Discrete Trial Training

DTT, Discrete Trial Teaching, Discrete Trial Procedure, Discrete Trial Instruction

UDL 3.3

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a teaching method where teachers break skills into “sub-tasks” and teach each using cues, prompting, and reinforcement during repeated learning opportunities (trials). DTT creates highly structured and motivating learning environments for learners that find it difficult to follow complex procedures or complete multi-step routines. Teachers identify the skill they would like to teach, break apart the skill into its sequential or simplest parts, and determines the sequence to teach each sub-task. For example, to teach a student to write their name the student needs to hold a pencil properly, know how to spell their name correctly, and be able to print each letter. For each sub-task, the teacher determines a cue to elicit the behavior, reinforcements for correct responses, and reteaching and prompting procedures. The teacher conducts multiple trials to teach each sub-task until the student successfully performs the desired behavior.

Implementation Tips

Data Collection
Collect regular and accurate data to keep track of student progress. Design data sheets to measure the skill that is being taught and reinforced. Instructors should record data on prompts used and student responses. This data will measure student progress, assist in deciding whether to move to the next sub-task, and reveal what type of prompting is most successful.
Prompting Procedures
Modify prompting levels and plans based on student progress. As students learn skills, fade prompts to encourage the student to eventually use skills independently. If students are not making progress, increase prompting levels to give the student more support. Refer to a [[|Prompting Hierarchy]] to determine a plan for prompting.
Task Variation
Alternate between trials that cue students to perform new or difficult tasks and trials of previously learned or easier tasks. This gives students more opportunities to experience success and prevents frustration.
Maintenance of Mastered Skills
Continue to prompt students to use skills after they have learned them using Discrete Trial Training. After students master a skill, begin to cue the student to use the skill in new environments to encourage generalization. Trials of mastered skills can also be mixed in with trials of new skills so that students do not lose the skills that they learn.
Natural Environments
Conduct trials to teach skills within natural and varied environments when possible. Doing so helps students to be able to perform the skills learned in different and new contexts. Also, be prepared to take advantage of unplanned learning opportunities that arise throughout the day.


Discrete Trial Training can be used to teach students academic skills when a student does not learn with traditional methods. The teacher can set apart one-on-one time with a student to complete trials to teach specific identified skills (e.g. letter identification, double-digit multiplication, using the scientific method). After the student successfully performs the skill in the one-on-one setting, the teacher can then cue the student to perform the skill in class to encourage generalization to the typical classroom setting.
Discrete Trial Training can be used to teach students to use positive behaviors identified by the teacher the student’s support team. For example, when teaching a student to verbally express negative emotions, a teacher can be present when the student is in a frustrating setting such as the playground. When opportunities for the student to express his emotions arise (e.g., being pushed by another student) the teacher can prompt the student to use the new skill (“What can you say when you’re upset?”) and provide praise for using the new skill.
Use of Support Tools
Teachers can use Discrete Trial Training to teach students to use new supports and tools that help students achieve academic or behavioral goals. For example, a teacher that has determined that a student would benefit from using a communication board can use Discrete Trial Training teach the student to use the board. When introducing the board, the teacher can conduct numerous trials by asking questions or making statements to cue the student to use the board, prompt the student to point to the appropriate icons or words, and praise or reward the student for using the communication board.

Related Strategies