When many educators, including new teachers, hear “direct instruction,” they’re taken back to a university lecture hall or similar setting in which teaching is solely a one-way street lacking significant engagement, meaningful interactions, illuminating demonstrations, or constructive back-and-forths with students. While effective direct instruction indeed relies on teachers clearly and explicitly presenting information or step-by-step instructions, a broad range of teaching techniques can enrich the experience for all involved. Let’s examine a handful of direct instruction lesson plan examples, direct instruction strategies, and teaching tips you can implement in your classroom.
Several free, downloadable sample direct instruction lesson plans by subject are available from the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI). However, once familiar with the core principles of the practice, you can integrate elements of direct instruction into daily lesson plans covering any academic skills, abilities, and activities.
Reviewing and retrieving concepts from previous lessons
When introducing students to any new concepts or information, be sure to begin your lesson plans with a review of previous material or ideas that upcoming instruction may build upon.
Your purpose should be to gauge your students’ background knowledge and understanding of the subject, helping inform your upcoming instruction. This process—which can be accomplished via quick quizzes, classwide discussions, or activities such as making a mind map or asking think-pair-share questions—will confirm whether students are ready for your lesson plan or if any concepts need to be briefly retaught moving forward.
This stage of your lesson can also introduce new learning goals and objectives for students regarding the upcoming information. These objectives should be specific and clearly direct students as to what they should know or be able to accomplish by the end of the lesson.
Organize information with a detailed class outline
A “table of contents” of sorts, a detailed class outline awaiting students on the board before beginning your lesson helps organize information for students and outlines the main subjects of the day’s upcoming lesson.
Seeing an overview of new concepts and how they may be grouped together helps students make connections between subjects. Your outline can include examples or provide specific context for abstract concepts to help students process information. You can also update the outline as you progress through the material, creating a clear summary of all key points and main concepts by the conclusion of each lesson.
Chunking material into smaller sections
Chunking is a popular teaching approach that can work with a classroom’s lesson outline by further breaking down certain concepts or complex tasks into more-manageable steps and “bite-size” chunks of information. Too much new information in one sitting can be overwhelming, but segmenting a lesson into chunks allows students to ask questions frequently and helps you check on their progress and understanding at various points while teaching.
Teaching specific concepts and lessons through explicit chunks and clear step-by-step directions helps keep everyone on the same page as students focus on the particular skills taught and processes presented.
Thinking out loud
With its step-by-step formulas and specific computations, mathematics is one subject particularly suited for the direct instruction model. Many concepts and calculations are still difficult for students to grasp, but having their teacher think and talk through each point of the process out loud can be beneficial to the lesson’s effectiveness.
As an educator intricately familiar with the processes you’re presenting, you’ve probably conducted the specific calculations enough times that they’re second nature, or you don’t even consciously think about the individual steps in a particular process. By making yourself talk through your trains of thought out loud as you work through a math problem, for example, you’ll naturally force yourself to stay at a much easier pace for students to follow. Hearing your thoughts and logic behind each step toward the solution lets students develop a much clearer understanding of the concepts as they’re presented and should help them repeat the entire process themselves.
Lively lectures through modeling, demonstrations, and storytelling
Exploratory or experimental-based learning isn’t encouraged under the traditional direct instruction model. However, teaching through a scientific demonstration or modeling specific skills can be easy and fun ways to help students visualize abstract concepts and new ideas. Following your demonstration or modeling, students will have a helpful visual reference to recall when embarking on guided or independent practice.
Explain the skills or concepts in the same way students will practice them, and plan for providing multiple examples. Modeling and demonstrating help mitigate confusion and will maximize the effectiveness of students’ practice.
Storytelling is another way to make presentations and lectures more engaging, stimulating, and exciting for students during direct instruction lessons. Traditional lectures requiring diligent note-taking can be taxing if they aren’t dynamic enough to keep students’ attention or include opportunities for activities such as asking questions or supplementing guided and independent practice.
While it may be difficult for students to get interested in and fully absorb information presented via traditional lectures, their interest will naturally pique if they see you passionately excited about the material and sharing it creatively. Direct instruction lectures can also include educational videos, giving students a new source to learn from while the lesson remains teacher-centered in its direct-instruction approach.
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