The way teachers talk to students, the manner in which they interact is crucial to both successful learning and teaching. Perhaps the most important point that determines how successfully students will learn is the way instructions are formulated and sometimes it is this point which distinguishes good teachers from bad ones. It is important, therefore, that teachers directions relating to academic activity and behavior are clear, precise and effective. It goes without saying that the best activity in the world will turn into a disappointing failure if students don’t understand the instructions.
Failure to get instructions through
Amazingly, while some students may remain focused on tasks, others may appear to be distracted or confused. That’s why, if directions or instructions are not effectively and clearly formulated, there will be a number of students who will simply not have assimilated what is to be done or have only caught part of the information. Any failure to hear or understand teachers directions will undoubtedly result in many unwanted behavior:
- Failure to do the tasks.
- Because of this failure, teachers will need to use reminders, reprimands, sanctions…
- Repeating things all the time will teach students not to bother listening as you always repeat things.
- Both students and teachers will feel frustration, a deadly feeling for any learning and teaching process.
- Learners get angry because they feel helpless.
- Teachers get angry because learners fail to comply.
How to give better teaching instructions
There are two general rules for telling what students need to do:
- instructions must be kept as simple as possible.
- and they must be logical.
Before teachers give instructions they must ask themselves:
- What is the important information I am trying to convey?
- What must students know in order to complete the task successfully?
- Which information do they need first?
- Which comes second?
- What materials do students need to do the tasks?
- Are they going to work individually, in pairs or in groups?
The success of any activity relies on instructions.
- The formulations should be short, easy to understand and precise.
- To attract the attention of a group, try clapping your hands or knocking on a desk. Make sure that students understand that by doing this you want them to put everything down, stop talking, look at you and listen.
- Instructions should be given BEFORE the students start to work, otherwise they can be absolutely perfect but nobody pays attention to them.
- The spoken instructions are not everything. The body language counts as well, the gestures, miming etc.
- Instructions should always be followed by demonstration. The best way to tell students how to do something is to actually do it yourself. For example with role-play, take a more confident/gifted student and pair up with them and do a practice-run in front of the class. Talking and talking for minutes can be counter-productive and time-wasting when a quick demo can illustrate the activity not only linguistically but visually.
- For EFL students, giving clear instructions in the mother tongue can be a challenge, let alone in a second language.
- Teachers should establish routines by giving instructions in a consistent way. By doing this, students will almost always know what they are expected to do.
- Teachers should prepare everything carefully beforehand. Task types can be grouped and therefore a teacher can find out what should be said in order to deliver one specific type of task, and so on. In the end, he/she will have a repertoire of instructions for different tasks and everything will be much simpler.
- Teachers should not forget that wordy instructions do not work effectively, particularly with learners of low English proficiency. Instructions should be cut up in small pieces according to different phases of the task that learners have to perform.
- When an activity is introduced for the first time, words might not be enough for low-level students. In some cases, visuals can support learners’ understanding even for instructions.
- One of the fundamental obstruction is the Mother Tongue Interference.
- If you are aware of particular pupils who have difficulty in listening to and following instructions, it is also worthwhile considering where you are standing when giving the directions to the group. Close proximity to the target pupil and using his or her name will give more opportunities for engagement in the activity.
- Check for understanding by asking questions related to instruction.
- Once the instructions have been given, questions have been answered and the activity practiced, scan the room and circulate, look for the pupil who is complying and make a positive comment about those who are following the instructions.
Being clear with your instructions and expectations will reduce the likelihood of ongoing disruption and interruptions. With better ways to direct students, teachers will help not only attentive students but also those seemingly low achievers who can’t do a task because they may have trouble understanding what is asked from them.
You can find more ideas about how to give instruction in Jim Scrivener’s excellent book: Learning Teaching.