In this brief article, we will define a behavior chain and explore chaining as a teaching procedure.

Behavior Chain 

A behavior chain is a series of discrete behaviors that are linked together to produce end results. All steps are a discriminative stimulus (sd) for the next behavior in the chain and a conditioned reinforcer for the previous behavior in the chain, except for the first and last steps. The first step is just an SD and the last step is just a conditioned reinforcer. 

For Example:

In a behavior chain for making the a bed — assuming you have the following steps — 

Step 1: Put the fitted sheet on the bed.

In this example, putting on the fitted sheet is SD for putting the next step of putting the flat sheet on the bed.

Step  2: Put the flat sheet on the bed.

Putting  the flat sheet on the bed is the conditioned reinforcer for putting the fitted sheet on the bed and the SD for putting the blanket on the bed.

Step 3:  Put the blanket on the bed.

Putting  the  blanket on the bed is the conditioned reinforcer for putting the flat sheet on the bed and the SD for putting the pillow on the bed.

Step 4: Put the pillow on the bed.

Putting the pillow on the bed is the conditioned reinforcer for putting the blanket on the bed and results in reinforcement for the whole chain. 

This can result in either automatic reinforcement or social reinforcement. If the act of making the bed is rewarding for the individual and they are not provided with any external reinforcement it is automatic reinforcement. If a person received a reward such as a parent saying, “good job making your bed,” or something more formal like 5 minute of extra iPad time, it is positive reinforcement.  


Chaining differs from a behavior chain because with chasing a therapist is using a task analysis to link behaviors together to teach a decided behavior. Chaining is typically used for learners who struggle with complex tasks such as brushing your teeth, doing laundry or feeding a pet.

The step in a behavior chain will vary based upon the age/skill level of the learner and the environment.

The above example of making the bed could be a behavior chain if it were taught in steps and contained a task analysis (TA). The TA is used to both break a complex task down into steps appropriate for learners and collect data on their success with each step in the behavior chain.  There are three ways of using chaining to teach: forward chaining, backwards chaining and total task completion. Thep will explain each of these methods and explain how you would use each to teach making a bed with the TA referenced above.

Forward Chaining 

Forward chaining refers to a procedure in which the steps of a task analysis are taught in order. The learner would complete the first step in the chain and then the therapist would complete all the subsequent steps for the child. Each time a learner masters a step, the next one is added until the child can complete the entire chain independently. This is helpful for a child who may struggle with generalization since they will learn to perform the steps in the order they will need to complete them when using the skill in the natural environment. However, delayed until the task is completed by the therapist which may be challenging for learners who require more immediate reinforcement. 

In the example of the TA for making the bed, if the therapist was using forward training, the learner would learn to put on the fitted sheet and then the therapist would complete the steps required to make the bed. Once the Lerner was able to put on the fitted sheet independently based upon the mastery criterion the therapist preset, the learners would then be required to put on the fitted sheet and the flat sheet. The steps would be repeated until the learner was able to make the bed and complete the TA independently.

Backwards Chaining 

When using backwards chaining as a teaching procedure,  the therapist completes all but the last step for the child. The child then completes the last step and is provided with the reinforcement. This is a preferred teaching procedure for many people because the child is getting reinforcement as an immediate result of engaging in a behavior.  Once the child is able to complete the last step, steps are added until the child can complete the chain independently.

In the example of the TA for making the bed, if the therapist was using backwards training, the therapist would complete putting on the fitted sheet, The flat sheet, and the blanket and then the learner would put on the pillow. Once the learner was able to put on the pillow independently, then the therapist would put on the fitted sheet and the flat sheet, and the learner would put on the blanket and the pillow. The steps would be repeated until the child could make the bed and complete the entire TA independently.

Total Task Completion

When using total task completion, a learner will complete all of the steps in the TA. If the learner gets stuck, The therapist will prompt the learner for that step. Sometimes procedures like most of these prompting or shifting are used when using total task completion to assist a learner with acquiring the skills. 

In the example of the TA for making the bed, The child will be expected to put on the fitted sheet, the flat sheet and the blanket a pillow. If the therapist got stuck, they would use the prompting procedure established by the BC BA to assist the learner.

How to Collect Baseline Data When a Using a TA

When collecting baseline data to determine a learner’s skill level before introducing a TA, you can use two different methods to probe: single opportunity and multiple opportunity. As with any other probing procedure, when collecting baseline data to ensure the efficacy of multiple baseline probes, you would want to avoid teaching when taking baseline data.

Single Opportunity 

When using a single method opportunity to probe, You would have the child complete the task. You would mark correct whatever steps starting with the first step that the child complete independently and then, once the child makes a mistake, you would complete the rest of the TA for them and mark the rest of the responses as incorrect. You would not give a child a chance to complete any steps after the incorrect response.

Multiple Opportunity 

When using multiple opportunity probing, you give a child the chance to complete every step in the TA, regardless of any incorrect responses on other steps. If a child makes a mistake on any given step, you do that step for them and let them try again to complete the next independently. Each step in the TA is scored separately regardless of the child’s response on any other steps.

​​This article is useful for registered behavior technicians (RBT) or students who are studying to become board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs). Understanding (Applied Behavior Analysis) ABA terms is critical for both being an effective ABA therapist and passing your BCBA exam


In an effort to help you study for your BCBA exam more effectively, this post is written in a “study note” form rather than as a long form blog post. 

They are my personal study notes I am sharing with you as a gift. I am spending my time studying so they are not edited. I am grateful for your understanding in overlooking the grammar! Happy Studying! 


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education.

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