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Six Tips for Helping Kids Follow Directions

EducationWorld is pleased to present this article contributed by Shannon Dauphin Lee, a contributor who has been writing professionally for almost two decades on topics including education and relationships.

It happens all the time. You deliver clear directions to a quiet classroom. Perhaps the instructions are about the homework that will be due tomorrow, or maybe it’s something as simple as asking them to write their names on the top of their papers.

But then half the class fails to do what you asked.

The disconnect between giving directions and students actually following them has long been a frustration of teachers. Thankfully, there are a few tricks that can help you get kids’ attention and keep it long enough to make sure those instructions sink in.

  1. Call for complete silence.  Try standing at the front of the room and looking at students. Simply stand there. After a few moments, the conversations will quiet down as they look at you curiously, wondering why in the world you are looking at them that way. Once you have that attention, ask for silence, and for the most part, you will get it.

    You might also try using hand signals to indicate that it’s time to quiet down.
  2. Cater to multiple intelligences.  There will typically be some students who claim they never received verbal directions. Remedy that problem (and appeal to visual learners) by displaying the directions on your chalkboard, whiteboard or interactive whiteboard. In addition, ask students to write them in their agendas. If you have a class Web page, put the directions there as well. The Web method works especially well for students who paid attention to the directions but then simply misplaced them. Finally, you can try asking a student to repeat instructions you just delivered. The student’s oral expression will encourage deeper processing (and better memory), and the repetition will benefit classmates as well.
  3. Break it up.  If you are giving instructions that have more than one or two steps, make sure to break them down into manageable chunks. Just as you would set milestones and deadlines when dealing with a lengthy requirement, your students need your guidance to do the same. Pause between directions to make sure they have the opportunity to write them down or commit them to memory.
  4. Make it a game.  Sometimes a little humor can get students’ attention. Play a classroom game by asking them to stand up. Once they have done it, tell them to sit down. Then ask them to stand up again. At this point, they will be very curious as to what you will ask of them next. When you have their full and undivided attention, ask them to sit down—then deliver your directions. At that point, they will do exactly what you want—and likely with smiles on their faces.
  5. Be consistent.  Don’t give directions that are ambiguous or leave any wiggle room. Your instructions to students should be clear, concise and always consistent. Once students get into a particular routine—for instance, turning homework in at the beginning of class, every day, without exception—they’ll be more likely to follow through.
  6. Watch your tone.  Your speaking tone matters. If you have to raise your voice above the din—or are even tempted to yell in frustration—you don’t stand a chance of most students actually hearing you. Maintaining composure is one of the most powerful classroom management strategies available.

Successful communication of directions is crucial to effective teaching. With time and perseverance, you can build students’ ability to tune into, and follow, instructions.

Related resources

Following Directions: A Skill Worth Teaching
Lesson: The Following-Directions Follies
Critical Thinking: Following Directions Worksheet
Managing Student Talking
How to Model Expectations



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