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How to Teach 1-Step Instructions Using ABA


Following 1-step instructions is a huge part of our daily routines, and it’s more prevalent than we probably realize. We can teach 1-step instructions using ABA. For example, if you’re doing arts and crafts with a learner, a 1-step instruction you can give is, “Pass me the scissors.” This simple and basic skill can be applicable to work and academic tasks, as well as in social situations. 

Following a 1-step instruction then paves the way for following more complex requests with additional steps. For example, a teacher calls out to the class, “Get your history and geography notebooks, then sit at your desk.”

Why Are 1-Step Instructions in ABA Important?

Following instructions is part of our everyday activities. If we want our learners to excel in the classroom, the workforce, as well as socially, then we need to start with simple 1-step instructions.

Our goal is that the learner will follow through with the instruction on the first request, without engaging in alternative tasks.

How Can We Accomplish This?

Start with skills already in the learner’s repertoire to ensure success and to gain instructional motivation. Once you have gained their attention, present your instruction (the SD), and provide reinforcement for appropriate attending behavior.

SD: “Clap your hands”
Learner claps hands

1 step instruction: clap your hands

What If…?

What if the learner errors or does not respond? Show the learner the correct response.  Then represent the instruction ( SD) and get ready to prompt.  Remember, prompts can be anything that is considered least intrusive, most effective.  Here is an example:

SD: “Clap your hands”
Learner taps on the table
Instructor says, “This is clap your hands” (and the instructor claps)
You may need to re-gain the learner’s attention before presenting the SD again
Re-present the SD: “Clap your hands”
Use a model prompt to show clapping hands.  

What Next?

Now that you have a basic understanding of the importance of teaching 1-step instructions, and what to expect when teaching this skill – what requests should you give to your learner?

We have a target response list of 1-step instructions available to download for free!

Below is a breakdown of the 6 types of instructions on the target response list for you to present to your learner.

1-Step Simple Instructions – Cued

This first set of target responses are cued instructions. This means that there is a cue in the environment that will help direct the learner on how to successfully complete the task.

SD: “High five”
The instructor holds up their own hand

1-Step Simple Instructions – Not Cued

The second set of simple instructions is not cued. These do not include cues in the environment for how to successfully complete them.

SD: “Clap your hands”

1-Step Instruction Involving Distance

These instructions differ from the previous two steps, as they involve the learner traveling a short distance to complete the task.

SD: “Put this in the garbage”

1-Step Instruction to “Go Get” an Item

This step requires the learner to have the pre-requisite skill of learned receptive labels (check out our blog post on Discrimination Training). Here the student will need to combine the learned skills of following 1 step instructions involving distance and discrimination (being able to identify the item requested).

SD: “Go get the water bottle”

1 step instruction: get the ball

1-Step Instruction – Increased Distance

The goal of this step is to expand on their previously mastered skills. To ensure that learners can apply these skills in multiple contexts, we want to increase the distance between the learner and instructor to mimic a classroom setting.

2-Step Instructions

Now that our learner can follow learned and novel 1-step instructions in different contexts (e.g., sitting, standing, while moving, etc.), we want to teach them to follow any combination of instructions.

But, “Clap your hands” and, “Wave” should not always be presented together.

When it comes to providing 2-step instructions, you can choose from any previously learned 1-step instructions. The main thing to remember when teaching this step is to not always pair the same two combinations together. The more variety in the instruction, the better for your learner!


Teaching 1-step instructions using ABA is very important for our learners. Make sure you download our free target response list to start using with your learners today.

2 thoughts on “How to Teach 1-Step Instructions Using ABA”

  1. Pingback: ABA Pairing - How to ABA

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