Using Multiple Exemplars in Teaching {VIP}

Categories: Curriculum Ideas | Data

I know VIP stands for very important person and I know multiple exemplars is not a person. So let’s just say – very important post. Because this is a very important post. I included  a little tutorial too so if you arein the mood to hear my high-pitched, super fast, rambling voice – be sure to hit that up. Now why is this such an important point, you ask? Because this is such a common problem. Teachers (including me) trip over this learning speed bump all.the.time.

This pitfall is failing to include enough examples when teaching a topic. We all have good excuses. There just aren’t enough minutes in the day sometimes. But I promise a few extra minutes up front will save you loads of time in the end. Because when you include multiple exemplars in your teaching procedure, your students will be more likely to actually learn the concept and generalize to the real world. Which – duh!? Isn’t that the whole point of learning. I don’t want my students to only know their letters in the fluency station. I want them to know it all the time. I want them to be reading their letters in freaken bathtub. You get it.

Think about the way babies learn to talk. Moms and dads are constantly labeling things. “That’s a ball. Look here is your teddy. Let’s get some milk.” And they are labeling a huge variety and range of these items. We need to do the same things with our students. Children with autism sometimes don’t learn generalization as easily as children who are typically developing. We need to directly teach for generalization. One way to do that is by teaching with multiple exemplars.

When you are running a discrete trial or fluency program, make flashcard sets that include multiple examples for each target. Use any and all variations of each item. If you are working on apple – include a red and a green apple, maybe a sliced apple, an apple with and without a stem, a photo and a cartoon depiction. You want your student to respond with the spoken word ‘apple’ in the presence of any apple they see – not only the green cartoon flashcard they learned with.


Here is one easy trick to make this process a little simpler. In my discrete trial data sheet set, I gave some suggestions for mastery criteria. A quick clarification:  I suggested 4 trials of each target correct on 5 consecutive days. So for example on one day you would go through each color 4 times – so red 4 times, blue 4 times, yellow 4 times (or whatever colors you are using) – intermixed! When I take data on discrete trial I don’t necessarily keep track of which colors are correct or incorrect unless I am started to notice a pattern of certain ones wrong all the time. So to make it easy on myself – I usually make a deck with the amount of trials I will be using. So if I have 3 colors and want 4 trials of each color – I will make a flashcard set with 12 cards (4 of each color). You can incorporate multiple exemplars into this by making 4 different examples of each color. For example check out this set:

There are 4 examples of each color. For each session, my paraprofessional goes through this deck one time and done! You’ve got your 4 trials on each target!

Here is my video tutorial explaining this as well if you still have more questions! (sorry I talk so fast…)


Side notes about discrete trial:

  • always use the same number of trials! Then you will be able to accurately compare data – you can’t compare 12 correct out 16 to 12 correct out of 22.
  • always use a field size bigger than 2 – when you have 2 options they have a 50% chance of answering correctly!
  •  use what works for your student – for a student who struggles with attention maybe only do 2 trials of each color but do that two times in one day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon – that way you’d be able to get more trials but in short sessions


  1. I teach students with severe multiple disabilities; they have trouble generalizing as well. I use an App called “Choice Board Creator” that allows you to choose 2, 3,..6 etc… pictures. One of the things I like about it is that it mixes the picture choices up each time you go through. I have a couple students who tend to always choose what’s on the right so I like that feature.

  2. A great post – I sometimes take generalisation for granted because my boys are quite good with it now, but its good to remember that concepts may not generalise. I also love your tip to have the no. of different cards to match the required trials – makes data-taking much quicker. My boys haven’t done money or time yet at school (they just started) so I’ll keep your tips in mind. Thanks!

  3. That is an interesting point. I joke in my class that my students tend to pick to the right, so I have to remember to mix up the placement on our choices in multiple positions.

  4. So true! 🙂


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