3 Things That Should Be Hanging On Your Classroom Walls If You Are Utilizing the Verbal Operants as a Guide for Language Assessment & Intervention


By Jennifer Fisahn, M.Ed, BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

In special education classrooms, there are a few things that teachers are short on. Time is definitely one of them! With or without it, we still have important business to take care of including teaching our students that being around others can be fun and that communicating is valuable. Since it takes a village (or at least a well-run classroom with an amazing staff) to carry out that important business, it is crucial that all staff members (teacher included!) are able to:

  • define, label, and provide examples of the verbal operants.
  • select potent reinforcers (edible, sensory, tangible, activity, or social) to use when working with individual students.
  • provide language training at the appropriate level for individual students.

After proper behavioral skills training consisting of instruction, modeling, rehearsal and feedback, ongoing opportunities for ‘skill honing’ will be required.

Question: How can teachers provide these necessary opportunities when time is simply not on their side?
Suggestion: Let the walls do (some of) the work for you!

Below are some suggestions for using the classroom walls to provide practice opportunities, prompts, and important information to staff.

1. Verbal Operant Posters (see example below) –
1.  Operant PostersConsider creating posters containing a general description, a variety of examples, and the controlling variables for each of the elementary verbal operants: mand, tact, echoic, intraverbal, textual, and transcription (Skinner, 1957). Additionally, it will be useful to create separate posters for motor imitation, copying-a-text, and listener responding. Hang the posters horizontally in a conspicuous area of the classroom, making sure they are large enough to see from any area. All staff members (teacher included) can refer to these posters at any time. Play games such as:

  • Name That Verbal Operant! – Provide the general description and have staff members ‘shout out’ the answer.
  • Name That Response! – Have staff members label student responses (verbal operant) during group activities.
  • Give An Example! – Provide the name of a verbal operant and have staff members give an example. At first, allow them to use examples from the posters but require novel examples ASAP. It can be fun to provide examples from life outside of the classroom!
  • Name the Controlling Variable(s)! – It is important that all staff members providing language training are able to identify and discriminate the sources of control for the verbal operants. This will assist them with delivering the most effective type of prompting as well as with fading prompts appropriately. For example, during mand training, a staff member may be holding a nonverbal stimulus item in view of the student (crayon) while saying the name of the item (“crayon”). The student, while reaching for the crayon, says “crayon”, then receives the crayon from the staff member. The child’s response (“crayon”) would be considered part mand, part tact, and part echoic.

See Sundberg (2007) for examples of verbal behavior classification exercises (pp. 533-535) that can help jump start the above classroom games.

2. Individual Student Reinforcer Lists (see example below)
2. Reinforcer ListsUtilize dry-erase boards or laminated paper to list individual student reinforcers. Since reinforcers can and do change, the ability to easily modify the list (erasing and adding) will come in handy! Place these individual student reinforcer lists in an accessible area with a dry-erase marker nearby. To maintain confidentiality, colors or numbers can be used to represent individual students. Consider developing a system for identifying items and activities that have already been used during the day (e.g., check marks or stars) and/or when they were used (e.g., specific times or days). You may also want to include which staff member presented the item/activity. Taking these steps will make it more likely that items and activities chosen at any given time will function as reinforcers. We want to keep reinforcers strong!

3. Individual Student Mand Level Poster (see example below)
3. Mand Levels PosterStaff members must be aware of which responses are targeted for reinforcement and which responses are not. All students may be receiving mand training but that does not mean that all students are provided with intervention at the same level of the skill. For example, one student may be working on manding for items/actions using just the item/action name while another student may be working on manding for items/actions using phrases. Both students are working on the skill of manding; however, at different levels. It can be difficult to keep track of individual student mand levels when you are providing intervention to many students. Consider creating a poster that delineates individual student mand levels like the one pictured below. ‘Sticky notes’ to represent individual students can be used and will allow for easy movement when necessary. Colors, numbers, or letters can be used to maintain confidentiality. Hang the poster in an area that is visible to all staff members so they can refer to it when needed.

Let the walls work for you! Try some of these suggestions in your classroom and share your own ideas in the comments below. Also, consider subscribing to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Sundberg, M. L. (2007). Verbal behavior. In J. O. Cooper, T. E. Heron, & W. L. Heward,
Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.) (pp. 526-547). Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Merrill/Prentice Hall.


Jennifer FishanJennifer Fisahn, M.Ed., BCBA has worked with individuals with autism and their families for seventeen years.  She is a certified Teacher of the Handicapped, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®), and parent of a child with autism.  Jennifer has public school experience teaching preschool through high-school aged students as well as extensive experience as a school district consultant, direct service provider and supervisor for home-based ABA programs.  She currently serves as the training coordinator for the Foundation for Autism Training and Education (FATE) and conducts workshops on the topics of ABA and autism.  Jennifer regularly contributes to a resource-rich blog for teachers, therapists, and caregivers and also created the S.T.A.R.S. Network, a group aimed at supporting teachers and paraprofessionals working with individuals with autism.  You can contact her at [email protected].

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