Effective Instructional Strategies that Help Kids Learn

If you are a new teacher with at least nine weeks of classroom experience, you have no doubt learned by now that there are a lot of different ideas and teaching strategies that trickle down from the powers above you.  You will often be introduced to these ideas during a half day in-service presentation, and then be expected to implement them in your classroom based on a plastic 3 ring binder filled with Xeroxed copies that someone brought back to your district from yet another in-service meeting that was held specifically for administrators.  (Wouldn’t you love to speak at one of those meetings one day?)  These binders, and the often confusing instructions they contain, can sometimes induce spontaneous panic attacks in teachers.  The purpose of this site is to make these surprise packages a little bit less scary and to help us all to become the best teachers that we can be.

Becoming a Better Teacher

Do you remember your time in school? I remember a lot of fun moments and a lot of time spent playing with other kids during recess. In my later years in school I remember a lot of the time spent between classes as I talked with friends, but in the learning environment, I remember only the moments when our teacher went above and beyond to teach us. Day to day activities certainly are the back bone of good teaching but without the special application many of these lessons were not striking or memorable to me.  Now, as a teacher, I sometimes reflect on my own experiences as a student and try to adjust my teaching so that it becomes more “sticky” for my students.  I also sometimes consider my own teaching methods when I’m sitting in an interminable  in-service presentation.  As I sit listening to one person after another reading from PowerPoint slides, I always vow silently to myself that I’ll never do anything like that to a classroom full of students again.

What are These Strategies for Instruction?

Make up as many names and acronyms as you like, but instructional strategies are really just the methods you use to teach your students.  Teachers have been looking for the best ways to get their message across for years.  They try things, see if they work, and adjust when necessary.

The field of education has quite a bit of jargon.  Most of the teachers I know are very busy teaching a classroom full of students.  There is a chance that they missed the latest article on the best practices in education.  They’re too busy grading papers, preparing lessons, filling out weekly progress reports, and dealing with actual student issues.  The teachers who taught me used many of the same methods that are presented on this, and similar, sites.  They just didn’t have as many fancy names for what they did.  That is part of the reason why I decided to start this site.  I believe that keeping things as simple as possible is a good idea.  This page gives very brief summaries of some of today’s popular teaching methods.  Some will look very familiar to veteran teachers.  I hope that they will chime in with comments to share what they have learned through years of experience.  There really isn’t that much new stuff under the sun, but knowing when and how to use various strategies is something that comes with experience.  Newer teachers will find ideas to help them with “real life” situations that they cannot prepare you for in college.  Basically, I want this site to present effective strategies for teaching that might help all of us to become the best teachers we can possibly be.

Becoming an Effective Teacher for Your Students

It takes a special person to really make a lasting impression on kids, but it’s not impossible. If you want to make a lesson effective, it takes a bit of planning and preparation and a wide variety of teaching approaches for the classroom.  I hope that this site will introduce you to some effective teaching methods.  Implementing them isn’t all that hard either, if you plan them out in advance, and in most cases its worth implementing a few strategies at a time so that kids that learn in different ways all have a chance to really connect to the material (differentiation). For me I always did learn best when implementation was involved. When we read books I really enjoyed projects where we would take the material in the book and create something tangible to demonstrate our comprehension of the material. I remember making a picture depicting the entire storyline of James and the Giant Peach once when I was nine or ten. Not only did I read the book but my drawing was a simple way for me to demonstrate my understanding of the story and share it with others around me.

How Do You Teach?

