essentially, it means "to request".  The therapist arranges the environment so that items or activities are "wanted" but out of reach, without some form of communication.  Often word approximations are accepted, until words can be produced clearly.  That is, articulation is not a prerequisite when motivation is present.

Interspersed trials (novel targets mixed together with mastered targets), repeated in quick succession. Promotes discrimination and attentive listening. The instructor in this video is Emily Sweeney-Kerwin, from the Carbone Clinic. 

Video Modeling / Toy Play

In a video modeling procedure, the child watches the video (often looped 2 or 3 times), then is given the materials or is set up with the social situation. Using a carefully created task analysis the teacher/parent may score the steps the child completes correctly and which ones the child completes incorrectly in order to identify which specific steps require explicit teaching. 

Video Modeling - Household Routines

Video Modeling - Life Skills 

Visual Schedules