What is prompting for?

What is the fundamental aim for our students?  It is to make our students more independent.  Prompting is something teachers use in class with all students to some extent.  However, for students with disabilities, prompting can be taken to new levels and is very important and useful at first. It includes any help given to students that assists them in learning and using a specific skill.  However, the aim is always to fade prompts eventually so that the student is independent.  You can never determine that the student can do a task for themselves independently until all prompts, including looking at them or their work, holding up their work or helping them in any way at all, has completely ceased.

WARNING: It is possible to prompt a student without knowing it.  In education support classrooms we have to be aware of this and assess one another regularly to ensure that there is no unconscious prompting taking place.

An example of unconscious prompting:

A teacher placed two cards on the table and asked the student to choose the correct one. When the student worked with this staff member, he got the answer correct much more often than for anyone else.  The teacher asked her colleague to watch her work with this student and video her.  The colleague noticed that the teacher was often glancing in the direction of the correct answer.  She informed the teacher who agreed and made a conscious effort not to do this in future.  The student’s responses then appeared to become less accurate but were in fact a more realistic illustration of the student’s ability.


Another example of unconscious prompting was a discredited method called facilitated communication.  This method seemed some years ago to reveal hidden depths inside some severely autistic people but, during a scientific study, was shown to be unconscious prompting by the facilitator.  A short video about this can be seen HERE.

Types of prompt strategies

There are various types of prompting possible, you always want to use the least invasive possible, remembering that you are aiming to fade them to nothing eventually.



example:  “Come here”. (These are the hardest to remove)


example  “What do we need?”(Asking a question)

Partial verbal

example:  “ d…for dog” (Giving a student the first sound of a word)

Physical prompt

example: guiding hand over hand

Partial physical

example: guiding by lightly touching the student’s elbow


example:  pointing, tilting head, touching


example: performing the act, saying a word, constructing the item, manipulating the material

Augmented stimuli

example: brighter or larger visuals, louder, dotted lines to trace around

We would try not to use verbal prompts when possible.


If taking a student to the toilet a visual script might be used.  Staff would refer to this by pointing to the next picture and then if necessary, physically helping the student to complete this item.  The entire process should be done in silence, the aim is to train the student to use the visual script alone and not become dependent on a staff member saying,’now wash your hands’ etc.

Global strategies

We can also use a variety of prompting strategies to make students more independent such as providing them with:

  • a predictable environment
  • definitive beginnings and endings to our week, days, lessons and activities
  • visual support for receptive communication
  • explicit teaching of communication, socialisation and behaviour
Sequential tasks

We can use a set of visual prompts to help with skills that require a series of responses put together in a particular order. These are called social stories and were covered in more detail in the Visual Supports section.   Examples of when you might use a social story include:

  • Toileting
  • Washing hands
  • Cooking
  • Unpacking bags
  • Dressing
  • Independent work
Graduated guidance

Graduated guidance involves physically prompting the student to perform actions perfectly and then gradually withdrawing or fading the degree of help. It may involve shifting from one prompt to another.

Hidden prompts include consciously using:
  • your eyes
  • proximity
  • a gestural prompt e.g. pointing
  • voice intonation
  • written instructions

Examples of Prompting

When you are ready you can move on to the NEXT SECTION – SENSORY ISSUES