Why every teacher’s pitfall is the instruction

August 17, 2015


Lesson stages

Beginning of the lesson | Discussing homework | Instruct students | Individual work | Group work | Lesson Reflection

“Please open your books on page 13. Today we are going to discuss the past tense. Please listen up”

Not the most exciting way to start your instruction, is it? Yet this is what happens quite a lot in regular and CLIL lessons. In this post I want to discuss a couple of ways to engage your students while you instruct them allowing for active learning instead of passive learning.

Every teacher’s pitfall

The instruction part is essential to any lesson, be it CLIL or not. You will almost always have something to teach your students and at some point information transfer is needed. After all, you have a lot of knowledge that you’d like to share.

For me, that’s one of the reasons I became a teacher.

Yet, that’s also why I have to be very careful to make the instruction part of my lessons not too long or even uninteresting. I have the habit of talking too much and too fast, so this is a challenge for me.

Because it is my believe that students learn best when they are involved with the lesson, I want to make sure students are always doing something, even when I am instructing them and teaching them something new (and exciting, in my opinion anyway)

So, how do you get students from their passive, leaned back attitude into an active, learning attitude?

I am afraid I don’t have the answer to that for every student. But I can tell you what I do (and works!)

Note taking: Do students really have to write down everything?

I could write an entire blog post on this, but I will keep it short for now:

Why do we expect students to know how to take notes without ever explaining this to them?

When I was still a student myself one of my teachers would write a blackboard full of notes, while asking questions we were expected to answer. One of the students would frequently mention that it was impossible to keep up with the notes as well as answer all the questions.

What do you think the teacher did?

He smiled, and asked the question again. Dismissing the valuable lesson he could have learned here.

Next time you explain something to your students, think about what you want them to write down. I would sometimes use PowerPoint presentations in my lessons. On the slides it would say whether or not I wanted the students to copy it (and yes, I made them copy from PowerPoint slides).

So, instead of just writing down all of your knowledge concerning the current topic and expecting your students to copy and learn, only write down the most important parts.

To help them with this skill, you can start with providing them with a gapped version of your instruction. That way they learn to take notes while listening and already have a structured version of your explanation in front them.

In other words: Structure and scaffold your explanation so students have to take notes that are of value to them.

Setting a time limit

As I previously mentioned, I talk a lot.

And fast.

To make sure my instruction does not last too long, I ask a student to time me. I do mention that I cannot be interrupted during my instruction, so during those 5-10 minutes that I am talking, students should actively listen.

I will not repeat myself.

When I first tried this, students had to get used to it. Quite a few were used to the fact I was willing to explain some things again, but whenever I used a time limited instruction I would not help them immediately. Instead, I would point out that they should ask other students first.

They cannot ask questions….

…during those 5-10 minutes. I do allow this afterwards though.


Should you always prepare your entire explanation on paper before hand? As I am an improvisation based teacher, that would require too much work for me. Also, I would feel I lost too much of my individual touch to the lesson.

However, using this technique every few lessons will help your students to be more effective note takers as well as active learners while you instruct.

The same goes for the timed instruction.  I don’t do that every lesson, but students know I do it often and enough to keep them motivated.

By the way, the student who is allowed to keep track of my time is always a little honored.

Let me know what you think! Do you also allow students to time your instruction? Do you use scaffolding this way?

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