Discrete Trial Basics: Why do we use DTT? How do I implement DTT?

I have been sharing about Discrete Trial Training, check out the posts:
{Discrete Trial Basics: What Is Discrete Trial Training?  Who is it for?}
{Discrete Trial Basics: Where does it take place?  When does it occur?}
{Discrete Trial Basics: Why do we use DTT?  How do I implement DTT?}
{Discrete Trial Basics: Organization Tips}
{Discrete Trial Products and A Giveaway!}
{Discrete Trial Basics: Awesome Reinforcers}

I want to continue to talking about Discrete Trial Training (DTT) today and answer a couple more questions.  Today I want to focus on the Why and the How of DTT.

Why do we use Discrete Trial Training?
Simply put, DTT is an Evidence Based Practice.  We use it because the research says it works.  But of course you want to know more.  Here are some additional reasons as to why you should be using DTT with students:
  • DTT provides direct instruction
  • DTT teaches students to remember
  • DTT teaches students to discriminate between stimuli
  • DTT incorporates reinforcement strategies into teaching
  • DTT teaches students to scan a field
  • DTT can be used to teach a variety of different skills (behavior, language, academic, etc.)
How do I implement Discrete Trial Training?
Well isn't that a loaded question!  I'm going to share the basics of how I have implemented DTT in my classroom.

The first thing you need to do is figure out a schedule.  How often are you going to see your students?  Who is going to implement the DTT with your student?

Next, you need to identify the topics you will be teaching your student.  Through assessments you should be able to find levels of your student and determine what needs to be taught next.  I use the STAR program in my classroom.  I completed a student profile for my students and placed them based on that.  You could also use results from the SANDI or other assessments you may be using.

After you determine what you'll be teaching you need to gather materials.  You will need data sheets and you will probably need flash cards or something along those lines.  You'll now need to prepare lessons for your students.  I have seen this done in a few ways.  Some teachers gather what they will teach and fill in a program mastery sheet including all the targets that will be learned without dates added.  I'm a little bit more of a control freak, so I lay out Discrete Trial Lessons for my students daily based on the introduction procedures laid out through STAR.  I particularly like doing it this way because I can reflect on my student's data daily.  As my students learn new things I fill out program master sheets.  You'll also want to get a token board and some low to medium level reinforcers for your students.

Now, it's finally time to teach!  When I teach through DTT I first introduce a new target.  For example, if I'm teaching my students letter names I will put a flash card with the letter A on the table and I will cue "Touch A" or "Give me A".  The student will do as asked and I will rename the letter, praise, and give the student a token.  I will complete this until mastery is met (I use the 3/3 rule in my classroom, some students may need more repetition).  After we have mastered A, I will show my student the letter A and a distracter (a distracter is something similar that will NEVER be the answer, or won't be the answer for a LONG time).  I often use a question mark for my distracter when teaching letters.  I will now ask the student to "Touch A" or "Give me A" until mastery is met again.  After this trial, it is time to introduce a new target.  I will introduce the letter B to my student now and cue "Touch B" or "Give me B".  When the student gives, I rename, praise, and reward with a token.  I will complete this until mastery is met then move on to B with a distracter.  When mastery is met here, I move into random rotation.  During random rotation, I show students up to 5 stimuli (teaching to scan and discriminate here) and mix up what I'm asking for.  But in this situation I've built, my student only knows 2 letters, so the letters A and B will be presented and I will ask for different stimuli each time.  Here, I will expect 3 correct responses for each letter being presented.  (As I move on, I will teach C and A and B will become an "old set", when in random rotation I will expect 3 correct for C and 3 correct for my "old set" before moving on).  After completing a random rotation, I am finished with that lesson for the day.  When I return the next day, I will complete another random rotation (checking for retention, teaching to remember), before moving on to the letter C.

Phew, that's a lot of DTT info for one day!  I hope you are not overwhelmed and you will give it a try with your students!

**Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on Discrete Trial Training.  I simply have researched and implemented with some training and coaching in my classroom.  This is what I have learned over the past few years.


  1. Thanks for writing this series! Your level of detail is just what I needed!

  2. Great post! When you are presenting the "old sets" during random rotation do you require 3 correct responses for each item included in the old set, or just any item from the set as long as they respond correctly 3 times? This would mean that they wouldn't review all items in the "old set" each time. Thanks!

    1. Heidi,

      We have any 3 items from the old set as part of the random rotation. They (and I) would want to kill me if we did 3x mastery criteria on each item. I absolutely pay attention to errors (if made, it's unusual in errorless learning) during random rotations. Let me know if you have more questions!

  3. Can you give a DTT example for basic addition facts....please.thanks!


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