Discrete Trial Training is a method of teaching a new skill in a structured and simplified way. It works well for children with autism (and I think ALL children) because it breaks down a complex skill into smaller pieces. I love using Discrete Trial Training (DTT) because I can easily utilize my data to make those uber important data based decisions, I know each tiny part of a skill is mastered before moving on to a bigger more complex skill, and it is straightforward and uncomplicated. 

There can be little tweaks to exactly how DTT looks and sometimes people overcomplicate it but let’s keep it simple and get down to the basics!


What does DTT actually look like?

  • Teacher places 3 flashcards with the colors red, blue, and yellow in front of student. 
  • Teacher says “touch yellow.”
  • Student touches yellow and teacher immediately gives reinforcer (see Monday’s post). If student does not touch yellow or touches wrong color, teacher will provide error correction (more on this to come). 
  • Teacher takes data. 
  • Trial is over. {So this whole process is ONE trial. You will typically never do one trial the point is to do multiple trials. SO you complete this whole process until you reach the total number of trials}

How can I use DTT in my classroom?

The next question in everyone’s head is how can I use this in my classroom. This is a one on one teaching method and I doubt any of you have only one student. This is why grouping students and that all important schedule that we talked so much about in the fall is critically essential. Here are some ways you can use this in your room:

1.} Pull students one on one. 

Maybe during large group activities, independent work, or any random down time, pull students one on one to work on DTT programs. 

2.} During small groups, work with one student at a time. 

This is my tried and true fav approach. When you have a group of 3 students, have a big ole’ bin of independent work (file folders, the leveled work books are great for this, worksheets, etc.). You work on DTT with one student and have the other two work on the independent tasks. When you are done with the first student, repeat until you’ve worked with each kid. 

3.} If kids have the same goals, work together.

Sometimes the teacher gods shine down on your and you have multiple kids with the same goals, get extra organized with your data sheets and alternate trials between students. I recommend putting the data sheet or post it in front of each student and going in a circle in the same order. This works best with students who can sit and wait. 

How can I make sure my DTT runs smoothly?

This is something we have talked a lot about. There are some essentials that you need to have and need to do when running DTT:

  • Use high powered reinforcers! Enough said. Make it awesome when they get it correct. If you are using food, make it small amounts (cut up gummy worms, use mini m&ms, small pieces of chips, etc.). 
  • Always do the same amount of trials. That’s why my DTT data sheets have a column for total number of trials. That isn’t so you can add up how many you did each day, it’s so you can remember how many total trials you are doing. If one day you do 7 trials and the next day you do 25 – you aren’t going to be able to compare your data. Getting 7 correct out of 7 is pretty great but 7 out of 25 – not so much. 
  • Work in sets and plan them out! I have gotten a lot of questions about this. On my DTT data sheets, I have a section for Set Number. You aren’t going to work on all of the colors at once or all of the body parts. Break down the complete set of skills into sets. So if you are working on identifying body parts pick 3-5 body parts for each set (i.e. Set 1 is eye, nose, and hair; Set 2 is arm, mouth, and knee, etc.). Once you completely master Set 1, move on to Set 2. Include all of this info on your Program Guide
  • Set a mastery criteria. After how many days with how many correct will you move on the next set. 
  • Discrimination Sets! So we discussed breaking down the list of targets into sets and after you master Set 1 move on to Set 2. But, before you move on to Set 3 after you mastered the second set, you NEED a discrimination set. That means you need to work on Set 1 and 2 together! So for our body parts example you will work on eye, nose, hair, arm, mouth, and knee together. Keep the same total trials. You will just do less of each body part. 
  • Have program guides. Learn more here
  • It’s all about practice and repetition. 

Having everything such as mastery criteria, sets, discrimination sets, and simple directions helps everything else run smoothly. What I love about DTT, is that I can train a para or set a program up for myself and it just runs. We have mastery criteria, we move on, we keep going. We keep making it more and more complex until we are ready to add in a new goal. I use the ABLLS to select goals for my students to work on. 

How do I correct errors?

You want to be sure to approach error correction in a specific way. If the child gives an incorrect response, give a simple and direct statement to show that was the wrong response. Sometimes we add in so much language here that our kids can’t even figure out if they got it right or wrong. I like to remove the cards (if there are any) and say a neutral “no” and pause for a moment. After you provide some indication that they got it incorrect, you want to show them the correct response. You can do this by prompting (gestural or physical prompting) and having the child model the response. 

So for example, if you say, “touch yellow” and Johnny touches blue, say “no” and move cards away. Represent cards and say “yellow” and point to the yellow card. When Johnny points to the yellow card tell him good job! I don’t give the main reinforcer here since this was a prompted response and part of error correction. Then represent the same trial, “touch yellow” and see if Johnny will touch yellow without a prompt. If he does, say “good job” again and move on to the next trial. That last instance of him touch yellow doesn’t get counted on the data sheet because it was part of the same trial and that trial was incorrect. Him getting it on his own is part of the error correction process. If Johnny still doesn’t touch yellow on his own, provide the prompt again and move on to the next trial. The goal is to end the error correction process with him touch the correct answer on his own but we don’t always get there. 

What if my student struggles to identify any cards?

If your student is brand new to DTT, you may want to start very basic and first get the student to identify one item. You can use blank cards or distractor cards that are very different from the target card. Check out the video to the right to see how I do this with name identification. 

Check out our Data Sheets & Program Guides {ready to go for a wide range of goals}

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