Press the Switch: Consistent Prompting


You’re probably wondering what these Chinese symbols mean. They are the words ‘press the switch’ written in traditional Chinese. Why am I telling you this?

When I worked at Priory Woods School, I used to take pride in just how inclusive my ICT lessons were.  We worked hard to ensure that our use of technology was matched to the needs of the student and that the teaching materials we used were appropriate and meaningful to the student’s age and cognitive abilities. We went further still. I learned how to say the words ‘press the switch’ in a variety of different languages to ensure that my prompting was meaningful to students at a cause and effect level whose first language wasn’t English. I even made a poster for the wall with phonetic spellings so my colleagues could use them too. OFFSOD loved it!

It wasn’t long after that I had an epiphany. Why was I talking to the student about the switch when what really matters is the effect that pressing the switch produces? Talking about the switch (in any language) shifts the student’s focus away from the effects they are creating and on to the process of pressing the switch. I decided never again to use those words. Out went ‘press the switch’, to be replaced with prompts that engaged the student with the outcomes not the process.

“More music please”
“Make the hippo dance”
“Where’s Bob the Builder?”
“What’s coming next?”

Of course some students needed to be reminded about the switch. We overcame this by always ensuring there was a picture on the switch of the effect that pressing it would produce.

For example I’d use a picture of the hippo when we were using the dancing hippo activity.


This helped the student understand what the switch was for and to make the link between the switch and the effect will be produced when it is pressed. We may still have to model the movements required in order to produce the effect. This would cover a range of prompts which include showing the student by pressing it yourself (make sure they are looking at you and following what you are doing) or modelling the process with the student’s hand.

Whichever you choose to use, remember it’s really important to give your student time to respond… that means waiting. How long you wait depends on the student. How long might it take for a student with complex needs to process what you are asking them to do? How long for them to work out what is required? Sit on your hands for a couple of minutes and see if the student responds.

So I don’t use “press the switch” any more… in any language!