A Progressive Response Strategy for Challenging Behavior.

What is the PROMPT Method?

PROMPT is a method of progressively and systematically responding to behaviors that do not immediately require sending or reporting the student to the school’s main office. The aim of this method is to respond to and correct the challenging behavior using progressively more intensive strategies, while at the same time preserving the relationship with the student.

A progressive system of responding to problem behavior that includes disciplinary consequences and office support is an important aspect of an effective school-based service delivery model in addition to proactive, positive supports. This is consistent with MTSS and PBIS practices and inclusive of all students throughout the tiers of support. The purpose of establishing a progressive response system is for all staff to adopt a common approach to reacting to challenging or inappropriate behavior with the goal of correcting behavior in a fair, respectful manner that is likely to preserve the relationship with the student.

PROMPT is predicated on the research demonstrating that most challenging behaviors are normal or typical behaviors that even most adults would exhibit in school (e.g., being periodically off-task, forgetting materials, talking to peers, etc.). The goal is to get good behavior back on track and not to immediately reprimand or punish the student for initially engaging in low-level problematic or challenging behavior. Again, the PROMPT method will not be as effective if the foundational supports are not in place. It may seem like a long sequence, but the prompt can take 2 minutes or less.

PROMPT represents an acronym that outlines the sequence of procedures to be implemented:

  • Proximity Control
  • Redirection
  • Ongoing Monitoring
  • Prompt Expected Behavior
  • Teaching Interaction
PROMPT diagram depicting where each progressive response strategy is visually represented in hierarchal sequence as described below.

Key Concept:

The PROMPT method will not be as effective if the foundational supports are not in place. Without the following foundational supports in place, many students will likely exhibit behavioral problems and there will be very little reason for students to self-manage and correct their behavior. The foundational supports are:

  1. First, educators need to develop strong positive relationships with all students, as this relationship makes students more likely to behave well and to correct their own behavior. Often the students who exhibit challenging behavior are the students with whom educators must work the hardest to build a strong positive relationship.
  2. Second, proactive classroom management procedures must be in place: educators greeting students at the door, five positive acknowledgements to every one correction (known as 5 to 1 ratios) for all students, a well-organized classroom with engaging instruction, periodic re-teaching of the 3-5 core behavior expectations (e.g., Safe, Respectful, and Responsible), and a positive reinforcement system in the classroom.
  3. Lastly, educators must be aware of and reflect on their own emotional reaction to the problem in the classroom. They should reflect on how their decision-making process in the moment either helped to diffuse or escalate the problem. Also, educators should reflect on whether there are any cultural misunderstandings or problems in communication that may contribute to the challenging behavior and the student’s understanding of the classroom rules.

P.R.O.M.P.T. Steps Prior to Office Support:

It is intended that the teacher and/or paraprofessional move through these steps progressively for behaviors that do not immediately require office support. If the student does not respond to the lowest level intervention (i.e., proximity control), then they would move to the next level (i.e., redirection), and so forth.

Proximity control

Proximity control involves physically standing near the student to correct behavior. For many behaviors, the first step before a verbal interaction with the student should be to stand next to the student or students who are beginning to engage in off-task, disruptive behavior. In fact, a considerable amount of behavior can be corrected with proximity control. Proximity control is used both as a response to problems that are already occurring and as a prevention of potential problems. When a teacher is mobile and moves about the classroom, students must be alert to track and pay attention to the speaker.

  • The idea behind proximity control is to “teach like the floor is on fire.” This means that the attentive and aware teacher or paraprofessional continually moves around the room and scans for both positive behaviors to acknowledge and for the earliest warning signs of challenging behaviors. When the educator observes a challenging behavior, they can end it by simply moving next to the student without disrupting the flow of instruction.


Redirection involves asking the student to do something different. Specifically, it is a request or instruction that has a low probability that the student would become defiant or noncompliant (and a high probability they will comply and complete the request). The aim is to gain momentum with compliance and rule following and then to get the student back to the task at hand, allowing the teacher to regain instructional control. If the student complies with the request, then the student is now under the educator’s instructional control and will be more likely to stop the inappropriate behavior when redirected to appropriate behavior. Examples of redirection tasks include asking the student to hand out papers, collect papers, sharpen pencils, run an errand next door, etc.

Ongoing Monitoring

Ongoing Monitoring to shape behavior involves keeping an eye on the student to catch the student behaving well after the educator has returned the student to a task. Teachers and paraprofessionals often miss opportunities to reinforce and praise appropriate behavior after issuing a redirection or using proximity control. After using either of these tactics, the teacher should pay close attention to the student, and at the first signs of good behavior, be ready to reinforce (e.g., give points, a thumbs up, smile) and praise the student (e.g., “I really appreciate you getting your book out. Great job!”).

By engaging in ongoing monitoring to shape behavior, the teacher can help establish momentum for on-task, complaint behavior instead of for challenging behavior. This is also called “catching the student behaving well.” When a teacher engages in ongoing monitoring of the student to shape their behavior to be better in the class, the student is more likely to alter their behavior from inappropriate to appropriate behavior.


Prompt involves providing a direct, explicit, and concise command to the student about what they should be doing instead of the challenging behavior. Often teachers and/or parents provide commands that are phrased as a question or involve multiple commands at once. An effective prompt of command is positively stated (“Do this” instead of “don’t do that”), is singular (one direction at a time), and is a statement, not a question. Ultimately, an effective command tells the student precisely the behavior the teacher wants them to exhibit instead of the challenging behavior: this command is given a private, calm, non-threatening, respectful manner. A prompt example might be, “Kai, I need you to begin the test now.”

