Engaging Students During Direct Instruction

We all know the importance of engaging students in their learning, and we are experts at creating independent, partner, and small group activities and lessons that foster engagement. Where we sometimes fall flat is in engaging students during direct instruction.


The first thing to do is to hold students accountable in some way, even though they may not all be “on the hook” at all times. If you are leading whole-group Student Taking Notes by Ken Colwellinstruction, consider using two-column notes or another takeaway that kids use to take notes, summarize their learning, write questions, or make bulleted points. This is a good opportunity for modeling if you’ve never used these strategies before, and you may have a graphic organizer that is better suited to your students’ needs than these general suggestions.


It’s also a good idea to chunk your direct instruction into segments of time that are appropriate for your students’ age group. Plan independent or partner activities for the end of each chunk so that students have time to process the information, practice, respond, etc. This is a good time to have them focus on their takeaway, because some of them more than likely were so focused on you during the direct instruction chunk that they forgot to write down the required information. Student discussion, either with partners or in small groups, is a great strategy to use here as well, so kids can share their questions, concerns, or thoughts before the next bit of information comes their way.


Encourage students to write down questions during direct instruction. They will be more likely to formulate and ask their questions if they know they don’t have to ask in front of everyone, so provide slips of paper for students to write down their questions. While students are working or sharing after the chunk, you can collect the slips, scan them quickly, and address questions that students have before moving on to the next chunk. You just may be surprised by how many students have the same question, and that is a great way of knowing which information you need to address in a different way or delve into more deeply.

If you have other suggestions or examples, I’d love to hear them. You can email Bailey at bailey@truthinteaching.com.

Image via Flickr by Ken Colwell

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