What’s the Difference Between a Prompt and a Cue?

prompt versus cue

Prompt versus cue – Have you ever wondered the difference? You’re not alone!

It’s common for people to get hung up on these two terms. It seems like many use them interchangeably, but it is a critical distinction when goal and report writing. Both are strategies to help teach a student new skills. But how that is done varies between the two terms.

The short answer:

A prompt is direct and leads to the correct answer.
A cue is indirect and serves as a hint.

Cues remain and prompts fade.

prompt cue


Prompting leads to the correct answer. It is a strategy to assist someone step-by-step through a task. Think of the prompting hierarchy…gestures, models, physical, visual, and verbal. The prompting hierarchy is a structured, systematic method of assisting a person in learning new skills. It outlines the different ways we motivate our students to get the correct answer or achieve their goals. There are two different types of hierarchies: Most-To-Least and Least-To-Most.

Read more about what the prompting hierarchy is, its definitions, and how to use it.

This infographic is available for free download.


Cueing is a hint or clue to serve as a signal or suggestion and does not lead to a direct answer. You can remember that “cue” sounds like “clue!” Cues tend to be things that naturally occur in our environment that remind us to do certain things. This occurs daily, and we mostly likely don’t notice most of them. For example, having no clean spoons is a cue to do the dishes or the school bell ringing is a cue that class is about to begin.

>> Memory trick: In theater you need a prompt and you go on cue. 

Take the example of teaching a child to turn on a light switch:
A prompt would be showing them how the switch operates or hand-over-hand helping them turn it on/off. A cue would be walking to a dark room and providing a wait time to see if they turn on the light.

I have a section on this topic in the Speech-Language Development Handouts resource! Hang them up on your wall or provide them for other educators!

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prompts versus cues 1

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