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 MODULE: Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

How Is DTT Implemented?

The ABC’s of DTT

The discrete trial is comprised of the following core components:

  1. antecedent,
  2. behavior, and
  3. consequence.


The antecedent is the instruction, cue, or stimuli signaling the learner to demonstrate a specific behavior in order to receive reinforcement.  For example, the instructing team member may say, “Touch the letter H,” or “Give me the cup.”  In both cases, the antecedent is a clear instruction for the learner to perform a specific task.  Antecedents may also be nonverbal cues or visual stimuli.  For example, a parent pointing to a dining room chair may signal the child to sit down for a meal.  In all cases, the antecedent is a clear, concise instruction or cue signaling the learnerstudent to perform a specific behavior, or response.


The second part of a discrete trial is the behavior or response that the child gives following the antecedent. There are three kinds of responses a child can have:

  1. a correct response
  2. an incorrect response, or
  3. no response at all.

Remember, when teaching children using discrete trials, the response may involve a number of different behaviors. For example, a child may imitate an action, point, say something, or even look at someone as a response to the antecedent, or instruction. The criteria for a correct response should be concise, consistent, and established in advance.  All team members working with a learner should be aware of these response expectations so the child receives highly consistent teaching across sessions. For example, if the child is asked to “Give me the book,” should the child hand me the book, throw the book at me, shove it across the table, etc. Clearly defined expectations in DTT will promote consistency, increase the likelihood of correct responding, and make learning more efficient.


The third part of the discrete trial is the consequence. The instructing team member delivers the consequence immediately after the learner’s response in order to teach the learner if he or she provided a correct or incorrect response. There are two types of consequence, reinforcement and corrective feedback.  Reinforcement is delivered following a correct response. A variety of reinforcement strategies exist including, verbal praise, edible food, access to preferred objects/activities, tokens, etc. All reinforcement, however, must be selected based on the learner’s individual preferences. The other form of consequence is corrective feedback and is delivered following incorrect responses and non-responses.  Corrective feedback is used to teach a learner that his or her response was not appropriate following that specific antecedent or instruction. Corrective feedback usually involves verbal statements such as, “No,” or “No, try again.” In each discrete trial, the instructing team member always provides a consequence following a learner’s response. Reinforcement is used to increase the future likelihood of correct responses, and corrective feedback is used to decrease the future likelihood of incorrect responses.

The three components of DTT are systematically used to teach learners the relationships between the environment and their own behaviors These relationships exist and are learned by everyone, but some students need a higher level of consistent repetition to learn some of these basic relationships.

Here are some examples of antecedent-behavior-consequence relationships that everyone learns, and that some people can learn using DTT:

By clearly pairing the discriminative stimulus (Sd) with the reinforcing consequence, you teach the learner to recognize that she has given a correct response. However, often times when beginning a DTT lesson, the learner may require some assistance in generating a correct response. This assistance is provided by the instructing team member in the form of a prompt. Prompts are used after the antecedent is given to help the learner perform the correct response.

Example: a team member says, “Point to the cat.” However, the learner has not yet had much experience with animal recognition, so the team member prompts the learner to respond correctly by guiding the learner’s finger to the photo of the cat, or the team member may model the correct response by pointing to the photo of the cat so that the learner can imitate the correct response.

There are many types of prompts including gestures, physical guidance, verbal, proximity, visual, and others. While prompts are used to teach and promote correct responding, they must be systematically reduced, or faded over time to promote independent responding. Team members should only use prompts when necessary and avoid prompt dependencies by always working to fade prompts from any given discrete trial lesson.

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