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Learning Strategies

Direct Instruction/Lecture

Introduce new concepts: This is the “sage on the stage” model of instruction. While there has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the effectiveness of lecturing in today’s classroom, it remains a vital tool that every teacher must use. New concepts, especially complex ones, require direct instruction. Students rely on their teachers to define, describe, and demonstrate new concepts or skills. The key aspect to delivering instruction of this type effectively is to plan clear, concise instruction that lasts no more than 20 minutes. Even the best of us as adults have trouble attending past that point. If you can’t present the material in twenty minutes, you haven’t mastered it yourself. That may sound harsh, but time is one thing we do not have the luxury of wasting.

​It is important to note that technology can be used for direct instruction. One word of caution, however; don’t let the technology teach the lesson for you. If you do, this is not direct instruction. It is indirect. Students need to understand that technology is a tool we use to assist our learning, not a convenient replacement for deep thinking and concentrated effort.



Mini-lessons: The key word here is “mini.” These types of lessons last no more than 5 – 10 minutes and are often spontaneous during other types of instruction or student activity. For those of us who have been in the field for a while, we used to call these “teachable moments,” but it is important to point out that mini-lessons can also be a planned part of the instructional day. A mini-lesson’s objective is to reteach or clarify understanding of a previously taught skill or lesson. This can be a quick verbal review that checks student mastery, a redirection if students have wandered off course, or revealing a nuance that may or may not have been discovered during the activity. Planned mini-lessons, on the other hand, have a distinct purpose and time of delivery. Often these types of lessons provide additional needed information, extend the learning process, or redirect a project or activity based upon classroom observation and interaction.


Read Aloud: It is important to note that this type of instruction is not merely reading aloud from a text to students. While that has its merits, this kind of read aloud is much more robust. The Read Aloud strategy is all about building and supporting listening comprehension. When reading aloud, the teacher can actively make connections to previously read texts, experiences, or conversations that have taken place in the classroom. Also, the teacher can model visualization throughout the text by saying things like, “As I read that, in my mind I could see…” and then invite students to do the same. Questioning is another big part of a read aloud experience. Students do not know what questions to ask, so a teacher can provide a model of effective and relevant questions readers can ask as they read a text. 


Think Aloud: This strategy is closely related to the Read Aloud strategy in that it involves the teacher reading a chosen text aloud to students. The difference lies in the teacher modeling and speaking aloud the thoughts, questions, or wonderings that he or she is having while reading aloud. Students do not usually understand the concept of metacognition, which is thinking about what you are thinking about, and need to be shown how to accomplish this vital task via modeling.


Teach & Reflect:  This strategy is also known as “10 + 2” or “5 +1” instruction where, after each 10 minutes of teacher lecture, students are given 2 minutes to reflect on what has just been taught. This reflection can be in written form or verbally sharing with a partner or small group. By allowing time to reflect upon the instruction, students are able to gain a firmer grasp on the content and begin the process of assimilating the new information. With this strategy, teachers can ask various individuals or groups to share their understanding with the whole group, and any needed clarification can be offered at that time. The "5 +1” strategy works the same way except that there is 1 minute reflection time provided after every 5 minutes of direct instruction.


Indirect Instruction


Observing: Teachers need to be careful with this strategy. There is great value that can be derived from students observing a video, other classes/students, or the teacher modeling a concept, but the activity being observed must be directly connected to the standard or objective being taught. Kids today spend a lot of time others do things. Observing is typically does not demand any active participation. It is imperative that there is purpose built into the observation activity. Raise student engagement and accountability by providing a graphic organizer to take notes, incorporate an interactive component, or require a report or presentation based on what was observed.


Problem solving: Usually we think of math class when we consider problem solving. With the right scenario, this would work for any subject. Presenting a problem in story form is a multi-modal strategy and demands critical thinking skills in order to solve the problem. Students can draw on previous knowledge and experiences, visualize ways to solve, and use trial and error to find possible solutions. Social Studies and Science standards provide a wide array of situations that students can tackle as they seek solutions to problems we face every day.


Exploration: Providing students with the opportunity to self-select a topic of study (within reasonable limits) and the ability to choose a presentation style are highly motivational. The caution here is to make certain that the choices are within the confines of the lesson objectives and school policies.


Graphic Organizers: There are almost as many graphic organizers as there are teachers in this country. While that may be a slight exaggeration, there are graphic organizers that can be used to teach vocabulary, reading and listening comprehension, writing, problem solving, questioning, and just about any other skill you can name. The purpose of graphic organizers is to assist students with the task of arranging and classifying new information, gathering and sorting information, and/or simplifying complex tasks like the writing process or problem solving.


