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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Milieu Teaching - Topic 56

What is it?

Milieu Teaching involves child-adult teaching interactions that occur during natural, unstructured times. The teacher follows the child’s lead and it typically occurs during child-selected situations.  Within research framework of Early Childhood Special Education, it is closely linked to the philosophical perspective of natural environment teaching and natural learning opportunities. Milieu teaching is extremely language based and focuses on meaning of communication instead of the child’s usage of grammatically correct language. It occurs within a fluid and flexible structure.

When a teacher implements milieu teaching, they make a sequence of decisions when responding to a child’s request or attempt at communication. The sequence is as follows:

  1. Should I use this situation for milieu teaching? If yes, then:
  1. Decide what type of language behavior you want from the child and
  2. Decide the cue you want to use (a) follow child’s attentional lead or (b) follow child’s attention plus include a verbal cue.  If child does not respond to cue
  3. Decide the amount of prompting you will use (a) fullest- imitation, (b) medium- partial imitation, or (c) minimal- terminal language behavior

Within milieu teaching there are four major teaching procedures. These basics of these

procedures are as follows:

  1. Model Procedure: Teacher notices opportunity, models response, and waits. Teacher provides prompts and judges child’s continued interest.
  1. Mand-Model Procedure: Teacher builds on Model procedure by providing a mand (directive, “Tell me what you want”). Teacher waits for response, provides prompts, and judges child’s continued interest.
  2. Delay Procedure: Less intrusive than Model or Mand-Model. Used for responses that a child has acquired but does not use consistently, frequently, or independently.
  1. Incidental Teaching Procedure:  Teacher uses one of the three previous procedures depending

on difficulty level of target response and interest level of child.

A variation of milieu teaching is Enhanced Milieu Teaching (EMT), which incorporates incidental teaching, environmental arrangements (manipulating environment, materials, and situations), and responsive interactions (adults respond in ways that encourage communication).


Why is it important?

Young children who have deficits in communication and language skills are not only at risk for academic failure, but are also at risk for experiencing “failure” socially, for developing dysfunctional relationships with peers and family members, and for developing behavioral problems. There is evidence that naturalistic teaching, such as milieu teaching, supports both the acquisition and generalization of communication and language skills in young children (Kaiser & Hester, 1994).


Kaiser, A. P., Hester, P.P. (1994). Generalized effects of enhanced milieu teaching. Journal of

Speech & Hearing Research. 37(6).

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