Using Visuals To Reduce Prompt Dependency

Do you have students who can only use their skills if they are prompted? Do you have students who won't initiate a task because they are waiting for a prompt? Fading out prompts that were initially needed is a crucial step that is often over looked. Reducing prompting levels is a crucial step in the teaching process.  Here are some tips for using visuals to reduce prompt dependency.

Visuals can be used to decrease students' dependency on adult prompting. Verbal prompting is difficult to fade, so use visual cues instead.

Throughout the years, I have had many students come to my classroom completely dependent on adult prompting. They won't initiate or begin any task unless someone tells them to. They aren't able to follow group directions because they are waiting for someone to repeat it to them. For many of these students, the verbal prompting that was implemented was never faded out. Here are a few ideas that can easily be implemented in order to reduce higher level prompting.

Picture Choice Boards

Picture choice boards are easy to make and use with very few additional prompts. Here is an example of a choice board that we use for students to be able to order their lunches every day. This picture is of the back of the choice board where we store all of the food choices for the month.

Picture choice boards for ordering lunches daily

Once a month we pull all of the pictures we will need for the month and put them on the backside of the choice card. This makes it quick and easy to set up the choice board in the morning. In the morning, we put out the 3 to 4 choices for that particular day. 

Food choices for student to pick his or her lunch.

If there are foods a student doesn't like you have the choice to leave the picture on (to work on discrimination) or you could take the picture off. Once the student has decided on his lunch (I have ALL boys this year!) then he brings the picture to the correct adult and states his order. Some students simply label the picture (i.e. "Chicken" or "Chicken Patty") while other students have to use a whole sentence to order lunch. This system is so easy to use with students of all levels and takes very little prep time. 

Behavior Visuals

Visuals are also wonderful for reminding students of the behavior system or what they are working for. In my class, all of my students use a token economy system. Before each activity or group, students choose a picture of what they would like to work for. Here is what the picture board looks like this year:

Reinforcement choice board for token economy system. Having the picture visible to the student can reduce behaviors and increase time on task.

My students this year can handle this messy array, but in the past we have had to have separate choice boards for some students who aren't able to handle a field of choices with this many options. Once the student chooses the picture of what he wants to earn, he attaches it to the end of the token economy strip.

Token economy strip with visual of the reinforcer the student is working for. Pointing to the reinforcer as a reminder of what to the students to remain on task is quick and effective.

When a student is beginning to loose focus or engage in inappropriate behaviors, we simply point to the picture at the end of the token strip. This also takes away negative verbal feedback and allows for students to only hear positive feedback. 

Social Story Visuals

Many of my students benefit from the use of social stories. Below is an example of a social story about being quiet in school

An example of a social story about being quiet in school.

In addition to reading this story with the student daily, we also taped a picture of "quiet" to his desk. This made it easy to simply point or tap the picture instead of giving a verbal prompt to the student.

Tape a "Quiet" visual to the student's desk to instead of using verbal prompts.

This picture came from the Quiet Social Story set. There are several different visuals for quiet and 3 different sizes. I start with the largest and fade down to the smallest picture I can. It is important to set up a plan to fade out any prompting the student needs in order to be successful.

Labeling Visuals

Kids aren't the only ones who need visuals in order to remember or to cue them into something. The world is set up with labels from doors that are labeled in and out to airport terminal signs to tell you which terminal to go to. Students need to be able to cue into visual labels to help them decide what to do or which to take. Here is one of the ways we practice this. Breakfast trays are made up after students place their orders the same way they order lunch. Then, staff sets up the breakfast tray and labels the trays with names. At snack or breakfast time, students have to independently use the labels to find the correct tray.

Students practice reading and discriminating name labels.

We practice this in the morning for breakfast and then students practice going through the cafeteria line at lunch. 

Reducing prompting levels is crucial for long term student success. If the prompt won't be available for the student's whole life, then it is up to us to develop a plan to fade it. 

How do you work on addressing prompt dependency?


  1. How do you deal with students who try to destroy the visuals? I have a cherub who will take the visuals and either chew on them or try to crumple them up... especially if it is a less desired activity.

    1. Hi Roshanda,
      That can be very challenging!! If possible,I keep the visual in a spot where it can be seen, but just out of reach. If it's not possible, then I target leaving visuals alone with praise and reinforcement. I've also had success with making visuals out of something that can't be crumpled and is too big to put in their mouths. For example, one of my students used to crumple his work for strip so I made his on a Tupperware lid that was the size of half a piece of paper. Worked like a charm!

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