4 Ways To Teach Students To Request Help · Mrs. P’s Specialties


Being able to ask for help is an often overlooked, but needed life skill. Often, our students don’t just naturally pick up the skill. Instead, they need explicit instruction and lots and lots of practice in order to be able to request help when they need it.

All of that practice… it needs to be varied. You need to change up the setting, materials, people, etc. during practice to help develop a functional skill. Continue reading to see how you can practice requesting help in your classroom.

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Keep reinforcers in containers

An easy and motivating way to practice requesting help with your students is to put the reinforcer they’ve earned in a container they can’t open. Students want what is inside so they are naturally motivated to get the help they need when they can’t open the container.

When you are choosing your container, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Is this a container you want your student to learn to open? For example, you may want to stay away from prescription bottles.
  • Is the container safe to keep in your classroom and use around the school building? For example, you may not want one that is glass or heavy enough that someone could get hurt if thrown. Choose a container that you can easily use and access across environments.

Use the environment

Use the placement of items to create opportunities for students to practice and request help. Here are ideas for using the environment to teach students to ask for help:

  • Put items students want up high where students can’t reach
  • Keep items in a different room
  • Lock the cabinet or door the students needs to open to get what they want
  • Put the desired item under or behind something that is too heavy for students to move out of the way and get to their item.

Use sabotage for students to request help

There are many ways to use sabotage to get students to ask for help. This sabotage is not meant to be harmful, but to create opportunities to practice asking for help. Here are some examples of how to use sabotage:

  • Remove a key piece in a toy, task, etc. In order to complete or use the item, the student will need to request help.
  • Give food items without the utensils the student needs to eat them.
  • Turn students’ coats, jackets, or other clothes inside out

Direct instruction on help to ask for help

If you have students who don’t naturally pick up similar skills, then you need to explicitly teach and practice how to request help together. Have a second staff member prompt students after instruction and use powerful reinforcers to encourage students to keep asking for help.

Make sure your instruction or practice uses a way to request help that students can use across settings. For example, if your student only uses language boards in school, this is the best way to teach students to ask for help. How will students get help at home, in the community, etc.?

Bonus tip:

When you are teaching students to request help. it’s important that staff and parents respond immediately to the request. Students need to be highly successful or they won’t use the skill again. This goes for any language-based skills you are trying to teach.

Remember, in order for students to be able to request help in any needed situation, they need to practice asking for help in many different ways. This varied practice leads to functional life skills.

Use these tips and ideas to practice requesting help with your students every day and your students will be on their way to developing this critical skill.

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