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Material Placement Tips

When running discrete trials with a child with autism it is important to make sure you follow some simple steps to ensure you are making the learning clear and that you are not giving away the answers.

Material Placement Tips

Using a discrete trial example of a “matching letters” programme, we’re going to show you a few things you might want to keep an eye on when running similar programmes.

The Programme Example

The goal of this programme is to get the child, Mikey, to match uppercase letters. The teacher presents Mikey with a card that has an uppercase letter on it and he must take this card and match it to an identical card on his desk. This programme works by placing five cards in front of Mikey, each with a different uppercase letter on it as a way of “testing” that he knows the difference between them.

When showing Mikey a card the teacher would say “Put A with A” or “Put B with B” etc. If Mikey matches the letters correctly the teacher then delivers positive reinforcement by giving a token and verbal praise. Below is how this discrete trial might be written out.

Match Uppercase Letters

  • (A) Five cards on the table. Teacher holds up another card and says “Match __ with __”.
  • (B) Mikey takes the card and matches it to the identical letter.
  • (P) Independent. 1 Sd and 4 S-Delta*
  • (C) FR1 Praise and Token.
  • (corr) Full gestural prompt.

* The terms “1 Sd and 4 S-Delta” are a behaviour analysis way of telling the teacher to place down 1 card that is the “correct” answer (the "1 Sd" which is pronounced "ess-dee") and 4 cards that are “incorrect” answers (4 S-Delta). Although not necessary to understand this article you can learn more about these terms in our article on the discriminative stimulus and stimulus delta.

Aligning the Materials

It is important to make sure that you align your materials neatly on the table in front of the child. Always try to remember that you are teaching something completely new or are developing skills the child has not mastered yet and so misaligned materials might create undue difficulty and prolong teaching programmes unnecessarily.

Showing that materials need to be neatly aligned.
Make sure your materials are neatly aligned.

Spacing the Materials

As well as aligning the materials neatly it is important to have them evenly spaced. This is to make sure there is no confusion for the child and that no specific “option” stands out from the others. If one card seemed to stand out from the others it might be selected by the child for the wrong reasons and again the teaching programme may be prolonged.

Showing that materials need to be evenly spaced for clarity.
Make sure your materials are evenly spaced out on the desk.

Giving Away the Answer

Another consideration is your placement of the picture you want the child to match. Look at the top section of the image below; if you were inadvertently putting the letter card close to the card you wanted Mikey to match it to, you could potentially be giving the answer away without realising it.

Giving the answers away of course mean the child isn’t actually learning the skill and is only learning to read you. Make sure you place a card that is to be matched in the middle of all the possible choices for every trial so you don’t give the answer away.

Showing how the teacher putting the card near the correct answer might give away the answer.
Make sure to put the card you present the child in the middle of all the other cards so no clues are given.

Wandering Eyes

The last consideration is where you look when delivering the antecedent (“Put B with B”). This is because your eyes can give away the answer too! When you place down the five cards and then hold up the one Mikey has to match, make sure you do not look at the correct answer like the teacher is doing in the image below.

Showing that the teacher might accidentally look at the correct answer and so the child doesn't learn because the teacher is giving away the answers.
Don't look at the correct answer!

This can happen sometimes when you might be checking that you have placed a correct card down. Do this checking when you are first putting the cards on the table and not when you are presenting the card that has to be matched. A good habit to form is to never deliver the antecedent unless you are looking straight at the child just like below.

Showing how the teacher should look directly at the child when delivering the antecedent.
Look directly at the child when delivering the antecedent so you don't give anything away.

Have you any words of wisdom for those running discrete trials? Are there other considerations you think need to be known? Get in touch and let us know!

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