Arranging Materials


Providing children with choices is an easy way to increase opportunities for
communication. A choice involves two social partners: an initiator and a requester. The initiator provides the available options to the requester and the requester selects from the available options provided by the initiator. Children and adults EBIP_communication_environmental arrangement_3can play both roles. For example, a child may ask his peer if she wants to use the bucket or shovel on the playground. Opportunities to provide choice can occur before an activity (i.e., choice between two games), during an activity (i.e., choice between pieces of a puzzle), or after an activity (i.e., choice between available open centers). Some children may benefit from a verbal or visual script or model of how to initiate or respond to a choice. Sample initiations include, “Pick one, “What do you want?”, “Do you want X or Y?” or simply holding two items in front of an individual in close proximity to the initiator. Children may also benefit from a verbal or visual script or model of how to request their desired choice. Sample responses include gesturing to the desired item, naming the desired item, or stating “I want the ______.” Responses such as “no thank you” or “I don’t want that” may also be explicitly taught to children. All initiations and responses can be expanded as children’s language begins to grow.

EBIP_communication_environmental arrangement_7Withholding Materials
Withholding materials involves purposefully taking pieces needed to complete an activity
and delivering them after a child requests the item. Items can be withheld through (a) omission, (b) placing pieces out of reach, or (c) providing materials in an inaccessible format.

Omission. Withholding materials through omission involves purposefully leaving out a necessary material to complete an activity such as a paint brush during an art activity or a puzzle piece during a tabletop activity. Omission provides a natural opportunity for the child to request a needed item from an adult or peer. Omission can also occur by only providing one necessary item and requiring peers to ask each other for the item. For example, in a dramatic play center the teacher may purposefully only place one pizza cutter to increase the likelihood children may have to ask each other for the item. Simply omitting materials may be sufficient to promote language use for some children; other children will need to be directly taught to use requests to gain access to materials in multiple contexts (see System of Least Prompts and Progressive Time Delay).

Out of reach.evidence-based-instructional-practices-7  Placing preferred or needed materials out of reach can also create an opportunity for children to communicate to get a needed item. Items placed out of reach should be needed for an activity (i.e., art smock or wizard puppet), but may not be necessary to initiate play. As a child reaches for a material that is out of reach, the teacher can provide a prompt for the language used to get the item. For example, the teacher could model, “Glue” and point to the glue, “I need the glue,” or “Help me get glue.” and provide access to the item when the child made a communicative attempt. As children’s language develops, the language requirement to obtain the item may increase.

Closed materials. Teachers may place items or pieces of toys in locations that are visible but inaccessible. The most obvious inaccessible locations are clear, sealed containers and can also include opaque labeled containers. For example, storing toy cars in a clear container with a snap lid beside a car ramp toy may provide a natural opportunity to increase children’s communication when playing with toys during free play. Children may ask peers or adults for assistance opening the materials through a gesture (i.e., holding the container in the direction of a peer or adult), vocalization (i.e., approximation of ‘open’ or ‘help’), verbal request, (i.e., “Help me please” or “open the cars”), or speech output device (i.e., touching the help or open icons on an AAC device). Again, direct teaching may be required (see System of Least Prompts and Progressive Time Delay), and you may need to first set up a play routine (without requesting) so that the child is aware that the toys may be removed from the containers for play.

To cite this page (APA 6th edition):

  • Zimmerman, K.N., Ledford, J.R., & Chazin, K.T. (2016). Arranging materials. In Evidence-based instructional practices for young children with autism and other disabilities. Retrieved from