Ch. 4 Direct Instruction

direct instruction
Direct Instruction is an evidenced based teaching method

In general usage, the term direct instruction refers to (1) instructional approaches that are structured, sequenced, and led by teachers, and/or (2) the presentation of academic content to students by teachers, such as in a lecture or demonstration. In other words, teachers are “directing” the instructional process or instruction is being “directed” at students.

While a classroom lecture is perhaps the image most commonly associated with direct instruction, the term encompasses a wide variety of fundamental teaching techniques and potential instructional scenarios. For example, presenting a video or film to students could be considered a form of direct instruction (even though the teacher is not actively instructing students, the content and presentation of material was determined by the teacher). Generally speaking, direct instruction may be the most common teaching approach in the United States, since teacher-designed and teacher-led instructional methods are widely used in American public schools. That said, it’s important to note that teaching techniques such as direct instruction, differentiation, or scaffolding, to name just a few, are rarely mutually exclusive—direct instruction may be integrated with any number of other instructional approaches in a given course or lesson. For example, teachers may use direct instruction to prepare students for an activity in which the students work collaboratively on a group project with guidance and coaching from the teacher as needed (the group activity would not be considered a form of direct instruction).

Key Takeaways

In addition, the basic techniques of direct instruction not only extend beyond lecturing, presenting, or demonstrating, but many are considered to be foundational to effective teaching. For example:

  • Establishing learning objectives for lessons, activities, and projects, and then making sure that students have understood the goals.
  • Purposefully organizing and sequencing a series of lessons, projects, and assignments that move students toward stronger understanding and the achievement of specific academic goals.
  • Reviewing instructions for an activity or modeling a process—such as a scientific experiment—so that students know what they are expected to do.
  • Providing students with clear explanations, descriptions, and illustrations of the knowledge and skills being taught.
  • Asking questions to make sure that students have understood what has been taught.

It should be noted that the term direct instruction is used in various proprietary or trademarked instructional models that have been developed and promoted by educators, including—most prominently—Direct Instruction, created by Siegfried Engelmann and Wesley Becker, which is a “explicit, carefully sequenced and scripted model of instruction,” according to the National Institute for Direct Instruction.


In recent decades, the concept of direct instruction has taken on negative associations among some educators. Because direct instruction is often associated with traditional lecture-style teaching to classrooms full of passive students obediently sitting in desks and taking notes, it may be considered outdated, pedantic, or insufficiently considerate of student learning needs by some educators and reformers.

That said, many of direct instruction’s negative connotations likely result from either a limited definition of the concept or a misunderstanding of its techniques. For example, all teachers, by necessity, use some form of direct instruction in their teaching—i.e., preparing courses and lessons, presenting and demonstrating information, and providing clear explanations and illustrations of concepts are all essential, and to some degree unavoidable, teaching activities. Negative perceptions of the practice tend to arise when teachers rely too heavily upon direct instruction, or when they fail to use alternative techniques that may be better suited to the lesson at hand or that may improve student interest, engagement, and comprehension.

While a sustained forty-five-minute lecture may not be considered an effective teaching strategy by many educators, the alternative strategies they may advocate—such as personalized learning or project-based learning, to name just two options—will almost certainly require some level of direct instruction by teachers. In other words, teachers rarely use either direct instruction or some other teaching approach—in actual practice, diverse strategies are frequently blended together. For these reasons, negative perceptions of direct instruction likely result more from a widespread over-reliance on the approach, and from the tendency to view it as an either/or option, rather than from its inherent value to the instructional process.

(Direct Instruction, 2013)

The next section of the chapter is adapted from:McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center. (Public domain)

High Levelage Practice  #16 Use Explicit Instruction

Teachers make content, skills, and concepts explicit by showing and telling students what to do or think while solving problems, enacting strategies, completing tasks, and classifying concepts. Teachers use explicit instruction when students are learning new material and complex concepts and skills. They strategically choose examples and non-examples and language to facilitate student understanding, anticipate common misconceptions, highlight essential content, and remove distracting information. They model and scaffold steps or processes needed to understand content and concepts, apply skills, and complete tasks successfully and independently.

Watch video on Explicit Instruction- *start at 1:30 minutes.

[Council for Exceptional Children]. (2019, April 22).  HLP#16 Use Explicit Instruction. {Video file]. Retrieved from

Video Transcript available at:

In summary, explicit instruction is effective for most students, not only those with disabilities. This approach can be used across grade levels and content areas. Although explicit instruction can be provided by any teacher, the unique setting and needs of students being taught determines the level of intensity with which the teacher uses this practice. The difference in intensity is not merely the number of students in each class, but that instruction should be appropriately intense, matched to the unique needs of students. A trained special educator or similar specialist is responsible for ensuring data that is carefully collected and monitored drives instructional decision-making. This ensures the explicit instruction being delivered is appropriately intense, and the team is ready to make changes as needed.

