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Tips for Teaching Tacting


Tacting is labeling an object. This important skill is going to be in most of our learners’ programs. So what are the best procedures for teaching tacting?

What is Tacting?

Tacting is essentially labeling. Parents, teachers, and other people in the field don’t really use the word “tacting.” It’s really an expressive label. It could be done on an AAC, iPad, or vocally, these are all ways to tact or label. For the purposes of this blog, we’re talking about expressive labeling.

If a student has expressive language emerging, then we often start to teach tacting or expressive labels. We’ll use mastered receptive labels to teach tacting, but we also use requesting to teach tacting. There’s a lot of research that says that just because a child knows receptive labels, they don’t always just automatically transfer that to expressive labels. But there is a lot of research to say that if a student can request something that can lead to receptive and expressive label identification. But for the purposes of this, we’re going to explain how you teach expressive labels. 

If a student is already talking a little bit, you don’t need to first teach receptive labels and then teach expressive labels. We typically do it together. And typically in sets of three to five so that the student doesn’t overgeneralize. As soon as they master those three to five items receptively, I’m going to move the right into expressive labeling. The reason for that is that I don’t want to teach a whole bunch of receptive labels and then have to transfer that to expressive labels. I want it to be almost one and the same.

How to Teach Tacting

So for example I’ll put an array of three items out and say “point to shoe” for the receptive. They point to the shoe. That’s right. Then I will say, “what is it?” right away. They say, ‘it’s a shoe.” That’s also right. 

After they’ve mastered the receptive, I’m going to do a quick probe, “what is it?” If they have it, I don’t even need to teach it. But sometimes I will actually need to teach it or do transfer trials. We need to be able to transfer because I don’t want them to copy me and say shoe. I want them to answer “shoe” after I ask “what is it?” 

Choosing things that are motivating or relevant to your client might also mean that they’re learning to request them. And then you get it across three operants. They’re learning that object through requesting to receptively identifying to labeling, which makes that so much more functional. And the reason we use a yes/no style datasheet is that we want our kids to move through this as quickly as possible. We don’t want to hold them back because they have to receptively identify shoe 10 times and then expressively identify shoe 10 times. So we can use more of a probe style if we’re teaching receptively because sometimes they’ll just learn it expressively and it becomes like a freebie we can probe them out of. 

We don’t have to do 10 trials over two days for mastery. Instead, we can introduce things quickly and move our learners through things that are going to be functional and relevant and exciting for them to learn and label. As opposed to being like drills of flashcards over and over again. Time is of the essence and teaching something like ”rake” if a student doesn’t live anywhere where they’ll ever see a rake isn’t functional. Teach them things that they’re going to need to know in their environment, right then and there.

Data Sheets for Teaching Tacting ABA

Mark Sundberg created a list of 300 common nouns compiled into a data sheet. It’s broken up into the listener, which is receptive, as well as the tact, which is expressive.

Unfortunately, they are not in any order besides alphabetical order of functionality. Airplane is listed first, but I won’t teach airplane to my student first unless their parent happens to be a pilot. Or maybe they’re going on a whole bunch of trips. Sundberg also says that you want to be able to generalize this as quickly as possible across various different items. You should have an object, a few different kinds of pictures, and maybe a few different people. You also want them to be able to identify them in a scene as well as the natural environment. 

I don’t always teach one category at a time and we want to keep track of what the student learned. So we created a data sheet that works better for our students. I typically will print off 10 of my data sheets and use each one for a different category. One might be animals, the other might be food. And for each, there will be a receptive and an expressive component. 

Teaching Tacting Example

Here’s an example of how to take the first probe data. Let’s say a student really likes to eat popcorn. So I’m going to teach popcorn as a label along with some other words from other categories. I usually teach across categories, and I would have those on different data sheets. Then I’ll say “show me popcorn.” If they don’t show me popcorn, I’m just going to circle no. The next day, I say again, “show me popcorn.” When the student shows me popcorn, I will circle yes in the next column. My mastery criteria is two days with yeses. 

Because I’ve been teaching this both receptively and expressively, I’m saying “show me popcorn” and at the same time I’m following up with “what is it?” and they’re saying popcorn. Or I’m prompting popcorn. Now I’m able to take data at the same time on the expressive.


If you find that your client needs a different style than probe, you can use the 10-trial style datasheet for the same format. This is for a learner who could learn it quickly. 

So today, we discussed teaching tacting – or labeling – and how to teach it to your learners. If you want the datasheet mentioned in this video blog, join the Bx Pro Membership to gain access to it and much more! Get your free transfer trial visual to help with teaching tacting below.

3 thoughts on “Tips for Teaching Tacting”

  1. I love this video!! I love the idea of teaching the same receptive stimuli and then transferring to expressive! And the statement of if they can mand for it they hopefully can tact and identify it! One question I had, you guys said you teach from three different categories, such as shoe, popcorn, and dog. Do you have those three pictures in an array? Or do you have one target such as (popcorn) picture and then two random/distracter pictures for that one trial. I’ve struggled with deciding what my array should be. Thank you in advanced!

    1. Hi Haley! It would depend on the learner but if they can handle it, then we would have all 3 of the current targets in an array. If they need to be built up to that with other distractors, then that’s ok too (but I would also suggest teaching basic discrimination with objects first if that is a challenge)

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