Practical Application and Differentiating Instruction

In my math classes I always responded better to practical application. It wasn’t enough for me to learn what sign and cosign was I needed to understand how these functions were applicable to the real world. As teachers, we are tasked with connecting with lots of different kids in lots of different classes. Not all kids respond the way I did to hands on application and not all kids learn the same way either. It can be difficult to really reach everyone but by incorporating a variety of delivery strategies into your repertoire it becomes easier to reach more kids in a meaningful way. Group work is an area that lots of people including children connect with. Although it’s not particularly helpful for every kid there are those that thrive on it. Independent study is another technique that is beneficial to some kids while not as great for others. By identifying the kids in your classes that seem to do well with one method over another it becomes easy to start building your curriculum around all forms of teaching and learning. Some types of teaching strategies may include things as simple as introducing books on tapes to kids instead of only having them read from the text. Although many kids have no trouble with comprehension of text some kids can better learn to comprehend material when isolated from the actual reading of text. One other technique to help teach kids how to comprehend reading is to use acting in the classroom. Again, not all kids will respond to this but some will. It’s all about covering all methods of learning. For mathematics I remember our teacher separated us by skill level. Kids that were able better classroomsto do more advanced math worked in one area of the class while kids at a lower level worked on lower level math together. This is sometimes called accelerated or individualized math. It is an effective way of keeping advanced kids interested and motivated while not discouraging kids at a lower level. Re-looping of previously learned material is another way to ingrain important material into the minds of kids who need repetition to really learn something important. By introducing concepts and then summarizing those same concepts every day, while building upon them in different ways, a teacher can easily emphasize what’s most important. That teacher can then properly prepare their students for advanced material that is based off the foundational concepts which are repeated daily. Another very common strategy for driving learning in any course is to use Mnemonics. These are the simple association techniques sometimes that can help describe a process in one’s brain. Many common mnemonics stick with kids well into adulthood – “I” before “E” except after “C”. You probably still use that one to this day. The takeaway here is this. There are many different learning and teaching strategies that can be implemented in the classroom independent of student age or skill level. The trick in implementing them effectively is to choose a variety of techniques that support your material and present the information to your classroom using them all. Some kids are simply going to respond to certain teaching strategies better than others. It’s your job as a teacher to cycle through various teaching methods in an attempt to reach all kids in the class.

List of Instructional Strategies for Teachers

As a teacher, becoming familiar with a variety of techniques for teaching is essential if you want to keep students interested in their own education and actively learning in your class.  These strategies and methods of teaching are the tools of your trade.  Taking the time to learn about them will help both you and your students.  In addition, adding some variety to your teaching is a great way to prevent yourself from burning out.  Routine is nice up to a point, but there is a very real danger of falling victim to a creeping complacency that can lead to boredom and disinterest for both teacher and student.  Don’t let that happen!  Below you will find a list of instructional strategies for teaching that can give a new spark to your teaching style.  Feel free to print it out and then check off different strategies as you use them.  As this site grows, more strategies, definitions (help with all of the academic jargon) and specific methods used by teachers will become available.  Even without step by step instructions though, just looking through this list of ideas should help to get you out of any teaching rut you may have fallen into over your years of teaching.  You’ll no doubt notice that I like to write in bullet points.  What can I say?  That’s just my style and I never intended to create another purely academic site.  There are plenty of teaching textbooks out there if you want them.  I just want to share what I’ve learned during my time in the classroom.  Much of this isn’t covered during your basic teacher education program.  I guess you might consider it a simple glossary of teaching methods (and related educational terms).  Basically, any of the terms you might hear being thrown around during your in service meetings.  I hope you find it helpful and add it to your list of teacher resources.

