Prompting Strategies for Advanced Learners


  • Identify which learners might benefit from advanced prompting strategies
  • Discuss why prompting strategies change as individuals learn more advanced skills
  • Discuss four types of prompts used with advanced leaners.

Why this topic?

Though prompts have already been discussed at some length in previous lessons, prompting strategies for the more advanced learner are different but of equal importance for those learners who have advanced to this point in their programs. This more advanced prompting is highly appropriate for generalization and maintenance of previously mastered targets.

Therapists, RBTs and direct staff use prompts every day to teach learners new skills, remind them what to do, increase independence and more. So the way that we use prompts depends on the type of skill that we are teaching, whether it is a brand new skill or a skill that is already in the learners repertoire and we are just helping them generalize that skill to novel situations or to learn a new skill through a more incidental methodology.

Prompts are used in early teaching to increase the effectiveness of teaching by decreasing the likelihood that an incorrect response will occur. However to increase a learner’s independence they are faded over time. And what this means is that prompts used initially in the early stages of learning will look and feel very different than the prompts that are used later when teaching more complex concepts to the advanced learner.

Who are Advanced Learners?

  • An advanced learner has mastered good vocal communication skills, and by this it means that they are able to hold a back and forth conversation, that they can comment on their environment, ask and respond to what, where, why, when, and who questions, and can use or are learning to use more descriptive language. In other words they can communicate clearly and effectively not only their basic wants and needs but also social exchanges
  • They use basic early language and academic concepts within their spoken language. Such as attributes or the ability to spontaneously and naturally use identifiers within their conversations. Prepositions , such as “it’s under the couch”. Action words, and used in the right context. And causal relationships, such as “if we finish this task quickly we can go play at the park”
  • Moving from concrete skills to more abstract concepts. Examples below:
  • Learning to apply and expand upon learned concepts. Such as in the area of problem solving, this would be applying understanding of functions of common objects, cause and effect relationships, sequencing, and other concepts to come up with a new solutions. In addition Describing objects, people, places, actions using perviously learned concepts.
  • Learning to identify and respond to basic social cues such as facial expressions and gestures. One of the most difficult areas to learn for someone with ASD or another social developmental delay. There are often multiple things going on at the same time and the learner needs to understand what the other person(s) is doing as well as what they themselves need to do in each particular situation.

What is a Prompt?

A prompt is an extra cue presented in addition to the instruction that helps the learner make the correct response. It is used to teach new skills, to help guide the learner to a correct response and faded over time because fading prompts promotes independence within the learner.

Always want to use the least amount of prompting needed to help guide the learner to the correct response. With the goal being independence for the learner, it is important to avoid over prompting or inadvertently allowing the learner to become prompt dependent.

  • Do provide enough support to be successful
  • Do encourage independent thinking and problem solving
  • Too much prompting may hinder independence

How do Advanced Prompts Differ from Basic Prompts?

Prompts used for Early learners are more direct and used to teach repertoires of basic information (e.g. basic vocabulary, colors, numbers, etc.) These kinds of prompts, more direct in nature,  may be more frequently used during structured teaching strategies such as Discrete Trial Training (DTT). Moreover, when teaching early learners prompts are generally given right away and then faded back as the learner becomes increasingly independent. In addition, the given prompts are such as to ensure that the learner does not make any errors, i.e., errorless learning.

Prompts used for Advanced learners help teach the individual how to “figure out” the response more independently. This kind of prompting, indirect, may be more frequently used when teaching skills across the natural environment. Unlike early learning, When teaching concepts to advanced learners the goal is to guide them to the answer not provide it for them. Errors are allowed and trial and error is part of the process as they learn to navigate critical thinking and problem solving.

The BCBA will specify the particular type of prompting strategy the RBT should use for a particular learner.

Types of Advanced Prompts

There are many types of advanced prompts. Four will be discussed here.

  1. Visual Model: Refers to providing the learner with some sort of template or graphic organizer when teaching a concept. This adds a concrete element to a more abstract concept. A visual model can help teach the learner what relevant information is needed and how to organize that information. As the learner becomes increasingly successful, the visual model can be faded.
  2. Experiential: Has the learning interact with or experience the concept being taught to help formulate a response. In other words, hands-on-learning and role playing for social situations. Frequently this type of prompt utilizes previously learned skills, concepts and experiences and the learner is then guided to the correct response through the hands on experience process. This can take much longer for the learner to work through the solution compared to basic prompting, with much trial and error.  A great example is teaching a kiddo about giving vague directions by reversing the situation and having the child follow the RBTs vague directions!
  3. Leading Questions: This is asking various questions pulling from the learner’s previous knowledge to help guide the learner to the correct response
  4. Acting Confused: This is where the RBT pretends to not understand the learner’s vague or incomplete response. Kiddo’s like this one. It let’s them teach the adults in their life and what kiddo doesn’t like that! The RBT might also act out the learner’s response to further demonstrate what is being communicated (e.g., if the kiddo is saying how to bake cookies with store bought cookie dough, the RBT would take the instructions EXTREMELY literally and likely put the entire box of cookie dough still in the box into the oven)

Provide Missing Information

  • Many time learners make social errors or have inappropriate behavioral reactions to situations due to a lack of understanding all of the relevant information. In other words if there is difficulty in understanding:
    • Other’s emotions, desires, intentions
    • Body language and facial cues (non-verbal social behavior)
    • Social contexts / situation
    • Relationship boundaries / rules

Prompt Hierarchy

Just as for early learners it is helpful to develop a prompting hierarch when working with advanced learners. And of course the hierarchy like the prompts themselves vary depending upon the learner and the skill being taught. Recall, when prompting, we always want to utilize the least intrusive prompt possible! And for advanced learners we want to avoid direct prompts whenever possible!!!


  • The prompting strategies used to teach more advanced concepts and skills are different than prompts used when teaching basic concepts early on
  • Advanced prompting strategies aim to promote thinking and develop deductive reasoning

Learn More…

Activity Schedules – Strategies for Creating and Teaching

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