Prompts in Education-The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Prompt word written in letter.

In education, prompts are those helpful clues or cues that teachers use to guide students through their learning tasks. They can come in different forms:

  1. Verbal Supports: These are spoken hints or instructions. For example, if you’re teaching math, you might say, “Remember, to solve this problem, you need to add these two numbers.”
  2. Visual Supports: These are pictures, charts, or graphs that provide a visual aid to help students understand a concept. As a speech-language pathologist, we often use visuals when teaching students how to produce the sounds correctly using images of mouth positions.
  3. Gestural Supports: These are non-verbal cues like pointing, nodding, or using hand signals.


When teaching a new skill, begin by teaching and modeling the skill for the students. Then the students practice the skill with help and guidance. During the first two steps of the process is when prompts, visual, verbal and gestural to provide extra support to students. At the final step, students work independently without prompts or models. This is the point where we hope to see the student use the skill consistently, without additional supports or prompts.

types of prompts

  1. Verbal:
    • Imperative Statements: Direct instructions or commands that guide students on what to do.
    • Questions: Open-ended or leading questions that stimulate thinking and encourage participation.
    • Cues: Gentle hints or reminders to guide students in the right direction without explicitly providing the answer.
  2. Visual:
    • Images and Graphics: Visual aids such as charts, diagrams, or pictures that support understanding.
    • Models: Demonstrations or examples that visually illustrate the desired outcome.
    • Written Instructions: Clearly written instructions or prompts presented in textual form.
  3. Gestural:
    • Hand Signals: Non-verbal cues communicated through hand movements.
    • Facial Expressions: Expressive gestures that convey emotions or reactions to guide students’ responses.
    • Physical Guidance: Gentle nudges or touches to direct attention or actions.

Levels of prompts

  1. Full Physical:
    • Direct physical assistance to guide a student’s actions.
  2. Partial Physical:
    • Minimal physical assistance to support a student’s performance without completely taking over.
  3. Full Verbal:
    • Providing complete verbal instructions or cues to guide a student.
  4. Partial Verbal:
    • Offering partial verbal cues or hints to prompt the desired response.
  5. Visual:
    • Using visual aids or demonstrations to guide students.

when to use prompts

  1. Introduction of New Concepts:
    • Employ supports when introducing new concepts or skills to provide initial guidance.
  2. Skill Reinforcement:
    • Use supports during practice sessions to reinforce and consolidate learning.
  3. Task Transition:
    • Employ supports during transitions between tasks or activities to maintain focus and clarity.
  4. Problem-Solving:
    • Encourage critical thinking by using supports during problem-solving activities.

How to fade prompts

  1. Gradual Reduction:
    • Start with more explicit prompts and gradually reduce their frequency as students gain proficiency.
  2. Fade Across Sessions:
    • Decrease the use of assistance over multiple sessions to allow for consistent skill development.
  3. Delaying Response:
    • Introduce a delay before providing prompts, allowing students to attempt the task independently first.
  4. Peer Assistance:
    • Encourage collaborative learning by incorporating peer support as an alternative to teacher support.

Fading assistance is a key part of learning since students can become prompt-dependent. As we move our students toward independence, we need to be strategic in our use of supports. Understanding the types and levels of prompts, identifying appropriate times for their implementation, and skillfully fading prompts are essential aspects of effective teaching. By using these strategies, educators can empower students to take ownership of their learning and confidently move towards academic success.

Handy Guide to Prompts

Use this handy guide to prompts with students, parents, and other staff members. Incorporate a support system that has all staff members using the same terms and levels. Grab this guide when you sign up for e-mails and join a committed, caring group of educators with tips, ideas, inspiration, and some silliness too.

Types and levels of prompts on a clipboard.

For more information on supports for students, check out the Reading Comprehension Anchor Charts with personal and classroom anchor charts for the following skills:

The following skills are targeted:

1. Main Idea

2. Citing Text Evidence

3. Answering Questions

4. Sequencing

5. Cause and Effect

6. Compare and Contrast

7. Problem and Solution

8. Describing

9. Predicting

10. Summarizing Informational Text

11. Summarizing Fictional Text

12. Fact and Opinion

13. Plot Diagram and Story Elements

14. Writing Sentences and Paragraphs