  • 3-2-1  This is an activating strategy similar to a KWL chart.  Students give three things they believe they already know about a subject, two things they would like to learn more about, and finally, one question that is related to the overall concept you will be learning about.
  • ABC Summarize
  • Ability Grouping  This type of grouping is also sometimes referred to as tracking.  Students working at similar levels are grouped together for instruction.
  • Abstract Thinking
  • Academic Games
  • Accelerated Learning
  • Accredited Online Teacher Certification Programs
  • Achievement Motivation  Humans respond to different types of motivation.  Achievement motivation focuses on our desire to reach new levels of achievement or goals.  This has implications for educators looking for ways to inspire less than enthusiastic students.  Read more on education.com.
  • Acronyms for Memorizing
  • Acrostics
  • Activating Strategies  The aim of these types of teaching methods is to get students using their prior knowledge as they take on new learning tasks.  These approaches engage students and help them to anchor the new things they are learning to what they already know.  Many of these will be mentioned in this list of pedagogical strategies.  Some examples include KWL charts, think-pair-write, cloze activities, and quick writes.
  • Active Learning
  • Active Participation  Get the students involved in their learning.  Ask them questions.  Give them small projects.  Have them do surveys, talk to each other and share.  Start a real class discussion.  If you have shy kids, let them write down some comments to initiate discussion.  Create puzzles.  Stop talking and discuss what was just taught for a few minutes.  Brainstorm ideas about the topic of the day…  Not many people learn well when they are just sitting there listening to a lecture.  Seriously, how many details do you remember from your last three in-service meetings?  Sometimes one of the best teaching techniques is to let the students take the lead and then adapt you teaching methods and strategies to fit the moment.
  • Activity Centers  Get some of these set up.  I always thought they would be a major hassle when my school started moving toward a differentiated approach to learning, but once these are set up, the students quickly catch on to the concept of moving from station to station.  If you have a co-teacher or aide available, these are even easier to manage.
  • Adapted Tests
  • Adaptive Equipment
  • Adaptive Scheduling
  • Adaptive Toys
  • ADHD  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder  It is estimated that over five million children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD.  Symptoms include impulsivity, being inattentive, and hyperactivity.  These can show up in various combinations.  Learn more at healthline.com
  • Adult Learning Theory
  • Advance Organizers  These are “frameworks” for learning.  Actually, they just give the class a heads up as to what they’ll be learning that day.  You basically introduce the topic and tie it to prior lessons and knowledge.  I always write the day’s objective on the board and refer to it within the first few minutes of class.  It also gives learners something to aim for during the lesson.  That is, they know what they should be learning in the next 40 minutes or so.
  • Advantages vs. Disadvantages  A simple class exercise where two columns are used to compare the advantages and disadvantages of a given topic.
  • Affirmations
  • Agendas
  • AGO (Aims, Goals, and Objectives)
  • Agreement Circles
  • AIDA (Analysis of Interactive Decision Areas)
  • ALEM (Adaptive Learning Environments Model)
  • Alphabet Game
  • Anticipatory Set  This is done at the beginning of class.  You hook your students’ interest, focus their attention, and get them engaged in the lesson.  This could be a lot of things.  Some people like to start with “bell ringers” or questions related to the previous lesson.  It could also be something as simple as taking a minute to choose a homework question the would feel comfortable answering.
  • Author’s Chair  This activity is used as part of learning the writing process.  A student shares his written work with the class.  Obviously, this should be done toward the end of the writing process after the author has already cleaned up his or her rough draft.  Feedback should be primarily positive, but constructive criticism is a good thing here.  I’ve found that the other students often ask questions that can help the author to recognize details they might have left out of their work up to that point.
  • Balanced Literacy  This approach to language arts learning emphasizes mastering both oral and written methods of communicating.  Student learning occurs both in and out of the classroom and involves writing, reading, viewing, speaking, and listening.  It is a model that integrates writing and reading for students and it involves both direct and indirect teaching methods.  A variety of instructional methods for teaching reading comprehension, phonics, and writing skills may be applied.
  • Behavior Management  Like it or not, keeping things under control in your classroom is part of the job.  Don’t worry though.  We’ve got some behavior management tips for you.
  • Benchmark Testing  This type of testing is done to determine where a student is starting out and how much progress has been made over a designated period of time.  This is a method of monitoring student progress.  To maintain consistency, standardized benchmark tests are often used.  The time between tests may vary, but every three to six weeks is usually considered acceptable.  The goal of benchmark test taking is to see how much academic progress is being made as the school year goes along.
  • Best Teaching Practices
  • Book Talks I suppose you might think of these as the modern, more in-depth equivalent of the traditional book report. It is a way to encourage students to get more involved with reading. Students make a book recommendation to their peers in an organized way that includes a bit of personal reflection on what they enjoyed about the book. These fit well when introducing a book fair or even a newly acquired classroom book.
  • Brain Based Learning
  • Brainstorming  Most teachers have probably experienced brainstorming first hand.  Students are given a topic to focus on and then are encouraged to use their creativity as well as prior knowledge to create a list of ideas that can then be used as a starting point for new learning.  Brainstorming should be done in an environment that encourages open sharing and discourages judging and criticism.
