Help Verbal Skills Emerge!

I am sure many of you have a student similar to the one I have in mind. I have a few students with lower level verbal abilities. They can imitate words or phrases and request highly preferred items. And then it seems like you get stuck. You can make the requests for preferred items more frequent and varied. You can increase the length of the request. You can practice repeating longer words and phrases. But again. Stuck. Getting that question answering social piece is SO tricky. My students are fairly echolalic so when you ask a question they tend to just repeat it.

To start teach question answering, you need to first teach responding. Skinner calls these lovely little tidbits – intraverbals. Intraverbals are verbal behavior that are shaped by other verbal behavior. So, when someone says good morning, you say good morning back, or you say hello or hi. Your response is based on what someone has said to you.

I have been working on intraverbals with two of my students. I start with very common and basic phrases.  I like to pull phrase ideas from the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning (ABLLS) Intraverbal Index. I work on a few phrases at a time. I say the start of the phrase and wait for the student to fill in the rest. For example, I say “up and…” and wait for the student to say “down.” Then I provide reinforcement based on the correct response – the student saying “down” without repeating the start of the phrase. He needs to respond only with his part of the phrase. I take data on 10 trials each day of 3 different phrases. Mastery criteria is 100% correct on 5 consecutive days before moving on to a new set.

Here is my data sheet:

These are the phrases we are working on:

It has been going super well. For one of my students this is one of the first times he is responding to a phrase without repeating it! Once he masters these three, we will add three more. Then we can make them more complicated. Once he starts to master several, we can transition from “a dog says…” to “what does a dog say?” And bam! My kiddo is answering questions.

We also work on answering “How are you?” or “How are you feeling?” using pictures. This is another great way to teach question answering by using pictures. It another great opportunities to veer away from only using verbal language to request items. I feel like 95% of some of my students’ language are “I want” phrases. Starting the commenting skill by using the “I feel” for emotions has worked really well! Get a list of these phrases here.

For  some of my higher students, I printed and laminated all of the intraverbal phases and organized them by level of difficulty. With my more verbal students, we practice filling in the responses. We use these in morning group and they are prefect for my more moderate level verbal students.



  1. Hi! I love your intraverbal cards for your morning group – do you have them for sale?


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