Preferred People, Places, and Things

Preferred People, Places, and Things is when a teacher incorporates content that is frequently referred to or requested by the student in order to increase engagement during new or challenging tasks. A teacher identifies a student's Preferred People, Places, and Things through direct observation (i.e., watching the student while they play or interact with others) and structured preference assessments (e.g., providing fixed choices in a controlled environment). Once student preferences have been identified, the teacher incorporates these preferences into their instruction. Preferred People, Places, and Things can be incorporated into social stories, word problems, behavior contracts, and much more. While other strategies using familiar content focus on removing background knowledge as the barrier to learning a new skill, Preferred People, Places, and Things goes beyond familiarity to emphasize student engagement and interest.

Ready-to-Use Resources

Progress Monitoring Tool

Data Tracking Sheet: Single Item Preference Tracking

A progress monitoring tool to track student responses to preferred and non-preferred items with a completed example.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · English Language Arts, Reading, Behavior & SEL · 2 pages

Student Inventory Tool

Preference Assessment Observation Sheet

A student inventory tool to track preferred and non-preferred items with a completed example.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · Behavior & SEL · 2 pages

Implementation Tips

Students Establish Preference Not Teachers
Encourage students to select a preference without attempting to influence their choice in order to ensure true student-preference is at work. Ask neutral questions such as, "What do you prefer?" or "What is your choice?" rather than trying to make something appealing to the student (e.g., "Doesn't this book look fun?").
Empower the Student with Choice
Ask the students questions such as, "Which character should we use in our word problem today?" or "Where should we have our snack this morning?" when selecting Preferred People, Places, and Things during a lesson to reinforce student-preference.
Preference Assessments for Non-Verbal Students
Conduct fixed-choice preference assessments, such as Kennedy Krieger Institute's [[|Paired Stimulus Protocol]], when working with students with limited verbal language. Present the student with two items (e.g., M&Ms and Toy Car), and note which item the student reaches for first. Replace the non-selected item with another item, and again, note which item is selected by the student. Items that are repeatedly selected can be assumed to be highly-preferred.
Avoid Satiation (Over-Exposure)
Rotate through different Preferred People, Places, and Things to avoid satiation (i.e., when the object is no longer highly-preferred). If students repeatedly request the same person, place, or thing, consider using a choice board and changing what is and isn't available throughout the day to avoid this.
Build a Student's Preference Repertoire
Introduce new or non-preferred items alongside highly-preferred ones with similar functions to expand a student's preferences and increase the likelihood that new items will be incorporated into a student's set of preferred ones (e.g., if a student prefers pretzel sticks, pair them with carrot sticks or play with building blocks next to a student playing with toy cars).


Demonstrating Mastery of an Academic Skill
An English teacher is completing a unit on archetypes and the hero's quest. The teacher notices that the students are not as engaged with this type of traditional literature (e.g., Beowulf, Odyssey). Rather than complete a traditional assessment using these texts, the teacher decides to use Preferred People, Places, and Things to increase student engagement. As the final assessment, the teacher has each student compare and contrast the life of a preferred person, real or fictional, to the characteristics and experiences of the archetypal hero. Each student excitedly creates a slideshow using their self-selected person and highlights how the person's life is similar and dissimilar to that of an archetypal hero.
Teaching New Academic Concepts
When teaching a student with emerging communication skills the mathematical concept of "more" in relation to addition, a teacher decides to use Preferred People, Places, and Things to increase engagement. The teacher presents the student with a container that includes a single, non-preferred item (e.g., wooden block), and a container with several of a highly-preferred item (e.g., M&Ms). The student is then prompted, "Choose the container that has more." The student reaches for the bowl with the M&Ms and the teacher allows the student to eat the candy and immediately pairs the action with the targeted math concept by stating, "That's right, that one has more!"
Selecting Reinforcers for Token Charts
A teacher is working with a student who must complete three tasks, using a token chart, in order to earn a self-selected reinforcer. Prior to beginning instruction, the teacher presents the student with three different reinforcers (e.g., a toy car, a puzzle, and a cheese cracker) and asks, "Which one do you want to work for?" The student picks up the toy car and plays with it. After a few seconds, the teacher says, "Okay, let's work for more time with the toy car." After the student completes each task, a sticker is placed on the token chart. As soon as all three tokens have been earned, the teacher gives the student the reinforcer and verbally responds with, "You've earned more time with the toy car!" The teacher removes the tokens from the chart and repeats the cycle by asking the student to select a preferred item from a set of three.
Choosing an Activity
The teacher is planning a class field trip and wants to engage students in the decision-making process. After identifying ten different possible activities, the teacher has the entire class participate in a fixed-choice preference assessment. The teacher holds up two cards, one with the zoo and one with the park, and asks the students to pick their preferred activity. After a majority consensus has been determined, the teacher replaces the non-preferred card with a new activity card (e.g., the swimming pool). This time, the students overwhelmingly choose the new activity card instead of the previously selected one. The teacher continues to cycle through choices, replacing non-preferred activities with new cards until a final choice has been made.

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