Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (2024)

According toresearch,direct instruction is one of the most effective teaching strategies. Althoughoften misunderstood, students who are taught using the direct instructionmethod perform better in reading, maths, and spelling than those who weren’t.

If you have no clue what direct instruction is all about, you’ve come to the right place!This blog post covers the most frequently asked questions about this teaching method.I’ll give you the what and how, and include some practical examples.

What is direct instruction?

Direct instruction is a teacher-directed teaching method. This means that theteacher stands in front of a classroom, and presents the information. Theteachers give explicit, guided instructions to the students.

So, isn’t that how everything has always been taught in a classroom? Notentirely. Nowadays, experimenting in education is “hot”, as teachers find thatnot all students benefit from listening to a teacher talk all day, and not alllessons are best taught through direct instruction. Teachers now match the typeof instruction to the task. Using direct instruction is effective when it suitsthe skill students have to learn.

Here’s an example:

  • The order of the planets is best learned via direct instruction.
  • Teaching what materials are magnetic is better learned through experimentation.

The direct instruction method is based on two core principles:

  • All students can learn when taught correctly, regardless of history and background.
  • All teachers can be successful, given effective materials and presentation techniques.

The 6 functions (or steps) of direct instruction

Direct instruction doesn’t stop at the teacher explaining a concept.There are 6 steps that are very important in the process. I’ll briefly describethem below, but if you want to dig deeper, make sure to read“Teaching Functions”

1. Introduction / review

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (1)First, you set the stage for learning. This is the opening ofthe lesson, and it’s intended to engage students, get their attention, andactivate their prior knowledge.

Build upon a previous lesson, or get an understanding of theirbackground knowledge of the subject you are about to teach them. To show your students what exactly they have to learn and what is expected fromthem, you can give them lesson objectives.

2. Present the new material

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (2)Use clear and guided instructions, so students can beginabsorbing the new material. The lesson content should be carefully organizedstep-by-step, with the steps building on each other.

In the direct instruction method, you can present new material through a lecture or through a demonstration.

Lecture method

There are a few essential steps for a lecture to be successful:

  1. State the main points of the lecture.
  2. Introduce a main organizing idea or theme.
  3. Use examples to illustrate each idea.
  4. Use repetition to reinforce the main points.
  5. Summarize and refer back to the main organizing idea.

But how you go about these steps? This is where the fun comes in, and where every teacher gets to use their creativity. This is where you get to engage your students. So, if you think a lecture is boring, you got it all wrong.


Here, the teacher demonstrates the skill or principle in small steps. Visual demonstrations willengage more students than a pure auditory lecture. This method is often used inscience classes.

3. Guided practice

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (3)Here, theteacher and students practice the concept together. Thestudent attempts the skill with the assistance of the teacher and otherstudents.

The guided practice is conducted by the teacher. The purpose of this step is to guide initial practice, correct mistakes, reteach (if necessary) and provide sufficient practice so that students can work independently.

It’s very important to ask goodquestions to verify yourstudents’ understanding.

4. Feedback and correctives

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (4)If students don’t understand the lesson material, theteacher has to correct them and give feedback. This is also very important in theguided practice, as students have to understand everything in that phase.

There are 4 types of student responses to questions and actions a teachershould take depending on the answer.

Student answerTeacher action
Correct, quick, and firmAsk a new question to keep up the pace of the lesson.
Correct, but hesitantProvide encouragement.
Incorrect, but carelessSimply correct and move on.
Incorrect and lacking knowledgeProvide hints, ask a simpler question, or reteach.

5. Independent practice

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (5)After guided practice and receiving the right feedback,students are ready to apply the new learning material on their own. Independentpractice gives the students the repetitions they need to integrate the newinformation or skills with previous knowledge or skills. Independent practice also helps students to become automatic in their use ofthe skills.

During this phase, students usually go through two stages: unitization andautomaticity. During unitization, the students are putting the skills they’velearned together and use them in new situations. As they keep on practicing, students reachthe “automatic” stage where they are successful and rapid, and no longer haveto “think through” each step.

