The Art of Giving Effective Directions
Directions are used for transitions from one activity to another. If instructions are unclear or ambiguous students may feel fear, threat and stress.
When introducing a new activity, it is better to raise anticipation with the physiology of wanting or waiting with positive expectancy. This will increase student’s mental arousal and lower stress levels. Even in a fairly conventional learning situation, it is surprising how many directions are needed within a single session. Taking out a pen, locating a page of text, or talking in a small group are examples of simple student tasks that requite directions.
The desire is to move as efficiently and rapidly as possible to the next task at hand, with a minimum amount of repetition on the part of the teacher.
Lack of clarity in directions presents a variety of problems. Students who are unclear about what is required of them may hesitate to involve themselves for fear of doing something wrong. They may quickly wander off-task or they may believe they are on-task, but end up spending precious classroom time on an inconsequential tangent.
When giving instructions you can cause clarity or chaos. Unclear directions are a speed bump that hinders smooth progress of learning fluency. But well-spoken directions will create a clear path for successful learning. Here are some ways to give directions that will save you time, help students learn, reduce student’s stress and make work easier for you.
If you have ever heard the questions: ‘Could you repeat that?’ or ‘What are we supposed to do?’ you may want to try these suggestions.
1. Give directions one at a time
How many directions can students remember? Some primary and secondary teachers assert that even young audiences can easily manage four or five directions. Others believe that three is the maximum number possible for students to remember, regardless of age. For the purpose of this discussion, it is suggested that, where possible, teachers will achieve the maximum level of success if they give one direction at a time. They must then wait until it has been accomplished before moving to the next direction.
2. Give directions when they can see you (“Eyes on me”)
In general, being able to see the teacher strongly supports students’ ability to understand and recall instructions and directions. Have students look up and wait until everyone’s attention is focused before giving another direction.
3. Give directions with the three C’s
Choice of words, tone of voice, pacing, use of pauses, eye contact, and physical gestures are all focused on the key idea. High levels of congruence communicate command in an undemanding way. Giving clear instructions allows students to feel confident knowing what is expected of them, and encourages them to involve themselves more freely in subsequent activities.
Concise: Avoid unnecessary words and phrases. Reduce verbage and you will reduce confusion. Excess words cause verbal static and leads students to tune out. Directions are more effective when they are presented in a clean and clear-cut manner. Say only what is necessary, and avoid getting caught in repeating words or phrases that fail to add anything to the communication. Examples of excess words are: “I want to…”; “I’m going to…”; “What I’d like you to do is…”; “What we are going to do is…” “OK, now …”
Check (step check): A step check is a way to visually verify whether or not the students are keeping pace with the directions or the information being presented.
4. Give directions using the four part sequence
Time frame: Establish a time frame when the movement is going to occur. If not given, some will begin to take action prematurely.
Trigger: Imbed a trigger that will signal the start of the movement.
Direction: Give the directions clearly and concisely.
Pull the trigger: Say the trigger word to signal the movement.
“In 10 seconds (pause)”
“When I say go (pause)”
“Move the chairs to the outside edges of the room (pause)”
5. Give the Directions with the Secret of S.A.T.
Not force or demand……..not imply or hope…. but S.A.T.
Suggest, Ask or Tell
Suggest: A statement is made in a way that illuminates preferred options for the learners.
“Many of you might want to use colored pens today for your notes.”
Ask: The request is made in a way that encourages learners to follow through. There is some perceived choice in this method.
“Could you please put all your things away?”
Tell: Give them a direct statement in an expectant tone. Students have a minimal perceived choice and are strongly encourage to act.
“Please stand up!”
6. Give directions followed by transition music (if desired)
(Quick tempo or slow tempo depending on the desired state)