Getting students to follow directions is one of those teaching struggles that never seems to fade. It may get better or worse from year to year (or even day to day). But while there aren’t any secret recipes to getting students to follow directions the first time, every time (because, they are little humans and even big humans can’t do that!), just like other executive functioning skills, we can support our students in getting better.
Teacher truth: Repeating directions 10x is not an effective tool. Sometimes I find myself repeating over and over. Yes, there are students who need them repeated (IEP, 504 ect) but saying the directions in exactly the same way multiple times is not super helpful.
Here’s some suggestions and tools for supporting students in following directions.
- Give directions from the same spot in the classroom every time: The consistency will communicate to students that what you are about to say is of utmost importance.
- Use an attention-getter specific for when you are about to give directions (need some ideas? check out this free list of attention-getters by Morgan-Elliott-Lakeside Teaching)
- Be clear and keep it short: This one I struggle with most. Write down the directions for yourself and stick to the script so you don’t go off on a tangent
- Provide visuals: Laminate direction cards and keep by your whiteboard so you have them ready to go!
- Ask students to repeat the directions to a partner: This is more effective than having one or two students repeat the directions to the whole class
- Add hand signals as you give directions: Have students hold up 1 finger for direction number one and so on
- Monitor students as they get started: Go around and ask “What’s the first step?” instead of jumping in to help right away
- Allow students to jot notes about the directions: Model and practice this before expecting them to do it on their own
- Chunk the directions into smaller steps: If the project is bigger, break it into a few parts and meet to go over the next set of directions before moving on
My second tip is TEACH students how to use strategies for following directions! When you have explicitly taught this, only then can you truly hold your students accountable and have high expectations.
If you need some resources for teaching students how to follow directions, check out my anchor chart and mini-lesson materials here.