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16 Elements of Explicit Instruction

Curriculum and Instruction

16 Elements of Explicit Instruction

Explicit instruction is a purposeful way of teaching students, where instruction is systematic, direct, engaging, and success oriented — and has been shown to promote achievement for all students.

In the quest to maximize students’ academic growth, one of the best tools available to educators is explicit instruction, a structured, systematic, and effective methodology for teaching academic skills. It is called explicit because it is an unambiguous and direct approach to teaching that includes both instructional design and delivery procedures.

Explicit instruction is characterized by a series of supports or scaffolds, whereby students are guided through the learning process with clear statements about the purpose and rationale for learning the new skill, clear explanations and demonstrations of the instructional target, and supported practice with feedback until independent mastery has been achieved.

Rosenshine (1987) described this form of instruction as “a systematic method of teaching with emphasis on proceeding in small steps, checking for student understanding, and achieving active and successful participation by all students.” 

1. Focus instruction on critical content. Teach skills, strategies, vocabulary terms, concepts, and rules that will empower students in the future and match the students’ instructional needs.

2. Sequence skills logically. Consider several curricular variables, such as teaching easier skills before harder skills, teaching high-frequency skills before skills that are less frequent in usage, ensuring mastery of prerequisites to a skill before teaching the skill itself, and separating skills and strategies that are similar and thus may be confusing to students.

3. Break down complex skills and strategies into smaller instructional units. Teach in small steps. Segmenting complex skills into smaller instructional units of new material addresses concerns about cognitive overloading, processing demands, and the capacity of students’ working memory. Once mastered, units are synthesized (i.e. practiced as a whole).

4. Design organized and focused lessons. Make sure lessons are organized and focused, in order to make optimal use of instructional time. Organized lessons are on topic, well sequenced, and contain no irrelevant digressions.

5. Begin lessons with a clear statement of the lesson’s goals and you expectations. Tell learners clearly what is to be learned and why it is important. Students achieve better if they understand the instructional goals and outcomes expected, as well as how the information or skills presented will help them.

6. Review prior skills and knowledge before beginning instruction. Provide a review of relevant information. Verify that students have the prerequisite skills and knowledge to learn the skill being taught in the lesson. This element also provides an opportunity to link the new skill with other related skills.

7. Provide step-by-step demonstrations. Model the skill and clarify the decision making processes needed to complete a task or procedure by thinking aloud as you perform the skill. Clearly demonstrate the target skill or strategy, in order to show the students a model or proficient performance.

8. Use clear and concise language. Use consistent, unambiguous wording and terminology. The complexity of your speech (e.g. vocabulary, sentence structure) should depend on students’ receptive vocabulary, to reduce possible confusion.

9. Provide an adequate range of examples of non-examples. In order to establish the boundaries of when and when not to apply a skill, strategy, concept, or rule, provides a wide range of examples and non-examples. A wide range of examples illustrating situations when the skill will be used or applied is necessary so that students do not underuse it. Conversely, presenting a wide range of non-examples reduces the possibility that students will use the skill inappropriately.

10. Provide guided and supported practice. In order to promote initial success and build confidence, regulate the difficulty of practice opportunities during the lesson, and provide students with guidance in skill performance. When students demonstrate success, you can gradually increase task difficulty as you decrease the level of guidance.

11. Require frequent responses. Plan for high level of student-teacher interaction via the use of questioning. Having the students respond frequently (i.e., oral responses, written responses, or action responses) helps them focus on the lesson content, provides opportunities for student elaboration, assists you in checking understanding and keep students active and attentive.

12. Monitor student performance closely. Carefully watch and listen to students’ responses, so that you can verify student mastery as well as make timely adjustments in instruction if students are making errors. Close monitoring also allows you to provide feedback to students about how well they are doing.

13. Provide immediate affirmative and corrective feedback. Follow up on students’ responses as quickly as you can. Immediate feedback to students about the accuracy of their responses helps ensure high rates of success and reduces the likelihood of practicing errors.

14. Deliver the lesson at a brisk pace. Deliver instruction at an appropriate pace to optimize instructional time, the amount of content that can be presented and on-task behavior. Use a rate of presentation that is brisk but includes a reasonable amount of time for students’ thinking/processing, especially when they are learning new material. The desired pace is neither so slow that students get bored no so quick that they can’t keep up.

15. Help students organize knowledge. Because many students have difficulty seeing how some skills and concepts fit together, it is important to use teaching techniques that make these connections more apparent or explicit. Well-organized and connected information makes it easier for students to retrieve information and facilitate its integration with new material.

16. Provide distributed and cumulative practice. Distributed (vs. massed) practice refers to multiple opportunities to practice a skill over time. Cumulative practice is a method for providing distributed practice by including practice opportunities that address both previously and newly acquired skills. Provide students with multiple practice attempts, in order to address issues of retention as well as automaticity.

Special note

This article is excerpted from Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching by Anita L. Archer and Charles A. Hughes (2011). You can read Chapter 1: Exploring the Foundations of Explicit Instruction here  (opens in a new window)

Why explicit instruction?

Explicit instruction expert, Dr. Anita Archer, provides the rationale and overview of explicit instruction and its benefit to students. (From the Center for Dyslexia MTSU (opens in a new window))

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