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TELL, SHOW, DO, REVIEW Behavioural Skills Training in action

Do you teach, coach or mentor others in your work life, home life or as a parent? Is it effective? If not, then you could probably utilise Behaviour Skills Training (BST).

This is my first attempt at blogging so thought I’d choose a topic that I just love and use so much in life and tell you a bit about it. Behaviour Skills Training (BST) is a systematic model of teaching based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (no surprises there).

So the term BST was first used by Raymond Miltenberger in 2004 (to reduce gun play in kids….a research paper that pops up in my JABA searches regularly for some reason) and Sarokoff and Sturmey when teaching staff to implement DTT. The separate steps involved in BST have been used in research for decades but in 2004 they were combined to produce even more impressive results.

The four steps are:

1. INSTRUCT “tell”

Use verbal or written descriptions of the skill (usually a chain of behaviours that must already be in the learner’s repertoire).

Examples: hand-outs; powerpoint slides; social stories; class rules; job descriptions; procedures; contracts.

This is usually where most of us stop and expect miracles or for the generalisation of ‘I hear…I do’ to occur! Research has shown us that instructions alone do not teach to mastery. There’s more……

2 MODEL “show”

Show the student what you mean. Demonstrate step 1. Provide multiple examples. The learner should probably have good imitation skills for BST to be effective.


Role-play the scenario with the student. Make comments but probably wait until feedback stage before asking or answering questions.

Practice, practice, practice!

Make it fun! Not done yet though…………..

4 FEEDBACK "review"

This must be immediate. As soon as the response occurs either positive descriptive praise or corrective feedback and prompting if errors made.

Repeat steps 2-4 until mastery has been met (wash, rinse, repeat).

Real world application

Here’s an example I have used as a parent to teach my toddler to stand near the car with his hand on the car and wait until mummy is ready in car parks:

1. INSTRUCT: I gave him a verbal instruction and define the behaviour I want to see “you must place your hand on this high 5 (aka parking pal magnet) and wait for mummy”

2. MODEL: I showed him what this looked like by going outside to the car and put my hand on the car/magnet and waited “like this”

3 YOUR TURN: he immediately copied but then I pretended to take him in/out of his car seat and issued the instruction “wait here” or “give it a high 5” and he placed his hand on the car and waited.

4. FEEDBACK: lots of social praise “good waiting on mummy” “just a minute” and he was only allowed to walk away from the car when I had taken his other hand safely.

We only had to practise this skill a few time’s yet it generalised so quickly as he had already ‘played the waiting game’ as he called it in a safe environment. We have done this successfully with lots of other road safety skills in our job as Behaviour Analysts at Pathway to Learning.


Here are some example skills you can teach with BST:

- Social skills (eg sharing, accepting no, waiting)

- Training/presenter skills

- Conversational skills

- Play

- Parent/teacher/staff training

- Independent living skills/self-care

- Community based skills eg shopping

- Class rules

Some of your learners may require more concrete reinforcement/rewards than the verbal feedback and this is fine. Just fade this out once the skill is mastered. BST is a fab way to teach when a skill has multiple part/chain of behaviour involved. This is how I remember the steps - show and tell reversed then do and review rhyme :)


Evidence-based topics that have used BST:

Dib, N.E. & Sturmey, P. (2011). Effects of general-case training, instructions, rehearsal, andfeedback on the reduction of sight-reading errors by competent musicians. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44, 599-604.

Himle, M.B. & Wright, K.A. (2014). Behavioral skills training to improve installation and use of child passenger safety restraints. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47, 549-559.

Lerman, D.C., Hawkins, L., Hillman, C., Shireman, M. & Nissen, M.A. (2015). Adults with autism spectrum disorder as behavior technicians for young children with autism: Outcomes of a behavioral skills training program. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48, 233-256.

Miltenberger, R. G., Gatheridge, B. J., Satterlund, M., Egemo-Helm, K. R., Johnson, B. M., Jostad, C., Kelso, P., & Flessner, C. A. (2005). Teaching safety skills to children to prevent gun play: an evaluation of in situ training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 38(3) 395-398.

Nigro-Bruzzi, D. & Sturmey, P. (2010). The effects of behavioral skills training on mand training by staff and unprompted vocal mands by children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 757-761.

Sarokoff, R. A. & Sturmey, P. (2004). The effects of behavioral skills training on staff implementation of discrete-trial teaching. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 37(4), 535-538.

Note: this is not an exhaustive list, there are many many more

Contact us if you wish to find out about the work we do and how we can help you

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