I never paid attention to the way I give instructions to my students. Especially to younger students, who get easily distracted and who have a short attention span. Until the day, I read Jim Scrivener’s excellent book: Learning Teaching.
I supposed that such an obvious thing as giving instructions doesn’t deserve to be even discussed. I speak clearly, I speak slowly and loudly, I’m a teacher, what could possibly go wrong? I started analysing what I say to my students before exercises and implementing Scrivener’s ideas into my classroom.
Essential things about giving instructions to young students:
- Instructions must be kept as simple as possible
Use gestures and intonation. Speak louder when you want to draw attention.
- One instruction at a time
Let students complete the first part of the task and only then proceed to the second one. Step by step!
- Demonstrate rather than explain wherever it is possible
If you are doing a “Find Someone Who … ” activity (e.g., finding someone who likes horror movies), tell your class that you are playing the role of a student, and go around asking the question “Do you like horror movies?” to individual students until you find a student who says -- “Yes.” When you find that person, ask the student’s name and then write it down on your paper, following the procedure you expect your students to use.
- Check for understanding the task
“Do you understand?” is a common way of checking for understanding, but it is not particularly effective because many students, whether they understand or not, will answer “yes”. The reason is the fear of disgrace in front of their classmates. Ask concept-check questions — simple questions that students can respond to with a short answer.
“How many students are you going to interview?”
“Who is going to speak first?”
“How many questions are you going to write?”
5. Give instructions before handing out materials
Remember that young students get easily distracted. If they have a piece of paper in their hands that they can touch, fold, write on, read or look at, they will focus on that instead of paying attention to your instructions!
- Use English, not the students’ mother tongue
It seems difficult at the very beginning, but don’t be afraid that kids will fail to understand. TPR does magic!
Even young students, who have never learnt English before, will understand “Listen” if a teacher cups her hand behind her ear.
- Start giving instructions only when you’ve drawn everyone’s attention
If students are not listening to you, the quality of your directions is irrelevant. Ring a bell, blow a whistle, use attention grabbers after all!
Enough of theory!
Which of these instructions are not effective? Why?
- Take out a pen or pencil.
- Ok, everybody, would you, Sasha, please read.
- Write your name on the paper.
- Open your books.
- Now when I’m handing out your worksheets, complete the dialogue and practise with your partners. Do you understand?
- Read page ______.
- Close your books. Put your books away.
- If I asked you about your opinion about the text, what would you reply to me?
- Stand up.
- Find a partner and discuss what’s the weather like today.
I hope the material was useful for you! For more novel ideas I highly recommend the author, I mentioned in the beginning of the article.