Technology: We live in the 21st Century, and we are surrounded by technology. For those of us who have been teaching for a while, we can remember the days before computers, document cameras, digital projectors, cell phones, and all the other technology tools we use every day in the classroom. Using technology as a strategy is something relatively new to our schools, and it is here to stay. Remember, a strategy is the means we use to teach a concept or objective. Technology is the tool, not the instructor. There are many forms of technological tools to choose from including (but not limited to) computer programs, apps (Be sure these are matched to your standards; otherwise time is being wasted), music and songs, videos, and online texts.


Word Walls: Historically relegated to primary classrooms only, these collections of frequently used words and academic vocabulary are displayed prominently in the classroom, and students and teachers alike interact with the list and add to it regularly. While they may not be used extensively in middle and high schools, word walls do have their place and function when employed to build vocabulary and writing skills with older students.


Interactive Instruction


Group discussion and sharing outcomes: These are teacher assigned topics that are keyed to state standards of instruction. Like everything else, group discussions must serve a specific purpose since time is a precious commodity in every classroom.


Group projects: These can be scenario or concept based depending on the stated objective. Using a rubric to drive the group process toward a designated end is advisable. Typically there is an imbedded problem to solve or a topic to be explored, but this too is dependent upon the stated objective for the project. Be sure to assign specific jobs or tasks to each member to ensure an equitable division of effort.


Games: There are many kinds of games (i.e. commercial game boards, web-based games, simple “follow the trail” board games, card games, dice activities, dominoes, tic-tac-toe variations, etc.) that can be used to reteach or reinforce previously taught skills. Games should have a set time frame and well defined behavioral objectives to have the greatest effect. The key here is that the play must have purpose and be tied to a specific learning objective.


Cooperative Learning: This is accomplished in a variety of ways. Students can either reconfigure their seating according a to an established routine or move into small groups throughout the room. Other variations might include group projects, specific task completion (like vocabulary sorts or math drills), or jigsaw activities whereas the team investigates a small part of a larger project to present to the entire class.


Jigsaw: While a relatively new strategy in our pedagogical toolbox, jigsaw activities can be used quite effectively in any classroom given the appropriate preparation. Just like a jigsaw puzzle is a compilation of pieces that come together to make a whole, jigsaw learning activities enable students to become “experts” of one part of a larger concept. By participating in the “putting together” of the various component parts, students make better connections and form a stronger understanding of the skill or concept involved.


Activate Prior Knowledge/Make Connections: This is one of the most vital parts of the learning process because it either activates an existing schema, or mental folder of information, or requires learners to build a new folder for the information. Primary students are building new schemata daily, and it is essential to make as many connections to previous knowledge or experiences as possible to assure that the information can be retrieved later.


Number Talks: The term “number talks” was coined by Kathy Richardson and Ruth Parker in the early 1990’s. It refers to the discussions teachers and students have around mathematics concepts and instruction. These talks are part of a 15-minute daily routine where numerical sense, problem solving, and mental math strategies take center stage. These conversations provide a safe, consistent way for learners to explore mathematical concepts and to solidify mathematical understanding.


Experiential Learning


Hands-on Learning: As the name suggests, this type of learning strategy is something students can wrap their hands around and is beneficial for those students who prefer a tactile/kinesthetic learning style. In the early primary grades, it could include clay or math manipulatives.  In the older grades, this would include activities like dissection or building physical models of DNA. Regardless of age, the level of student engagement increases, participation is more active, and student mastery of the concept improves. This type of instruction promotes enthusiasm, discovery, and an enriched learning environment.


Learning Stations: Reading and math learning stations are most common but should be embraced and designed for all content areas. Learning stations are more than just a way to fill time or keep students busy when they have finished any seat work that was assigned. These centers should extend learning, reteach difficult skills, encourage exploration of a topic, build responsibility, and have a meaningful purpose.


Genius Hour: This is a relatively new strategy that is finding its way into classrooms across this nation. Genius Hour originated in the corporate ideology of Google, and it encouraged employees to use 20% of their time to explore new ideas that could move the company forward. In fact, several of the tools we use every day came out of that initiative. The key component to Genius Hour is that students must choose something they are passionate about, is not readily available on the Internet, and requires research to complete. Here is a 3-minute video that explains this strategy in more detail: What is Genius Hour? - Introduction to Genius Hour in the Classroom.


Field Trips: These can be the “get on the bus, we’re leaving,” kind of field trip or they can be a virtual field trip that the entire class can participate in without ever leaving the room. Field trips can easily be geared to the current novel you are reading in class, the social studies or science lesson coming up next week, or you could even consider going on a math field trip. Whichever type of field trip you decide to plan, your students are going to be excited to go.

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