Promoting Generalization: Teaching Sufficient Examples

There are many techniques and strategies that teachers can use to promote generalization of skills.  One such strategy is to teach a sufficient number of examples (a.k.a. multiple exemplar training) and then probe the student’s ability to respond correctly to novel examples.  The more examples a teacher uses during instruction, the more likely the student will respond correctly when provided with examples that were not used during instruction (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

For example, if a teacher uses 4 different examples of a dog (i.e., 2 different pictures of real dogs, 1 picture of a cartoon-type dog, and 1 3-D dog figure), that same student would be more likely to correctly respond “dog” when asked “What is this?” in the presence of a picture of a dog from a novel book (a picture the student has never seen before).

With limited time and staff it may be easier to use the same materials for all students and/or use only 1 example when teaching skills such as tacting (labeling) common objects/items/pictures.  Unfortunately, this practice does not serve to promote generalization.   We cannot expect a student to generalize if we only teach one example (Baer, 1999).

Here is a tip that teachers can use right from the start!  Be proactive and PLAN for generalization!  Put the time in NOW and save time later!

Using double-sided tape, fasten 2 pictures (2 different pictures of a dog) back to back.  Staff members can simply flip the card during instruction to provide another example during the session.  While 2 examples may promote generalization to untaught examples for some students, others may need more.  Simply repeat the above procedure again for a total of 4 examples!  Commercially-produced cards can be expensive.  Since it is unlikely that all students will have their own “box of cards” containing multiple examples of items, consider using magazines, old books, comics, stickers, and graphics from web searches!

Take a look at our example and tell us your ideas for promoting generalization!

Promote Generalization

Suggested instructional programs (tacting common items/objects/pictures) within this teaching tip are for illustration purposes only.  ALL suggestions may not be appropriate for all students. Language training should be developmentally appropriate and based upon individual student needs.


Baer, D.M. (1999). How to plan for generalization (2nd ed.) Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L.  (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Education, Inc.