How To: Deliver Direct Instruction in General-Education Classrooms

Learning Spark Blog: Jim WrightWhen teachers must present challenging academic material to struggling learners, they can make that material more accessible and promote faster learning by building assistance directly into instruction. Researchers use several terms to refer to this increased level of student instructional support: direct instruction, explicit instruction, or supported instruction (Rosenshine, 2008).


The checklist below summarizes the essential elements of a direct-instruction approach. When preparing lesson plans, instructors can use this resource as a 'pre-flight' checklist to make sure that their lessons reach the widest range of diverse learners.

1. Increase Access to Instruction

Instructional Element


Instructional Match. Lesson content is appropriately matched to students' abilities (Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice, 2008).


Content Review at Lesson Start. The lesson opens with a brief review of concepts or material that have previously been presented. (Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice, 2008, Rosenshine, 2008).


Preview of Lesson Goal(s). At the start of instruction, the goals of the current day's lesson are shared (Rosenshine, 2008).


Chunking of New Material. The teacher breaks new material into small, manageable increments, 'chunks', or steps (Rosenshine, 2008).


2. Provide 'Scaffolding' Support

Instructional Element


Detailed Explanations & Instructions. Throughout the lesson, the teacher provides adequate explanations and detailed instructions for all concepts and materials being taught (Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice, 2008).


Think-Alouds/Talk-Alouds. When presenting cognitive strategies that cannot be observed directly, the teacher describes those strategies for students.  Verbal explanations include ‘talk-alouds’ (e.g., the teacher describes and explains each step of a cognitive strategy) and ‘think-alouds’ (e.g., the teacher applies a cognitive strategy to a particular problem or task and verbalizes the steps in applying the strategy) (Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice, 2008, Rosenshine, 2008).


Work Models. The teacher makes exemplars of academic work (e.g., essays, completed math word problems) available to students for use as models (Rosenshine, 2008).


Active Engagement.  The teacher ensures that the lesson engages the student in ‘active accurate responding’ (Skinner, Pappas & Davis, 2005) often enough to capture student attention and to optimize learning.


Collaborative Assignments. Students have frequent opportunities to work collaboratively--in pairs or groups. (Baker, Gersten, & Lee, 2002; Gettinger & Seibert, 2002).


Checks for Understanding. The instructor regularly checks for student understanding by posing frequent questions to the group (Rosenshine, 2008).


Group Responding. The teacher ensures full class participation and boosts levels of student attention by having all students respond in various ways (e.g., choral responding, response cards, white boards) to instructor questions (Rosenshine, 2008).


High Rate of Student Success. The teacher verifies that students are experiencing at least 80% success in the lesson content to shape their learning in the desired direction and to maintain student motivation and engagement (Gettinger & Seibert, 2002).


Brisk Rate of Instruction. The lesson moves at a brisk rate--sufficient to hold student attention (Carnine,1976; Gettinger & Seibert, 2002).


Fix-Up Strategies. Students are taught fix-up strategies (Rosenshine, 2008) for use during independent work (e.g., for defining unknown words in reading assignments, for solving challenging math word problems).


3. Give Timely Performance Feedback

Instructional Element


Regular Feedback. The teacher provides timely and regular performance feedback and corrections throughout the lesson as needed to guide student learning (Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice).


Step-by-Step Checklists. For multi-step cognitive strategies, the teacher creates checklists for students to use to self-monitor performance (Rosenshine, 2008).


4. Provide Opportunities for Review & Practice

Instructional Element


Spacing of Practice Throughout Lesson. The lesson includes practice activities spaced throughout the lesson. (e.g., through teacher demonstration; then group practice with teacher supervision and feedback; then independent, individual student practice) (Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice).


Guided Practice. When teaching challenging material, the teacher provides immediate corrective feedback to each student response. When the instructor anticipates the possibility of an incorrect response, that teacher forestalls student error through use of cues, prompts, or hints. The teacher also tracks student responding and ensures sufficient success during supervised lessons before having students practice the new skills or knowledge independently (Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice, 2008).


Support for Independent Practice. The teacher ensures that students have adequate support (e.g., clear and explicit instructions; teacher monitoring) to be successful during independent seatwork practice activities (Rosenshine, 2008).


Distributed Practice. The teacher reviews previously taught content one or more times over a period of several weeks or months (Pashler et al., 2007; Rosenshine  & Stevens, 1995).



  • Baker, S., Gersten, R., & Lee, D. (2002).A synthesis of empirical research on teaching mathematics to low-achieving students. The Elementary School Journal, 103(1), 51-73.
  • Burns, M. K., VanDerHeyden, A. M., & Boice, C. H. (2008). Best practices in intensive academic interventions. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp.1151-1162). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
  • Carnine, D.W. (1976). Effects of two teacher presentation rates on off-task behavior, answering correctly, and participation. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9, 199-206.
  • Gettinger, M., & Seibert, J.K. (2002). Best practices in increasing academic learning time. In A. Thomas (Ed.), Best practices in school psychology IV: Volume I (4th ed., pp. 773-787). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
  • Pashler, H., Bain, P., Bottge, B., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., and Metcalfe, J. (2007) Organizing instruction and study to improve student learning (NCER 2007-2004). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from
  • Rosenshine, B. (2008). Five meanings of direct instruction. Center on Innovation & Improvement. Retrieved from
  • Rosenshine, B., & Stevens, R. (1995). Functions for teaching well-structured tasks. Journal of Educational Research, 88, 262–268.
  • Skinner, C. H., Pappas, D. N., & Davis, K. A. (2005). Enhancing academic engagement: Providing opportunities for responding and influencing students to choose to respond. Psychology in the  Schools, 42, 389-403.