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March 05, 2007

Tips and Tricks- Giving Clear Instructions

Hello Readers,

Few of us can say that we never give long, complex and confusing instructions to our students in the classroom. When observing other teachers, it's easy to see the negative effects of such instructions (namely- utter confusion!), but can you recognize it in your own classroom?

Here's an example: "Ok, everybody, are you ready for the next activity? Ok, well, to start with, I'd like you to all take out a piece of paper from your notebooks. You can tear it out, don't worry about the edges...

...Right, then, I'd like you to take a pencil, or a pen, it doesn't really matter. Actually, a marker is fine, too. Ok, so anyway, take your pencil or whatever and draw a line down the middle of the paper. To make it easier, you can actually, fold your paper first and then trace the line that is there for you. But you don't have to if you don't want to, it's just a suggestion. Then..."

Sound familiar?

As utterly ridiculous as the above example might sound, such instructions are fairly common. So, what can we do about making our instructions clearer for our students?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Plan what you are going to say ahead of time by writing your instructions out on paper. It's highly impractical to keep this up for a long period of time, but by going through this process, you should be able to teach yourself new habits.
2. Work on giving short instructions. Edit out complex language.
3. Make sure your instructions are in a logical order. Forget about sentences like, "before you do this... " and try to focus on sequential signposting like, "first, second, next..." etc.
4. Demonstrate what they should be doing when possible.
5. Check that students understand the instructions before letting them start (and avoid asking them yes/no questions like "Do you understand?"; chances are they'll say "yes" even if they don't have a clue!)
6. Think about how you would respond to your instructions. Would you be able to remember as much as you expect your students to remember? If you think it might be too much for yourself, then it might be a good idea to trim it down even more.
7. Also, make sure to get your students' attention before you start giving out the instructions. If they aren't listening or paying attention to you, it won't matter how clear your instructions are!

Do you have any other suggestions about giving clearer instructions to your students? Add your comments below!

Good luck!

Carol Rueckert
Writer, ESL Lesson Plan
E-mail: crueckert@eslemployment.com
Blog: www.esl-lesson-plan.com

"I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand." - Chinese Proverb

*For more ESL Tips & Tricks from ESL-Lesson-Plan, please click HERE!

About the author of this entry:
Carol, a native English-speaker who hails from the small town of St. Joseph in Minnesota, USA, and lived and worked in China for more than 7 years. During that time, she worked with students that range in age from three to more than sixty years old. She worked in universities, private language schools, grade schools, international schools, as well as private tutoring. Besides teaching, she also worked as a head teacher, an education manager, and a material development manager. In addition to working on this newsletter, she currently writes a monthly column for Time Out Beijing. Carol is also currently working on her MA in TESOL at the Oxford Brookes University in England. Look for her posts on the ESL-Jobs-Forum discussion boards!

Posted by crueckert at March 5, 2007 04:47 AM

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