Teaching Interaction

Teaching Interaction is a standardized method of turning instances of continuing challenging behavior into a teachable moment. As a result, a teaching interaction treats the presence of chronic challenging behavior as an opportunity for the student to learn appropriate, desired behavior. The aim of the teaching interaction is to keep the student in a calm and receptive state of mind, so that they can learn from the interaction. A successful teaching interaction should be delivered in a private, calm, non-threatening, respectful manner.

  • Empathy Statement & Label the Inappropriate Behavior: In a private way, begin the interaction with the student with an empathy statement that conveys that you understand the reason, motive, or emotion underlying the problem behavior. After the empathy statement give a factual description of the inappropriate behavior (e.g., “I understand that class can be boring sometimes, BUT right now you are talking out loud and distracting other students.”)
  • Label Alternative, Appropriate Behavior: Describe the alternative, acceptable behavior (e.g., " “Instead of talking out loud, I need you to start working quietly on the assigned work.”)
  • Provide Brief Rationale : Give a short, concise reason why the alternative behavior is better (e.g., " “When you work quietly on your work, you can get your work done, which means you don’t have to take it home.”)
  • Check for Understanding: Ask for understanding ("Do you understand?") This step is partially to gain compliance but also a quick check to see if the student is ready to cooperate. A simple nod will suffice.
  • Present Choice : The goal of this final step is to avoid any power struggles while at the same time providing an opportunity for the student to comply and re-engage in instruction. Providing choices in which complying with directions is more advantageous than not, is often sufficient at re-engaging the student in instruction, and when this occurs the educator should immediately acknowledge and reinforce (i.e., direct verbal praise statements “Thank you for taking out your book and getting to work”Other times the presentation of choice will be insufficient. It is in these instances where the educator is at the point in the interaction where delivering a firm, yet respectful warning of the possible looming disciplinary consequence is in order.

    It is important to do this person-to-person, with no attention solicited from observers. If the student does not comply after the warning (See Teaching interaction: Option #1), follow through with the in-class disciplinary consequences (Teaching Interaction: Option #2). If the student continues with the problem behavior, or if the behavior is overtly severe/dangerous, then request office support (Teaching Interaction: Option #3).

    Teaching Interaction: Option #1:

    After presenting the choice to the student with the warning, it is critical to allow some ‘Thinking Time.’ Give the student some time to decide whether or not to change to an appropriate behavior. This will put the student in a decisional dilemma. The student can make a choice to either a.) get back on task, b.) take a brief break to reset and then start engaging in the desired behavior or c.) continue with challenging behavior and receive the disciplinary consequence.“Thinking Time” should be anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes in length. Be sure to give the student some space. Move away and then return and ask the student what they have decided. (“You will need to do your work to earn computer time at the end of class. You have a choice to make. You can either start working on the assigned work, you can take a brief break and then start working, or you can keep distracting other students, then no computer time after class. I’ll leave you alone for a minute and come back to see what you decided.” After a minute, ask, “So, what’s your choice?”). If the student states or demonstrates the appropriate behavior, the educator should immediately praise/acknowledge/ and or reinforce. If the student does not comply, progress to option #2.

    Teaching Interaction: Option #2:

    For moderate behavior or if Option 1 was unsuccessful. In-class disciplinary consequence is now delivered if the student is unable to comply. Apply the consequence calmly, yet firmly. This can include the application of a variety of consequences:
    • Not earning classroom privilege
    • Remove to time-away in the classroom for a cool down
    • The student provides some form of restitution. Request the student make up for the lost instructional time to assist the teacher on various tasks in the classroom
    • Require the student to explain how the problem happened in documentation (either in writing or private conference). Thinking About My Inappropriate Behavior (DOCX) may be used for this activity: Sometimes students need to reflect on their behavior to make it positive again. This form allows them the ability to think about their actions and their consequences
    • Use your colleague next door, your “Teaching Buddy”. Send the student to a buddy’s class to complete the Thinking About My Inappropriate Behavior (DOCX) worksheet. Instruct the student that if they do not return within the allotted amount of time (e.g., 10-minutes) it will turn into an office support referral. If you select this out of classroom option, be sure to file the form with the office. It is important that students not be out of the classroom continuously with this process, class after class. Having an office log is critical whenever a student is in an alternative setting, even for a brief period of time. The receiving teacher has a desk for this purpose, pencils available, a timer, and form nearby so that classroom disruption is minimized
    • School-home communication

  • Teaching Interaction Option #3:

    For moderate behaviors where Option 2 was unsuccessful, request office support and a solution-focused process. If the behavior does not respond to the graduated sequence of steps described above, or if the behavior is overtly dangerous and requires an immediate removal, calmly refer the student.

Note: If a student has multiple recurring infractions of challenging behavior, or if behavior becomes habitual, this may be an indicator of a need for additional classroom intervention assistance. Either components of Tier 1 PBIS need to be strengthened/modified or re-evaluated, or the student may need a referral to PBIS team for Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports.


Content on the PROMPT Method was presented at the 2015 PENT Forum by Diana Browning Wright, MS, LEP and Clayton R. Cook, PhD, LP, and has been summarized here to ensure accessibility.