Shaping is a behavioral procedure in which successive approximations of a target behavior are differently reinforced until the person engages in the target behavior. Successive approximations, or shaping steps, are behaviors that are increasingly more like the target behavior. A successful shaping would include the following:

  1. Define the target behavior
  2. Determine whether shaping is the most appropriate procedure
  3. Identify the starting behavior
  4. Choose the shaping steps (successive approximations)
  5. Choose the reinforcer to use in the shaping procedure
  6. Reinforce each successive approximation in different ways
  7. Move at a proper pace through the shaping steps

For example, shaping is used to develop language, in which the successive approximations/shaping steps include: babbling, words sounds, pat words, whole words, strings of words, and sentences.