Prompting -- A Tool for Instructional Success

A Range of Strategies to Help Teach and Create New Behaviors

Hand over hand for picture exchanges. Websterlearning


Teachers prompt in many situations across ability groups. We may call it hinting, or suggesting, but teachers often help students come up with the correct response.

In special education we recognize the value of prompting, and have named and measured the effectiveness of each form of prompt. The goal of the special educator is for the student to successfully execute the academic, life or behavioral skill without any prompting, the level which is referred to as “independent.”

The Prompting Continuum

Prompting occurs across a spectrum.  The most invasive is "Hand over Hand" which is also called Full Physical Prompting.  Teacher or staff who implements this prompting strategy will actually place their hand over the hand of the child.  This is used with very young children with significant communication problems or motor difficulties.  For the first group (communication deficits) it shapes the behavior, also referred to the "topography" of the behavior.  For the second group  (significant motor challenges), it helps them build the motor memory.  It is also useful for older students with significant cognitive or physical challenges.  Once again, it shapes the behavior and creates a situation where the prompted behavior can be reinforced, increasing the probability the behavior may appear independently, from waving a hand in greeting to writing the child's name.   It is the most invasive because it easily builds dependency on the person prompting, called "prompt dependency." 

Full physical prompts can be faded to partial physical prompting, such as touching an elbow to encourage the student to execute the next step of a process, or merely to prompt the child to pick up a fork or pencil.  Often the fading begins with hand over hand, to a hand on the elbow, to a finger on the elbow, to light finger tap on the hand.

The next level of prompting is verbal prompting. In many ways the least effective of prompting strategies, it also the most often used.  We adults often just really talk to much for students with disabilities.  It is important to be cognizant of the possibility of both prompt dependency and that children with disabilities adopt the strategy used by typical children:  ignoring their parents and teachers. 

The last level is gestural prompting.  Gestural prompting may be touching, American Sign Language Signs (such as the "potty" sign, with the thumb through the first and second fingers of the right hand) or even pointing to a visual schedule, which the student uses to remember the steps of a multi-step process, such as setting the table or getting dressed.  Gestural prompts are easy to prompt, and hence a very effective way to lead to independence.

Modeling as a method of prompting can be a form of gestural prompting, especially if an effort is made to fade each part of the model, once again for multiple step processes.

Also Known As: Cues, cueing

Examples: In errorless teaching, the teacher will sometimes prompt the child by pointing to the correct response. "Point to the dog, Jackie." the teacher will say, while pointing to the dog.

This is a gestural prompt.