How to build your own PORTL kit

The following excerpt is from PORTL: The Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab (pages 12-13).
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PORTL requires simple, inexpensive equipment. You will need the following:

A collection of at least a dozen small objects: Select objects associated with different actions. For example, a learner will be likely to PUSH a toy car, SPIN a toy top, and ROLL a dice. If all of the objects in your PORTL kit are similar, it will be more difficult for you to teach different actions. Depending on the items in your kit, you may need to modify some of the behaviors that are suggested in this manual.

Try visiting dollar stores, party supply stores, craft stores, and toy stores. You can also look around your house. Here are some ideas: toy car, toy animals, a top, clothespin, dice, small bell, cork, Pom-Pom balls, rubber bands, magnet, bracelet, Legos, Easter egg, small slinky, hair clips, paper clips, plastic straw, pipe cleaners, nuts and screws, popsicle sticks, or plastic buttons or blocks that vary by shape, size, and color.

A clicker: A plastic animal-training clicker will work best. If you don’t have a clicker, use the click sound of a plastic pen.

Reinforcer blocks: You will need 10 small objects to use as reinforcers. The objects should be easy to pick up off the table. We like the centimeter cubes that are used for children’s math activities or small unfinished wooden blocks that can be found at craft stores. You can also use poker chips, pennies, or small stones. With children, it may be beneficial to exchange the blocks for “actual” reinforcers, such as popcorn or candy.

A small bowl: Find a bowl that can hold 10 of your reinforcers. A small food storage container works well. The learner will collect the blocks in this bowl so that they don’t get scattered across the table. This also gives the learner a clear response to perform when a block is received. If the container has a lid, you can use it to store the blocks.

Playing cards: You will need at least half a dozen playing cards. They will be used as cues (discriminative stimuli). If cards are not available, colored buttons also work well. In addition, words, sounds, and hand signals can be used as cues. 

A pencil bag or small pouch: Use this to store your PORTL materials. 

Data sheets: Data sheets are used to record progress during each exercise and to guide discussion after the exercise is finished. See the Appendix.

A clicker, 10 reinforcer blocks, and a small bowl can be seen on the left side of the photo. The learner will collect the blocks in the bowl while playing PORTL. This bowl has a lid, which means the blocks can be stored in the bowl when not playing PORTL.

The objects pictured include a plastic fish-shaped slinky, a wine cork, a toy moose, a race car, several rectangular wooden blocks, plastic Legos, a clothespin, a plastic jumping frog, a game pawn, a bell, a plastic heart-shaped ring, a dice, three large plastic buttons, and a small toy top. The playing cards will be used as cues. 

This collection of objects will make it easy for the teacher to shape different actions. For example, a learner would be likely to push the car, roll the dice, stack the blocks, touch or pick up the cork, spin the top, and jump the frog. The buttons, rectangular blocks, and Legos will be useful for teaching concepts such as color, shape, and size. 

A small pouch or bag (not pictured) is needed for storing these materials. 

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