6. Evaluation/ review

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (6)Check whether your students know everything before moving on to a new concept that builds upon what they’ve just learned. Collect student data you can review and decide whether or not the lesson needs to be retaught.

There are much evaluation and reviewing methods, so make sure to pick the right one to find out data that really means something. Make sure your evaluation says something about your students’ learning process. Formative assessments are better suited for this.

16 Engaging direct instruction examples

After reading the 6 important steps above, you might think:what room is there for the teacher to be passionate and creative in histeaching? If everything is so well-structured, a teacher can’t control learning?That’s not entirely true. I’ll show you some direct instruction lesson plans that you can usein the classroom, while still meeting the direct instruction model functions.

Introduction/ Review

1. Entry ticket

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (7)Use an exit ticket as an entry ticket. Ask your students aquestion about what they learned the lesson before. You can also use them toquickly figure out what students already know (or think they know) about atopic as you begin a new unit.

You can do this digitally with BookWidgets.Would you like to see some examples? Click here to see 60 digital exit tickets.

2. Mentimeter

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (8)Use tools such asMentimenter to quickly see what students stillknow about the previous lesson, or see what they already know about a certaintopic. Mentimeter is a live question tool that engages students to answerquestions anonymously. A “slide” is presented on the big screen and changeslive as students type in answers via their phones.

3. Math - Arithmetic

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (9)The BookWidgets Arithmeticwidget is made topractice basic arithmetic operations. The teacher gives in some parameters, andthe widget will automatically produce calculations that students have to solve.Use this widget to review calculations students just learned or to introducea new kind of calculation.

Here’s how it works:

In this example, students have already learned to make sums. The exerciseencourages them to review this math topic again, and when they have found theright solutions, a word will reveal what they are going to learn next. Can youfind it?

Present the new material

4. Storytelling

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (11)New material can be presented in several ways. A lecturecan be given through storytelling. Use the appMySimpleShow to present the new material in astory-like format.

This tool lets you create engaging explainer videos in minutes. So why stick tojust you explaining things when it can be visually much more appealing and fun?

Would you like to approach it in another way? Use the BookWidgets WebQuest widget to create a story. Check out this example to see how it could look like. 👇

5. Photo widgets

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (13)Use compelling and interactive widgets to illustrate thenew material. For example, project a Hotspot Image activity.on the big screen, go over the pop-ups on the image, and explain them. Here’s anexample:

This activity is created with BookWidgets, a content creation and evaluation tool for teachers. BookWidgets has many more photo widgets that can serve as illustrations, and that make images more interactive.

6. Demonstrate

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (15)If you’re teaching science subjects, it’s sometimes easierand much more fun to just demonstrate certain reactions or experiments.Experimenting is not a part of the direct instruction method, but it’s notexperimenting when the teacher shows how it’s done. Afterwards, you can stillask your students to apply the new material on a new situation in the guidedpractice phase.

7. Video Quiz

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (16)Use a video from YouTube (or one you’ve uploaded on YouTube) that explains the new subject to your students. During the video, you can ask questions at the right time to start the thinking process of your students. This way, the lesson will be more interactive. Check out this blog to discover some interesting YouTube Channels and this blog post about using a Video Quiz in your lessons.

Guided practice

8. Group work

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (18)Here, students work together and apply the new learningmaterial in new situations. The teacher is there to guide them through thesteps. Here’s an example: first, the teacher demonstrated a certain reactionbased on basic principals; then, students have to practice it themselves byworking together and filling out this worksheet:

The teacher asks many questions to make their students think about whatthey’ve just learned. In the end, they can see the explanation again.

9. Think, pair, share

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (20)Set a problem or a question around a certain topic, andpair up your students. Give each pair of students enough time so they can reacha proper conclusion, and permit the students to share their conclusion in theirpersonal voice. This way, your students will be engaged, communicating, andremember more of the class than ever before. You can repeat this processeasily. Ask students to find a new partner and share the wisdom of the oldpartnership with this new partner.

