This page contains ideas for giving instructions effectively.

General Principles

1) Use routines and procedures for obtaining students' attention.

2) Require students' full attention (eyes on you, mouths closed, hands still) before giving instructions.

3) Plan simple instructions:
  • Explain the task in 5 steps or less.
  • Write each step on a separate, numbered line.
  • Limit instructions to 7 words per line (8 to 10 is sometimes necessary in Spanish).
  • Tell students what to do when finished.
  • Establish a signal for ending the task.

4) Give instructions one step at a time.

5) Provide instructions in writing as well as orally.

6) Model the task while giving instructions.

7) Wait for compliance before moving to the next step!

8) Check for understanding:

  • Explain the task to a partner or to the rest of the class in your own words
  • Have students complete a small portion of the task, and then quickly check to be sure everyone is on the right track.
  • Pause for questions - Students often don't know what their questions are until they begin playing the game or doing the activity, so it is sometimes good to give a brief explanation, ask them to get started, then stop after 3-5 minutes and ask for questions.

9) Set and enforce reasonable time limits using:
  • a magnetic kitchen timer that has an audible bell will stick to most chalkboards and whiteboards
  • an online timer (the options in the boxes at the bottom of the screen such as the "bomb" timer are especially popular with students)

10) Plan how you will provide feedback for each activity.

Instructions for a Game

  1. The goal of this game is to . . . (get rid of all of your cards before everyone else does, make it to the end of the yellow brick road before the witch does, etc.).
  2. To play this game you will need . . . (SHOW students the materials they'll need, then have a procedure in place for making sure everyone gets the materials they need quickly and efficiently)
  3. Here is how we play the game . . . (MODEL the activity for students, one step at a time)
  4. Are there any questions? (WAIT for students to think about whether they have questions or not.)
  5. Who can explain what you're supposed to do? (ASK a student to paraphrase your instructions. This allows you to clarify misunderstandings and allows students who didn't understand your explanation to hear it again.)
  6. Okay, get into your groups . . . (TELL students how long they have to accomplish this.)
  7. You have --- minutes to play. (SET A TIME LIMIT!)
  8. CIRCULATE while students play, answering questions as necessary.

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