This next section contains excerpts from National Center on Intensive Intervention. (2016). Principles for designing intervention in mathematics. Washington,
DC: Office of Special Education, U.S. Department of Education and is in the pubic domain.

math iconExplicit, Systematic Instruction in the context of Mathematics Instruction

Explicit, systematic instruction in mathematics requires educators to clearly teach the steps involved in solving mathematical problems using a logical progression of skills (Hudson, Miller, & Butler, 2006; Montague & Dietz, 2009). Explicit instruction may take the form of teaching students how to use manipulatives, teaching specific algorithms for solving computational problems, or teaching strategies for solving more advanced mathematical concepts. Systematic instruction considers the scope and mathematical trajectories, such as the types of examples used for developing the foundational skills prior to introduction/re-teaching of grade-level material (Gersten et al., 2009; Kroesbergen & Van Luit, 2003; Maccini, Mulcahy, & Wilson, 2007). Regardless of the concept or skill being taught, explicit, systematic instruction should include the following components (Archer & Hughes, 2011; Hudson et al., 2006):

1. Advance Organizer: Providing students with an advance organizer allows them to know the specific objective of the lesson and its relevance to everyday life.

2. Assessing Background Knowledge: In assessing background knowledge, instructors determine whether students have mastered the prerequisite skills for successful problem solving in the new concept area. If the prerequisite skills were recently covered, assessment of background knowledge should be conducted quickly. If, however, those skills were taught several weeks ago, more time may be needed to refresh students’ memories. Instructors can also determine whether students are able to generalize previously learned concepts to the new concept.
For example, if students have previously learned regrouping strategies in addition and subtraction, are they able to generalize these concepts to regrouping in multiplication and division? In addition, instructors should ask students questions about the new concept to assess their knowledge of the concept.

3. Modeling: During the modeling phase, instructors “think aloud” as they model the process of working through a computation problem; read, set up, and solve a word problem; use a strategy; or demonstrate a concept. During modeling, instructors should be clear and direct in their presentation; they also should be precise and mindful in using general and mathematical vocabulary as well as in selecting numbers or examples for use during instruction. During modeling, instructors should involve students in reading the problems and should ask questions to keep students engaged in the lesson.

4. Guided Practice: During guided practice, instructors engage all students by asking questions to guide learning and understanding as students actively participate in solving problems. During this phase, instructors prompt and scaffold student learning as necessary. Scaffolding is gradually eliminated as students demonstrate accuracy in using the material being taught. Positive and corrective feedback is provided during this phase, and instruction is adjusted to match student needs.
Students should reach a high level of mastery (typically 85 percent accuracy or higher) before moving out of the guided practice phase.

5. Independent Practice: After achieving a high level of mastery, students move to the independent practice phase where they autonomously demonstrate their new
knowledge and skills. During independent practice, the instructor closely monitors students and provides immediate feedback as necessary. Countless independent practice activities can be used with students, and the primary focus of the independent practice activity should be related to the content of the modeling and guided practice. If students demonstrate difficulty at this stage, instructors evaluate and adjust their instruction to re-teach concepts as needed.

6. Maintenance: Students with disabilities often have a difficult time maintaining what they have learned when the knowledge is not used on a regular basis.
Students are given opportunities to independently practice these skills during the maintenance phase. During this phase, instructors use distributed practice to assess student maintenance at regularly scheduled intervals. Distributed practice is focused practice on a specific skill, strategy, or concept. The frequency of these practice assessments is determined by the difficulty level of the skill and according to individual student needs. Maintenance may also include cumulative practice.

Instructors often want to know how much time they should spend on each phase. Although there are no specific guidelines concerning how much time should be devoted to each phase, the bulk of the instruction should occur within the guided practice phase (National Center on Intensive Intervention, 2013).

Watch Videos on Direct and Explicit Instruction

How to do Direct Instruction – Teach Like This  (3:40 minutes)

[TeachLikeThis]. (2013, Oct. 11). How to do Direction Instruction-TeachLike This. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Video Key Takeaways- I do, We do, You do

Goal Mastery Learning

  • I do– Teacher Modeling, Teacher Directed
  • We do– Guided Practice with Support and Structure
  • You do– Independent Practice to Demonstrate Learning

Teaching Matters: Explicit Instruction (4:53 minutes)

[eMedia Workshop]. (2012, Sep. 17). Teaching Matters Explicit Instruction. [Video File}. Retrieved from

The Gradual Release Model

Key Video Takeaways- Gradual Release

This model focuses on the [I do-We do- You do] model and similar aspects of the Direct Instruction Method:

  1. Modeling
  2. Guided Practice
  3. Independent Practice (check for understanding).
  • Additional steps in the Direct Instruction Teaching Method Include:

4. Monitoring- how will you formatively assess learning and collect data on student learning?

5. Feedback– how will you respond to student learning: move learning forward, address misconceptions, and areas of difficulty?

Watch this video that models gradual release in the context of a writing lesson. (8:06 minutes).

[CitizensAcademyCleve]. (2011, Dec. 5). Gradual Release (Modeled-Guided-Independent Practice). [Video File]. Retrieved from

Recommended Reading

Calvin, S. (n.d.) Planning and Teaching with Explicit Instruction, LD@school. Retrieved from

Direct/Explicit Instruction and Mathematics, (n.d The Access Center, Improving Outcomes for All Students K-8. Retrieved from

Basic Philosophy of Direct Intruction-, The National Institute of Direct Instruction, Retrieved from

Traver, Sara, Dr. (1999). A Focus on Direct Instruction. Current Practice Alerts,, Retrieved from


Direct Instruction (12.20.13). The Glossary of Education Reform. Retrieved from

Graphics in this eBook are from unless otherwise noted.

Math Icon – Image by Dean Norris from Pixabay

Class-Image by emmaws4s from Pixabay

updated 9.14.2020