10. Buzz session

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (21)Participants come together in session groups that focus on a singletopic. Within each group, every student contributes thoughts and ideas.Encourage discussion and collaboration among the students within each group.Everyone should learn from each other’s input and experiences. As a teacher,you could give your students some keywords to spark the conversation.

Correctives and feedback

Check out the four corrective teacher actions above.

Independent practice

11. Quiz

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (22)Set up a quiz or worksheet in BookWidgets with many different and interactive question types about the lesson content. Let students solve the worksheet independently. It’s very important to ask your students the right questions. You have a choice of 35 different question types. Additionally, it is easy to use multi-media in the assignments. This can make the assignment extra eductional and fun.

Look at the example using the different question types.

If you are using BookWidgets quizzes, you have many feedback options. Questions can be automatically graded so students have a really short feedback loop and know what aspects they have to learn again. A teacher can also see the student’s answers immediately after them submitting.

12. Planner

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (24)If you want to dig deeper, you could set up a BookWidgetsplanner for your students to follow. Give them exercises they have to gothrough. Students can send their work to the teacher for review and check outthe tasks they finished. Here, the student works independently but is stillclosely monitored and guided by the teacher.

As a teacher, you can review the student’s work. So, in the next step(Evaluation/review), you’ll be able to collect data out of these exercises. Ifyou notice a student is still struggling with the content, you can set up apersonalizedplannerwith more guidance if necessary.

Watch this video to discover more about the planner widget.

13. Flashcards

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (25)New vocabulary is something that needs to be automatized. A student needs to know this without thinking too much. Translations and meanings need to pop-up at the moment. Flashcards are the perfect fit for automatizing this learning content.

Create BookWidgetsflashcards and letyour students use the ‘practice mode’ and practice independently. As a teacher,you can add text, images, and audio. The more connections you make betweenthose content styles, the better all students will understand, becausecombining images with text is one of the most effective learning techniques.

Here’s an example:

Would you like to have some extra examples? Check this out: digital flashcards in your classroom.

Evaluation/ review

14. Kahoot

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (27)If your learning material allows multiple choice questions, Kahoot is a fun and quick way to measure understanding. Ask your students questions about the lesson material and immediately see how many students understood the lesson. Kahoot will show you instant statistics about what your students answered and if they were right or wrong. These statistics can give you an insight into whether you need to reteach certain parts of your lesson or not.

15. Mind Map

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (28)Ask your students to create a mind map about a topic you just taught them. If you’re using BookWidgets, students can send their mind map back to the teacher. Check if the students remembered everything, or if there are things they don’t mention. If more students show the same gaps in their knowledge, you know what to reteach. You can use a rubric to evaluate a mind map.

Here’s an example of a mind map:

16. Digital Quiz/ worksheet

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (30)If you want your students to answer more in-depthquestions, you should create a fun quiz about the learning content. As you cansee above (number 10), quizzes have more possibilities. And again, if you’reusing BookWidgets, you get statistics that will give you some usefulinsightssuch as:

  • the average score per question
  • the median, maximum and minimum score per class
  • the grade per student on each question
  • and the grade evolution per student on each test


Some teachers will realize that they actually were already using the direct instruction teaching method all this time. Others will consider this method as an opportunity to teach more effectively, as they know now direct instruction is not just a boring teaching strategy.

Looking for more interactive teaching strategies? Check out thispostwith 20 interactive teaching activities.

If you’d like to get started with this teaching method and create examples of direct instruction like I showed in this post, just click on the button below.

Create An Interactive Widget

Would you like to change and use one of the previous examples? Open this folder, duplicate the widget activity for free in your own account and get started!

What’s your favorite direct instruction example? Let us know on Twitter. Share your own examples with other teachers in our Facebook group!

Connect with me on LinkedIn, don’t forget to say hi👋

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (31)

Direct instruction - A practical guide to effective teaching (2024)


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