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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Task Analysis - Topic 16

What is it?

Task analysis is the breaking down of a complex skill or activity into a series of smaller steps and then teaching the sequence of steps as a series of cues.  Task analysis may be useful for a wide range of student ability, although it is used extensively to assist students with more severe intellectual disabilities.

A behavioral chain makes up the steps used in task analysis so that each response in the chain acts as a cue.  In this way, each completed step in a behavioral chain cues the student to move forward until the last step in the chain is accomplished and reinforcement is earned.  Proper implementation of task analysis requires the consideration of prerequisite skills that must first be mastered in order for a student to perform a new task sequence.  A particular format for task analysis must also be chosen such as forward and backward chaining or total or whole task presentation.  Additionally, individual characteristics of students need to be taken into consideration in order to choose for an effective prompting system to teach the task analysis.      

Why is it important?

Task analysis has been found to be a useful instructional tool to initially assess what specific skills within a particular task a student may or may not have mastered.  The practice puts into a place a plan for how to go about thoughtfully breaking down and teaching a particular set of skills in a way that allows for regular feedback and progress monitoring.  Grounded in applied behavior analysis, task analysis has been found to be a most effective practice for individuals with more severe disabilities.     


Alberto, P.A., & Troutman, A.C. (2009). Applied behavior analysis for teachers. (8th ed.). Upper

Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Cook, B.G., & Tankersley. (2013). Research-based practices in special education. Upper Saddle

River, NJ: Pearson.

Web Links

Modules for Addressing Special Education and Teacher Education

Summary of Task Analyses

Summary of Chaining and Shaping

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