Virginia Commonwealth University
August 24, 2012
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Kira Austin, Ph. D. Candidate

You are standing in your kitchen feeling frustrated. In an hour dinner guests will begin arriving and you can’t find your recipe for your famous crème brûlée. You have all of the ingredients, but you just can’t quite remember the steps. Do you whisk or pour cream in first? What you are really looking for is your crème brûlée task analysis.

What is task analysis?

Crème brûlée

Task analyses are like well-written recipes for multi step skills.

Franzone (2009b), with the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders (NPDC on ASD), has established task analysis as an evidence-based practice and provided directions and checklists for implementing this practice with your students. A task analysis is the process of breaking a skill into smaller, more manageable steps in order to complete the skill. Recipe books and websites are extremely popular because it can be very hard to remember all of the steps in cooking favorite foods. In fact, there are many skills you use each day that are complex and involve many steps. For example, you take for granted that you know all of the steps involved in hand washing, but a student might not know these steps. Using a task analysis is one way to teach your students complex skills such as hand washing, making a sandwich, navigating a website, or even purchasing an item in a store. Task analysis can be used effectively with all children, regardless of cognitive level and/or expressive communicative abilities. This evidence-based practice can be used for any skill that can be broken down into smaller steps, including academics, behaviors, communication, and social skills.

A task analysis allows the student to work on the task one part at a time instead of trying to master the whole task at once (Szidon & Franzone, 2009). The term task analysis can be used as either a verb or a noun. The actual sheets of paper containing the steps of the task (noun), as well as the act of breaking down a skill into small steps (verb), are both considered a task analysis. Before developing task analyses for your students, there are three concepts you must be aware of: discrete skills, chaining, and prompting.

Discrete skills

The building blocks of a task analysis are discrete skills (Szidon & Franzone, 2010) (Figure 1). These are the single, specific steps within a larger task or activity. Discrete skills can be taught in isolation and may or may not be part of a larger behavior chain (i.e., a task). A task, in contrast, consists of a series of steps that have a definitive beginning and end. By using task analysis, you teach students that a specific set of behaviors is completed in a specific order to complete a specific assignment; this is called a behavior chain.

Figure 1

Examples of Discrete Skills vs. Tasks

Example #1
Too Simple: Turning on the sink faucet (discrete skill)
Just Right: Washing dishes
Too Complex: Preparing, serving, and cleaning up dinner (multiple variables and multiple outcomes)
Example #2
Too Simple: Pushing the “on” button on the computer (discrete skill)
Just Right: Logging onto the computer and starting a familiar program
Too Complex: Logging onto the computer and creating a personal web page (multiple variables and multiple outcomes)


When considering how you will teach a skill through task analysis, first decide if you will teach the student using a total task presentation, forward presentation, or backward presentation (Utah Personnel Development Center [UPDC], 2010). Each of these methods is more appropriate for particular types of situations. The difference between these forms of instruction depends on where you focus the “point of instruction.” Ask yourself, “Where do I want to reinforce the student? What step do I start with?” Answers to these questions may be student-dependent; for example, a student who has very little patience may need to start with forward chaining so he/she can immediately be reinforced.

When using the total task instruction model, all the steps in the chain are taught simultaneously, as compared to one step at a time, until the student’s performance meets the criteria. This approach (or model) is most often used when the student has already mastered most of the steps in the chain. For example, whenever your significant other is at a wedding you notice he/she isn’t really sure what to do during DJ Casper’s (2000) Cha Cha Slide when given the direction “cha cha now ya’ll.” Your significant other can follow the rest of the directions in the dance and thus you would use total chaining to emphasize that one point in the song. Your significant other may complete all of the other steps in the song independently but during the portion of the song he or she struggles with, you may provide additional supports such as modeling.

Forward chaining places the point of instruction and reward with the first step in the chain. This is a helpful approach for students who struggle to get started. Some examples of tasks for which you would use forward chaining include writing their first name, counting, or learning a poem.

Furthermore, backward chaining places the point of instruction and reward at the last step in the chain. The student is supported through the task and expected to complete the last step independently. Educators most frequently use this method because the end of a routine more clearly signals the opportunity for the reward. Examples of tasks that might be taught using backward chaining include zipping a zipper, putting on socks, counting backwards, or putting a puzzle together. The internet has a variety of video examples of forwards and backwards chaining.


Finally, when developing a task analysis for students, consider the level of prompting the student will need for each step. This could range from a full physical prompt to visual prompts. Remember, if you put prompts in place, you will need to fade them away in order for students to become independent (UPDC, 2010). Once a student has become independent with one step of the task, you then begin to fade the prompts of the next step in the task until all steps can be completed independently.


In short, the steps in task analysis are:

  1. Identify the target skill.
  2. Identify the prerequisite skills of the learner and the materials needed to teach the task.
  3. Break the skill into small steps.
  4. Confirm that the task has been completely analyzed by having someone follow the steps verbatim. Adjust steps as necessary.
  5. Determine how the skill will be taught (total, forward, or backward chaining).
  6. Implement the task analysis and monitor student progress.

Task analysis also can be used to train professionals on how to interact with/or teach their students with ASD. Visit Franzone’s (2009a) implementation checklist at National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders to view the staff checklist regarding the correct development of a task analysis.

There are many multi-step skills you expect your students to complete every day. If you find it difficult to decide where to start, ask yourself, “What tasks are my students struggling with on a frequent basis? Is this a skill they will need in the future?” Prioritizing your task analysis writing will allow you to get the biggest bang for your efforts. Just as your family’s secret recipe helps you create the perfect crème brûlée, a task analysis can be the recipe for student success with complex skills!

Free premade task analyses

Do you find yourself wishing to use task analyses in your classroom but never seem to have the time to create them?

Here’s a handy supplement [WORD] created by T/TAC that compiles over 10 premade task analyses for common tasks! The supplement also provides a blank data sheet and visual supports!


DJ Casper (2000). Cha-cha slide. On Cha-Cha Slide: The Original Slide Album [CD]. Santa Monica, CA: Universal Music and Video Distribution Labels.

Franzone, E. (2009a). Implementation checklist for task analysis. Madison, WI: The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin.

Franzone, E. (2009b). Overview of task analysis. Madison, WI: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin.

Szidon, K., & Franzone, E. (2009). Task Analysis. Madison, WI: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin.

Szidon, K., & Franzone, E. (2010). Task Analysis: Online Training Module. (Madison, WI: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin). In Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI), Autism Internet Modules, Columbus, OH: OCALI.

Utah Personnel Development Center [UPDC]. (2010). Teaching sequential tasks [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from



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