Giving instructions is crucial to running a successful activity in the classroom. If you don’t get your instructions spot on, your classroom may well degenerate into something like this;
“Huh? What’sgoingon? Dunno,teachersaid – hey,that’smine-what’s this- Iwouldliketobuy10apples – teacher’spet – likeyourshoes – zzzZZZZZZzzzzzzzz-teachercanigotobathroomplease – OWthathurts – vroomvrommycarisfast – teacherhehitme!-nyah,nyah nya-nya-nyah!….
Or even worse … polite silence.
To make giving instructions easy every time, I like to use a simple process.
The 4 Step Formula for Giving Instructions
That’s it. Let me explain.
1. Show ‘Em
If possible, model the activity. Actually show them what it looks like.
Let the students help you to do this. If it’s a dialogue, ask a capable student to help you role-play an example. If it’s a worksheet, show them an example on the board.
You set the standards when you show a perfect example. Setting the standards gives you a higher chance of drawing out better quality work.
‘Show ‘em’ also applies to re-arranging students into pairs, small groups, or any seating re-arrangement. Don’t give the students too much choice which will paralyse them, decide for them for the sake of speed and convenience.
2. Tell ‘Em
Plan your instructions. As you plan your lessons, run through what you’re going to say in your head or out loud.
Grade your language so that the students will understand you. Are there any words that they won’t understand? Leave out the ‘um, er, yeah, like, OK’ fillers that creep into our daily speech.
Simplify and shorten your instructions. How can you say what you need to in the minimum number of words?
Stage your instructions. Turn them into a list. Hold up your fingers for emphasis as you count through them. By turning instructions into bite-size chunks, students are more likely to remember them.
3. Ask ‘Em
You’ve set the stage and filled their ears with instructions. Did they listen? Did they understand? You’d better find out before you tell them to begin.
I’ve always found that the question “What do I want you to do?” works wonders. You can even tease out understanding of this for lower level classes by starting the answer for them, “I want you to…?” and using body language to signal your intent.
If you used a list for your instructions, ask different students for different bullet points. Make sure that weaker students understand (but don’t always pick on them to answer, the class will catch on).
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t ask ‘do you understand?’ Just don’t. Students will either say nothing, or ‘yes’ just to save face. Either way, you won’t really know if they understand.
4. Give ‘Em
Now, finally, you can give students any worksheets or materials that they need to complete the task.
Now you can let them re-arrange their chairs if the seating has been rearranged.
Do so beforehand, and watch the attention focused on you evaporate as you’re no longer the most interesting thing in the room.