  • Case Studies  This instructional strategy gives students the task of examining real life scenarios and applying the knowledge they have acquired in class.  It encourages abstract thinking, so it is best suited to students who have reached that level of cognitive development.  This is generally after elementary school age, but you can adapt this to your elementary classroom if the students seem to have a solid understanding and interest in the topic being discussed.
  • Categorizing  Students can start putting their thoughts (and physical objects) into categories as early as the beginning of elementary school. Teachers can facilitate this process by first suggesting appropriate categories to get the ball rolling. This is a good way to encourage students to examine how things a alike and different. This obviously can lead later to compare and contrast exercises.
  • Causal Mapping  This is a form of concept mapping.  The emphasis is on cause and effect relationships.
  • Cause and Effect  Exploring what happened (the effect) and why it happened (the cause) in various situations.
  • Charades / Role Playing
  • Checking for Understanding  The strategies involved here can range from very simple (thumbs up or down) to much more complex (group activities that can involve sharing in an organized manner).  I usually go for the fastest method that is appropriate.  One thing I have definitely learned though, is that you can’t expect most kids to voluntarily raise their hands and announce that they need a deeper explanation.  If you don’t check for understanding, you risk having a classroom of lost and disinterested learners as you continue teaching.  This usually ends badly with frustrated students and low test scores.  The time spent checking for understanding pays off later because even if students do get “lost”, you don’t have to backtrack nearly as far to get everyone back up to speed.
  • Choral Reading
  • Choral Response At first glance you might think that having students shout out their responses would lead to class disruption, but in choral response, students are expected to answer in a controlled way (not with wild screaming). The theory here is that getting students to respond frequently during a lesson will keep them more involved and lead to more students actually remembering and understanding what has been taught.
  • Chunking
  • CIRC (Cooperative Integrated Reading & Composition)
  • Circles of Knowledge
  • Circles of Learning
  • Clarifying
  • Class Publications
  • Classification
  • Classroom Conversations  When I was in high school, I had a social studies teacher that would guide us toward class conversations about once ever two weeks or so.  The class was always very responsive, and at the time, we just assumed that he was giving us a day off.  Looking back now, I see that these discussions were expertly guided toward the teacher’s chosen topic of the day.  He was pretty good at what he did!  Conversations in the classroom can be a great way to get more people involved and to gauge how much everyone understands.  Depending on the class and the topic, teachers an decide how much guidance is needed as the lesson begins and progresses.
  • Classroom Mailboxes  Obviously, these can be used as a place to sort student work, but they are also quite useful for organizing worksheets for different subjects or classes.  Secondary teachers may want to consider them for this purpose.
  • Classroom Management Strategies
  • Classroom Meetings
  • Classroom Organization
  • Classroom Posters
  • Classroom Routines  Having a routine in your classroom can seem like a hassle at first.  You have to take time out of your already overloaded schedule to teach students simple procedures.  In the long run though, having routines in place can be a great time saver.  Classroom routines can be established for everything from sharpening pencils and turning in homework to knowing how the class should operate in the event that an unprepared substitute shows up.  Don’t underestimate the power here.  Establishing good routines can be as important as having solid lesson plans.  Routines should be a part of your overall classroom management plan.
  • Classroom Rules
  • Cloze Procedure  A cloze procedure is used to check for understanding of context in a reading task.  The student is expected to replace missing words with appropriate vocabulary in a given passage using context clues and their own understanding of the subject they have been reading about.
  • Clustering  This is a method used for organizing information when preparing to write.  Unlike most linear methods of organization, this is based more on mapping what you are going to write about.  It is sometimes compared to brainstorming, but it is a more organized approach.  It helps students to focus on what comes to mind when they choose one particular topic to write about.
  • Cognitive Strategy Instruction
  • Cold Call  This is an instructional strategy that is dreaded by students who tend to drift off and daydream during class.  The teacher calls on students during the course of the lesson and subsequent discussion without really considering who is volunteering to answer.  That means that even students who don’t have their hands raised might get called on at any time.  This isn’t meant to be used as a tool for “catching” people who are not paying attention.  Rather, you would hope that students in a class where cold calls are used would enter the room ready to pay attention and contribute.  When used correctly, this approach can solicit input from students who otherwise would probably not have offered their valuable insights on the lesson of the day.
  • Collaborative Learning  In collaborative learning, students work with each other to discuss a given “problem” and come up with possible solutions.  This can be done in pairs or in small groups.  Advantages include students taking more ownership for their learning, improved social interactions, and built in peer tutoring opportunities.
  • Common Core
  • Compare and Contrast  In my own experience, this method is used quite a bit in reading and language arts instruction.  Charts are often created to show how two things are alike or different.  Comparisons show how things are alike, while contrasts focus on differences.
  • Computer Assisted Instruction  As the name implies, this is instruction that uses the computer as a tool for instructing students.  This can be a good way of connecting with learners who enjoy spending time on the computer, but it is meant to be a tool, not a replacement for the teacher.
  • Concept Attainment  This strategy is an example of indirect instruction.  This approach ties in well with contrasting and comparing given items.  Students learn to oranize and categorize as they look for the common attributes of a given group.  They also look for ways to identify things that do not belong in a given category.
