Explain Academic Tasks Clearly

SIOP encourages teachers to pay attention to how they explain tasks to their students.  This is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching and often the least attended to.  How well teachers explain academic tasks has a direct impact on how well students can accomplish them.  TESOL Trainers shows teachers how to master the skill of clearly explaining academic tasks.

John Kongsvik teaching a class smiling

SIOP Component #11:  Explain Academic Tasks Clearly

As both teachers and students know, explaining tasks is more than just reading a set of instructions.  After all, giving (and receiving) directions can be deceitfully difficult.  This feature falls under the SIOP component Comprehensible Input for a good reason:  effectively explaining how to complete a task requires making it comprehensible.  

Teachers know this is challenging because every teacher has explained a task (seemingly thoroughly) only to find that students are confused as to what they need to do.  Every teacher has told students to "begin" only to discover the majority of them don't know where to begin or how to proceed.  Giving clear instructions is harder than it appears.

Master SIOP in your classroom
Enroll in our SIOP Professional Development course

The Challenges of Giving Clear Instructions

There are a number of challenges teachers face when it comes to giving clear instructions.  

  1. First, we tend to believe that people "get it" because we get it.  It's easy for me to understand what I want you to do, especially if I was the one who came up with the idea in the first place.  Because we get it, we may gloss over steps or not explain them with as much detail as others need. It's much harder for you to understand what I'd like you to do because you cannot read my mind.  Making students show they understand is a much better way to see if they really do.

  2. Secondly, in our rush to give our students enough time to complete the task (we are always battling the clock), we rush through the instructions.  Most of the time, however, we discover this actually wastes more time as we are forced to stop the class, repeat the instructions, and the time we reserved for the activity itself expires.  It's always best to do it right the first time.

  3. Thirdly, we often only give instructions one way:  orally.  We read off the instructions out loud and may even ask a student to repeat them.  However, telling our students what to do or having a student recite back what we told does not mean the students know what to do.  Showing our students beats telling them.

  4. Lastly, most of us tend to "wing it" and give instructions to an activity on the fly without having thought out what we want to say.  The result tends to be to create confusion by using too many words and skipping from one step to another as our brains realize we hadn't quite thought through what we want our students to do.  Every teacher has had the experience of giving instructions to an activity, and, half-way through, realizing we aren't really sure how we want things to go.  Spending some time before class thinking about what our students should do and how we are going to explain it sets everyone up for success.

Strategies to Giving Clear Instructions

Woman teaching in a classroom

Giving clear instructions are so important to the success of an academic task.  The clearer we are the more able our students will be to achieve success.  The more successful they are the more risks they will be willing to take.  The success of an activity begins with the clarity of instructions.

  1. Teachers can think about what they want students to do and how they are going to explain it before attempting to give instructions.  This gives teachers the chance to consider exactly how to get students to understand what they should do.  This saves time and increases the clarity of the instructions.
  2. Teachers can write out the instructions beforehand.  Writing out the instructions gives teachers a chance to measure how clear they are and to gauge the language they choose to use.
  3. Teachers can reserve time for instructions.  "I don't have time to waste on instructions" is not a way to set the students or the teacher up for success.  The few moments we spend on giving instructions makes the activity more efficient and effective.
  4. Teachers can show students what they should do in addition to telling students what to do.  Words can be interpreted in more than one way.  Demonstrations are clearer and minimize misinterpretations.  English learners often benefit more from demonstrations.
  5. Teachers can get students to prove they understand.  The old familiar question, "does everyone understand?" didn't work for us when we were students, and it doesn't work for our students today.  We need to get students to demonstrate their level of understanding. 

SIOP = Explain Academic Tasks Clearly

Making content comprehensible is essential.  Giving clear instructions is the most effective way to get the most out of every academic task.  Clear instructions increase student confidence and competence.  While there are many challenges to giving clear instructions, there are many strategies that teachers can use to overcome these challenges.  The more successful students are when they complete a task the more willing they will be to engage more in all aspects of our instruction.

Please contact us for detailed information on how we can help your educational institution set all teachers and learners up for success.

TESOL Trainers Clearly Sets Teachers up For Success

John Kongsvik on video smiling pointing up

‚ÄčTESOL Trainers is an education consulting company operating around the world with K-12 schools and institutions of higher education.¬† Their main goal is to support excellence in teaching and learning through professional development, peer coaching, metacognitive mastery, and other support tools that lead to teaching and learning transformation. ¬†

John Kongsvik, the director of TESOL Trainers, is a master in the principles of experiential learning and uses interactive, innovative approaches that inspire educators to change.

Unlock Sheltered Instruction Secrets Today with Your Free eBook about SIOP

Click the button below to claim your free ebook and join our mailing list.