ABA and Discrete Trials Made Simpler

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Taking data while working with more than one student can be tricky and time consuming, but there are a few tricks to make it easier. Running discrete trials doesn’t have to mean just sticking with flash cards at a desk. There is room for fun within a traditional ABA program! Here are some tips to make discrete trials faster and less monotonous, all while following your students’ DTT programs.

Materials for Discrete Trials to Try:

  • Group Games or Activities
  • Work Box Tasks
  • Independent Center Activities
  • File Folder Games
  • Computer Games
  • Anything Really


Maybe you’ve used all of these materials before, but many ABA teachers feel confined to using just Boardmaker flash cards… and it doesn’t have to be that way! Trying out different materials is not only more fun but can also be a great way to generalize a skill and apply it in new ways.

There's nothing wrong with using flash cards during discrete trials, especially when a student responds well to them. But using flash cards is not the only effective approach in ABA. (I wrote about my opinions on Flash Cards in a previous blog post here: Life After Flashcards). As long as you are following your students’ IEP and program specifics, it’s absolutely okay to use non- flash card materials.

I wouldn’t jump around between materials if you’ve already begun teaching a skill and are not yet at the generalization or maintenance level. But if you’re only just introducing a new program, why not use fun materials to teach it? Here are a few ideas and how you might use them:



Group Games or Activities

Do you address target skills during circle time or group lessons? Is there a game your students often play that applies social skill goals? Why not use those opportunities for taking data? If your students are already say, identifying their name during morning meeting, why make them do it again during trials? 

Oh, and if you’re looking for circle time materials that incorporate math skills and money, might I suggest this: Calendar Time Math Activities. I used these activities for years with my ABA class and it saved me tons of trial time.

Work Box Tasks

Some call them shoebox centers or work box tasks but I called them “jobs” when I taught in a prevocational classroom. When students asked me if they could get a job, I answered yes, yes you can.

A work box task usually is a shoebox bin containing materials for an independent activity. You can have students sorting, matching, assembling, counting, and applying many other skills with work box tasks. These “jobs” are perfect for independent work activities for students to complete while you are doing direct instruction with another student.

Independent Center Activities

Similar to the concept of work box tasks, keep center activities on hand for times when you’re working with more than one student. Assign a center activity to a group or individual student to complete independently (if appropriate) or with a staff member. This frees you up for one- on- one instruction and data collection.


File Folder Games

If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest, you may have noticed that I like file folder games. Why? Because they’re perfect for a quick independent activity to collect data from. That means you can run trials with one student while another completes a file folder game that addresses one of their IEP goals. When you’re finished with your set, you’ll be able to collect data for both students instead of just one.

Just take a peek at the completed file folder activity to see how many they got correct, and there you go, instant data without taking up any time. Now of course, doing it this way would only work at the independent level, but you can use file folder games with any prompt level. Just use the game pieces as you would your usual materials for a more fun version.

Computer Games

There are computer games that will provide a score for teachers or parents to see how the student performed on the skill or activity. Some are even free! If your student is at the independent level on the targeted skill, you can even provide these games as a leisure activity (assuming it’s fun and something they enjoy) to be completed when they are done with their work.

Anything Really

Feel free to use your imagination and step away from the same old flash cards, especially once a student is ready to take on more of a challenge. Providing different materials offers up a whole new learning experience and pushes students to apply their skills in a different way. This can encourage higher level thinking and allows students to generalize their knowledge across materials and circumstances.

For any new teachers starting out with ABA, I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to push you outside the rigid idea many have of discrete trials. ABA can be fun! If you have more ideas, you can share them with me below or reach out to me on Facebook or Instagram. I’d love to connect with you!


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by Exceptional Thinkers

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