Lesson 10 Teaching Features, Functions and Classes in the Natural Environment


FFC refers to “feature, function, and class.” Once the child is able to mand for items as well as receptively identify and label (tact), we can start FFC training. These types of responses teach the child to talk about things rather than just label them. What we are trying to teach the child is to form “intraverbal links” or associations between objects and their parts, features, functions as well as different classes or categories to which the item can belong.

Teach Pre-requisites

When teaching FFCs, we are going to transfer from the label (tact) so it’s very important that the child is able to label all of the items you are using as targets. Some children may be able to label the items on pictures or in books but not be able to name the actual item in the environment! To check this out, ask your child to name the items and only include them as targets if the child can name them quickly with no prompts (fluently). If not, teaching the child to receptively identify and label the item first. Wait until the child can fluently label the item before beginning FFC training on that target.



Some people always begin FFC training with receptive tasks. This can also be done in the natural environment by using a game type format.  For example, maybe you could ask the child to “find the thing you sleep in” when playing in the bedroom and run with him to the bed to show him what you want him to do. Or, when you're cleaning up toys, you might have the child find the one that's "round".



When beginning FFC training, start by getting the child to say the name of the item (tact) in whatever way he has been typically successful in the past then transfer it to the FFC condition. 


Some children, especially those who may have a negative history with questions, may perform best if the “Fill-in” is taught first.

Example: (at night when the child is getting ready for bed)

Instructor:  “We sleep in a  “ (while pointing to the bed)

Child: bed


As part of teaching, you would provide multiple “practice” with this fill-in, gradually adding more time between the prompted and unprompted fill-in.  Once the child is able to fill-in “bed” consistently, the response can be transferred to a “WH” question (still in the presence of the bed).


Instructor:  We sleep in a             “

Child: Bed

Instructor: What do we sleep in?

Child: Bed

In this case, the child is more likely to say “bed” because he just said it!  Again, gradually add more time between the “old way of asking” (fill-in) and the “new way of asking” (Wh question) until the child can respond to the question alone.


For other children, the use of “fill-ins” may be just too much language. They may respond better if we just ask them to label the item then ask the question.


Parent:  What’s this?

Child: Potty

Parent: What do you pee-pee in?

Child: Potty


Whichever way works best for the individual child is fine. The important thing is that the item is always present during the initial part of the teaching (tact by FFC)


Once the child can easily answer the question when the item is present, we can transfer this to a condition where the child is answering the question without the item present. 

Example: (After waking up on the way to the bathroom with the bed still present)

Instructor: What do you sleep in?                    

Child: bed

(Walk down the hall a few steps)

Instructor: What do you sleep in?          

Child: bed

You may continue asking this question throughout the day so the child has multiple opportunities to practice this new response (without item present).

Transfer from Mand

Another way that FFCs can be taught easily in the natural environment is through requesting (the mand). Since the child already has a desire for something (EO), this is a good opportunity to teach!

Example: (child has requested juice and has requested a cup. Hold the juice over the cup, ready to pour)

Instructor: What do we pour juice in?       

Child: cup

Teach During Reinforcing Activities

Finally, FFCs can be taught while engaging in a reinforcing activity with the child such as reading a book or playing with a train.

Example: (playing with a train)

Instructor: Choo! Choo!  Here comes the train!  Choo Choo!  Says the       (while pointing to train)

Child: Train

Instructor: What says “choo choo”?

Child: Train

This would be continually taught mixed in with other fill-ins throughout play time. Then, when the train is put away, again ask, “What says Choo Choo?  Remember to avoid asking too many questions during play.

Take Data

It’s important to keep some sort of data on the child’s mastery of the different questions so that you know what he has learned. As stated above, you’ll mix in mastered targets as you teach new ones. Some people prefer to keep data on each step of the process and others just take data on the intraverbal. It depends on the individual child and how quickly he progresses through the process. For example, one child may be able to learn the intraverbal response in one day but another may require multiple trails on responding with the item is present before beginning the transfer to the intraverbal.If you decide to take data on the TFFC (when the item is present), ask the child the question and record whether or not (correct or incorrect) he can answer you the first time of that day, with no prompts. To take the data on the intraverbal, you would do the same thing except the item wouldn’t be present. This is called “probe data” and is only collected the first time you ask the question that day. The probe data is used to tell us if the child can respond quickly and fluently to the question when no teaching has occurred and no prompts are given. 


The “criterion for mastery” is also different for each child. For some children, one day of “correct” on the probe may be enough but for others, 3 consecutive days of a “correct” response is better. It depends on how quickly the child is learning the targets as well as how well they retain the information. For example, if you’ve chosen to have 1 probe with a correct response as your mastery criterion but find that 3 days later, when you ask the question again, the child can’t respond, you may want to increase the mastery criterion to 2 or 3 days of correct probes. Some people just collect probe data once per week and spend the rest of the time teaching.  Use whatever is easiest for you but be sure the system you choose gives you enough information to know when to add new targets or recognize any problems that are occurring.

Avoid Random Questions

If you take probe data on intraverbals only, try to do so within the context of an activity that your child enjoys but is not necessarily “thematic.”  For example, you could collect the probe data on all of your targets while playing with a ball or swinging on a swing but you wouldn’t want to ask unrelated questions while playing with a toy farm or reading a book.  We don’t want the child to learn to ask “random” questions so lets not model it for him!

Tracy Vail,MS,CCC/SLP

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