What is Natural Environment Teaching (ABA)? - Achieve Beyond

What is Natural Environment Teaching?

What Does Natural Environment Teaching (NET) Mean?

Hi, everyone. My name is Sophia Ma, and I’m here to talk to you about NET teaching today. So what is NET teaching? NET teaching stands for natural environment teaching. And just like the acronym stands for, it’s teaching in the natural environment for children. The format of teaching with NET is designed to mimic a typical adult and child interaction, where the child would naturally play, and the adult is just there to facilitate learning.

Why is Natural Environment Teaching Important?

The goal of NET is mainly to increase the frequency and the variety of verbal behavior, across all verbal operants. So what does this mean? This just means that the goal is to teach a kiddo how to be able to have a conversation with other peers and other adults, in the natural occurring environment.

A lot of NET focuses on the instruction of skills. The instruction doesn’t come from a typical sitting across the table with a child. You are in the kid’s natural environment. So a lot of it is loosely training, which just means that the reinforcers are typically related and functional to what the child is requesting or asking for.

How to do Natural Environment Teaching?

So what you’re teaching the child in NET teaching would incorporate something that a child actually wants, and is actually asking for. So if you guys are playing with trains, and the child says “Train,” you’re going to give him a train.

The generalization of skills, so for the child to be able to bring the skills that he learns during NET teaching to another setting, to another person, to another environment, is a lot higher with NET teaching, because you are teaching a typical interaction, an interaction that would naturally occur with an adult or with another peer.

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) vs NET

Now, discrete trial teaching, DTT, is generally something that’s a lot more structured, it’s a lot more individualized, and it’s a lot more control. That’s the type of format that is different than NET teaching. During DTT, there are multiple learning opportunities for the child to engage in a correct response.

A discrete trial, as Cooper defined in 2007, is any operant whose response rate is controlled by a given opportunity to emit the response, and incorporates specific verbal discriminative stimuli that would allow responding to come under the control of antecedents. So in really fancy words, this just means that there’s something that the child is being asked, there’s a specific response that is required to access a reinforcer, and then there’s the reinforcer part of it.

And a lot of these trials are at desks, they’re sitting one-on-one, and it’s across from the child. Responses during discrete trial are prompted, and consequences are delivered following a correct response.

How to do DTT?

With discrete trial, as I said before, where there’s an instruction delivered, a response, and a consequence, there is that specific sequence of instruction that has to occur in order for it to be a discrete trial, and happens throughout discrete trial training. Responses and reinforcers are not functionally related. So this just means that if a child is asked to say “Train,” we can say, “Say train.” The kiddo will say, “Train,” and you can say, “Good job.”

Now, the consequence would be good job or you can also say, “Good job,” and give the kiddo a piece of popcorn. Now, that’s not functionally related to what they just said. They said something, but you’re not giving that specific item to them. Generalization during discrete trial must be programmed into teaching. So this is not something that would occur in the natural environment. Nobody would ask you to say, “Say train,” in the natural environment, and then when you say “Train,” you get a train. That’s not the discrete trial world. That would be more of NET teaching.

Prerequisites for NET

Now, some of the prerequisites to NET teaching would be definitely to have a tidy play area.

Clean Area

You definitely want the area that you will be teaching the child in to be clean, to be neat, so that way you guys can move around from activity to activity really quickly, and things are in the place that they are supposed to be. You want to have the child’s preferred activities and preferred items ready on hand, so you know kind of what they’re going for, what they want to play with, because that’s really important in NET, where you are focused on using the child’s motivation in order to promote learning.

One-word Mands

Another prerequisite to NET teaching would be for the child to have one-word mands in their repertoire already, so things that they can already request, at least one words that they can say. So train, “I want train.” Water, “I want water.” So things like that for them to just say, “Water.” They also should have the ability to imitate simple actions, so things like do this, do this. So moving a train across, clapping, things that are super, super simple for our kiddos, so that way it’s in their repertoire, and you can expand on those during playtime.

Identify Common Objects

Another prerequisite would be to be able to identify common objects around them. So definitely, in this idea, to have their preferred items. A lot of the times, they are able to identify things that are preferred to them, things that are in their environment that they see on a daily basis. And definitely remember, the most important thing out of all the prerequisites for NET would be to remember that every chance with the child during NET teaching is an opportunity to learn.

What Does NET Teaching Look Like?

I’m going to show you a video of what NET teaching looks like in the natural environment. So here in the video, I want you guys to be aware of some general programs that we usually run, such as motor imitation, expressive and receptive language. And after a few seconds of the clip, we’re going to come back and talk a little bit about what we saw.


Ooh, we’re put it over here. Okay. One for you, one for me. All right.

One spoon here.

Thank you. All right. Let me stir our tea. Do this.

Wow. We’re stirring our tea. We got to blow on our tea. Do this. Okay. Do this. Mm, this tea is delicious. You made some delicious tea, Jillian.

Oh, spilled it.

Can I have the blue donut? What color is this?


Oh, yes. It’s a blue donut. Do you want half? Here, You can take a bite. Um. Good job. Um. Mm. I love this donut. It was so good.

You want cupcake, too?

Oh, sure. I can have the cupcake. Can I have a cupcake? Mm. Yummy. Do you want some cupcake?


Mm. Yummy. That was a delicious cupcake, too. Ooh, and a cookie.

As you can see, Jillian was extremely engaged and motivated to play with the provider during her tea party. The provider initiated licking the cupcake, and Jillian spontaneously imitated the provider. So that’s something that’s definitely more open when we use NET teaching, versus discrete trial. That is already something that is generalized to the play activity and something that naturally occurs, if Julian was playing with another peer.

How to Know What Method to Use?

Which method to use, NET teaching or discrete trial teaching? And really, at the end of the day, it depends on the child. You would identify the strengths and areas of improvement for your specific kiddo. And using this, you would decide which method is best fitted for learning for that child to promote learning.

For example, one kiddo might learn their colors using the trains that they have, versus another kiddo might not be too interested in trains, and might be best suited to learn using the discrete trial format. It depends on the child, and it depends on their way of learning. Thanks so much for watching.

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