  • Concept Mapping  Some people learn better by seeing a visual representation of what is being taught.  Concept maps help students to start with a main idea and then branch out to important key concepts.  This is done by using shapes like circles or squares that are connected by lines that branch out to related ideas.  This type of graphic organizer is often used by teachers to illustrate new ideas, but it can also be used to assess how well students understand what they have been taught.  To do this, students are shown examples of concept maps and are then given the opportunity to construct their own map illustrating their understanding of the subject.
  • Conducting Experiments  Most students love exploring and learning science concepts through inquiry.  Hands on experimenting (with the guidance of the teacher) can be a great way to get students thinking at a higher level.  In my experience, it is very important for the teacher to help the students to understand the connection between the experiments they are performing and the objective of the lesson.  Some “science in a box” type modules provide very little content knowledge for students.  Students enjoy the hands on activities, but they will not always “get” what is being taught unless the connection is made with the help of the teacher.
  • Conferencing with Students  Many teachers miss out on a golden opportunity to connect with students and to understand what and how they are thinking.  You conference with students while they are working during class.  This is a simple process that can reap major rewards.  Start by asking the student how they are doing with the problem they are working on at the moment.  Ask about what they are learning and what is giving them problems.  You guide them by offering tips and by specifically asking what they need help with to keep them moving forward. Ask about strategies they are using and offer new ones for them to try out. This is a much better use of in class work time than just walking around the room watching to make sure that students are working.
  • Connecting to Prior Knowledge  Sometimes it’s easy to forget that some students might not have much, if any, prior knowledge about what is being taught.  Use questioning and tools like brainstorming and KWL charts to assess what your students know and where they are lacking.  Look for ways to connect what is being taught to their everyday life.  This might be things they do, things they’ve seen, things they’ve read about, or something that seems totally unrelated.  Get the class talking about a topic and keep your ears open for something you can use to make a connection.  Students often don’t realize that activating prior knowledge can help them to better understand new material.  Help them to make this connection and they might just surprise you with how interested they become.
  • Constructivism
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Co-teaching
  • Cognitive Thinking
  • Critical Listening
  • Critical Literacy
  • Critical Reading
  • Critical Thinking Activities 
  • Data Analysis
  • Defining
  • Descriptions
  • Differentiated Instruction  When you differentiate instruction, you place an emphasis on what your students already know and how they do their best learning.  Here are some ideas for putting together effective differentiated instruction lesson plans for your classroom.
  • Directive Model
  • Discussion Groups
  • Educational Technology
  • Emotional Support
  • Entrance tickets (also called Admission tickets)
  • Flipping Your Classroom  In a flipped classroom, students are expected to watch a prepared video on their own time (at home) before coming to class.  The video is prepared by the teacher or a third party.  The idea is that students will already have a base knowledge when they enter the classroom.  Class time can be spent focusing more on the students instead of a lecturing teacher.
  • Frayer Model
  • Give One / Get One
  • Grab Bag
  • Group Based Instruction
  • Group Work  Students working together toward some common learning objective.  This is often a class project.  Working in groups is also used as a way to teach students about cooperating with others and sharing responsibilities.
  • Group Writing
  • Information Technology
  • Instructional Scaffolding
  • KWL charts
  • Learning Logs  Students keep track of their own learning.  They write about how they responded to learning challenges given by the teacher.
  • Learning Support
  • Math Multiplication Games  Games designed to help students to learn and use multiplication facts.
  • Metacognition  Thinking about your own thinking processes.  In education, this relates to how a student thinks about their own thinking and learning.
  • Phonics  Connecting sounds with specific letters or groups of letters.  This skill is used for teaching people how to read.
  • Questioning  This is a skill that is learned over time.  An experienced teacher uses questions to direct the class, dig deeper into relevant issues, and to encourage higher level thinking in his or her students.  New educators should make it a priority to learn the best questioning techniques for teachers.  Here is a question that is meant to get you thinking: What is teaching?  (Feel free to answer that one in the comments!!!)
  • Questions to the Teacher  Students submit questions to the teacher related to a specific topic that will be discussed in class (see the link above about questioning techniques).
  • Quick Talk
  • Quick Writes
  • Read and Say Something
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Reciprocal Teaching
  • Sentence Starters
  • Snowball Fights
  • Special Education
  • STEAM  Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math.  Take a peek at some instructional strategies for teaching science.
  • STEM  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
  • Sticky Notes
  • Teaching Strategies  We all need a plan, right?  These are strategies for getting the point of your lessons across to your students as painlessly as possible.  You will need to adjust your approach depending on the audience you are teaching.  Here are some strategies for teaching high school students.
  • Think-Pair-Write
  • Think-Write-Share
  • Transformed Text
  • Whole Brain Teaching
  • Word Splash  A collection of words related to a given topic is presented in a “splash” style to get students thinking about and discussing the topic.
  • Worksheets
  • Writer’s Workshop
  • Written Conversations
  • Writing Prompts
  • Writing Strategies
  • Always More to Come!

Instructional Strategies for Reading Comprehension

Teaching America: A Glimpse at The Profession of Teaching

 

Please share your favorite classroom strategies below in the comments!

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