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ABA Teaching Techniques: An Overview

Presented (March 2016) by
Amanda N. Kelly, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA

A brief overview of some teaching techniques, based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). Active Student Responding, Activity Schedules, Discrete Trial teaching, TAGteach, Task Analysis, Video Modeling, Visual Schedules,and more ...as well as some comments on Prompts and Reinforcement. 


Active Student Responding

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!


Choral responding (responding in unison)

Watch this video to learn more about response cards

Activity Schedules

Activity schedules are visual or textual prompts that promote engagement of independent leisure skills and increase appropriate toy play.  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 


A review of McClannahan and Krantz's activity schedules for children with autism: Teaching independent behavior: Toward the inclusion and integration of children with disabilities (2002)


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)

Direct Instruction

A systematic approach to teaching and maintaining basic academic skills. It involves the use of carefully designed curriculum with detailed sequences of instruction including learning modules that students must master before advancing to the next level. Students are taught individually or in small groups that are made up of students with similar academic skills. Instructors follow a script for presenting materials, requiring frequent responses from students, minimizing errors, and giving positive reinforcement (such as praise) for correct responding.


Taken from the Association for Science in Autism Treatment

TAGteach™ (Teaching with acoustical guidance)

TAGteach™ "is a teaching and training technology based on the application of the science of behavior that focuses on the structured application of positive reinforcement" (TAGteach International). TAGteach™ involves the use of an audible marker, often times a clicker, which indicates a behavior has been performed accurately, precisely. TAGteach has been successfully applied to help surgeons perform operations, with king crab fisherman to maintain safety on sailing vessels, to assist gymnasts with their form and fluidity, and much more!


TAGteach™ :

- emphasizes positive, appropriate replacement behaviors

- there is no error correction procedure (other than to evaluate teaching)