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Task Analysis: What is it? What do I do with it?

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A task analysis is the process of breaking a specific skill down into a series of teachable parts. The analysis will result in a sequence of ordered steps to complete the task. If a child is having difficulty with a particular skill, knowing the steps can help the teacher, parent, or therapist evaluate which steps are a problem and where to focus their teaching.

How do I conduct a task analysis?

There are four ways to go about a task analysis.

  1. Look up a task analysis that someone else has already done. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If what you need is on the internet, start with that. For example, if you want to know the steps for putting on a coat, search the internet with the key words “putting on coat task analysis.” Several links will pop up providing the information you need.
  2. Consult an expert. If the target skill is complex, like reading comprehension, you will want to find out the necessary skills that contribute to reading comprehension. An expert will understand all of the variables that contribute to reading comprehension and can point you in the right direction.
  3. Complete the skill yourself and write down the steps as you go. Repeat the process a few times to and expend the steps into smaller segments as needed.
  4. Observe someone completing the task and write down the steps. It is a good idea to observe at least 2-3 different people completing the task as there can be some variability.
    • For example, there is variability in the sequence different people get dressed
      • Put underwear on
      • Putting on a pair of pants, a shirt, and socks can occur in different orders
      • Put shoes on

 What do I do with the task analysis?

The resulting information may not be complete and may need to be adjusted after some more observations.

Once you are confident that the task analysis is complete and relevant to the child, there are two possible options.

  1. Use the information to teach the activity in sequence. You may consider using video models, activity schedules, or instructional strategies to teach the target skill.
  2. Use the information to assess the steps the child can complete independently and which parts seem to be more challenging. Once that information has been collected, determine the a learning strategy to teach the missing pieces. You may want to teach each step in a chain or teach the steps that cannot be performed independently first.
    • To assess each step, first make a list of the steps. Next, observe the child completing the task. If the child could do the step independently, mark a “+.” If the step was not completed independently, mark a “-.” It is okay to help the child with a step in order to assess the next step in the sequence.
    • When assessing each step, avoid the urge to teach a step. That will come during instructional time. You want accurate results on the initial assessment and any follow up assessments.

How do I keep track of progress?

Simply observing the task and recording the whole task as correct or incorrect may be sufficient; however, you will probably gain more relevant information by evaluating each step in the sequence. You may wish to keep track of daily progress or only assess on a weekly basis. The following table is an example of an data sheet.

Task analysis of putting on a coat         Instructional cue: “Put on your coat”

Teacher: Mrs. Redhair                          Assessment method: Single opportunity

Student: Bob                                         Response latency*: 15 seconds

Recording: + = correct; – = incorrect    Criterion: 100% performance across 4

consecutive days

Behavior step 10/1 10/15 11/1 11/15
1 Get coat from closet + + +
2 Put one arm in sleeve + +
3 Put other arm in sleeve +
4 Zip up coat
Percentage of correct steps 25% 0% 50% 75%

* Response latency is how much time you allow the child to complete the task before marking it as “-.” Response latency may or may not be needed or relevant depending on the child and the task.

Although the above information is made up, reviewing the table provides a lot of information about Bob. On 3 out of 4 days he got his coat from the closet. I would consider this step mastered. It also looks like he is making progress putting his arms in the sleeves by himself. He has never been able to zip up a coat. This component may require more specialized teaching. The steps for zipping up a coat should probably be task analyzed and evaluated. It may even be beneficial to teach zipping skills in other settings. For example, a zipper board may be easier to manipulate than a coat.

In summary, a task analysis should be completed when a skill needs to be broken down into teachable parts. The task analysis can be completed by looking up what other people have done, by observing someone else perform the task, by perforating the task yourself, or by consulting with an expert. Once the analysis is complete, you can either use it it teach the target skill or conduct an assessment to gain more information. The steps that cannot be completed independently can be taught or task analyzed to be broken down into even smaller skill segments.

For more information about task analysis, consider reading the following books:


Cooper, J.O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

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