Give clear directions

Early years

Resources are provided with this practice



In busy classrooms, all students need clear and explicit directions in order to respond readily and appropriately. Challenges with social communication, interaction, expressive and/or receptive language can impact students’ ability to focus on instructions and understand what is required of them.

  • are short, specific statements 
  • start with a verb 
  • tell students what they are expected to do 
  • tell students how they are expected to do it 
  • are followed by a 5-10 second pause by you, the teacher.
By pausing you provide:
  • students with the time needed to process the direction
  • yourself with an opportunity to check for attention and understanding. 

This practice will help students to


follow instructions

This practice will help teachers to

give instructions

check for understanding

facilitate student performance

How the practice works

Apply this practice with your students

The tabs below provide information to support your implementation of this practice. The sequence aligns with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership's High-Quality Professional Learning Cycle. You can find out more about high quality professional learning in the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

A. Plan

To prepare appropriate adjustments to the directions you give, it is important that you understand the communication strengths and needs of your students. Particularly relevant is knowing which students are:

  • visual learners 

or have learning needs that include: 

  • auditory processing & planning 
  • organising 
  • task initiation.

Directions provide students with the information needed to complete the required task:
who? — what? — when? — where? — why? — how? 

When giving instructions, do not give all of the information at once! Chunk your instructions into smaller segments that are:

  • short
  • specific
  • start with a verb.

Choose a verbal and/or non-verbal cue to gain attention e.g., “1, 2, 3… listen to me” while holding up three fingers.  Choose one that matches your style – it can become one of your teaching ‘signatures’.

When giving directions, you should refer to whole-class, or individualised visual supports. These will support students’ processing and task initiation.

Prepare these ahead of lessons, have them in place and within easy reach for reference:

  • rules 
  • schedules
  • routines
  • written lesson plans
  • task sequences 
  • organisational checklists.

Be aware of your own communication style; directions should be short, specific, and start with a verb. You may need to write out and/or rehearse optimal ways of delivering clear, short instructions.

When giving instructions, use non-verbal cues in a consistent way. Give directions:

  • from the same place 
  • using the same focused facial expression
  • using the same posture e.g., at the whiteboard with arms not folded.

It works better if: 

  • you refer to visual materials
  • you say “thanks” rather than “please” at the end of directions
  • you always give directions from the same space within the classroom (non-verbal cue)
  • you separate instructions from curriculum/content talk.

It doesn’t work if:

  • teachers give directions without gaining student attention
  • teachers continue talking while waiting and scanning for student attention
  • teachers do not reference visual materials.

Practice Brief - Give Clear Directions

B. Set goals

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Session title

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C. Apply the practice

Step 1. Check

  • Make sure other distractions are reduced wherever possible.
  • Minimise competing demands on students’ attention.

Step 2. Gain attention

  • Use the attention-gaining strategy you have chosen e.g. "1, 2, 3… listen to me."
  • Wait.
  • Scan for attention.

Step 3. Give direction

  • Deliver the direction.
  • Use a firm, clear, and calm voice (and not too fast).
  • Refer to whole-class and/or individualised visual materials.
  • Wait.
  • Scan for understanding. 

Step 4. Scaffold further

  • Prompt student to begin following the direction.
  • Refer again to whole-class and/or individualised visual support.

Step 5. Acknowledge

  • Provide feedback to students who followed, or tried hard to follow, the direction.

Step 6. Review

  • Check if supplementary visual supports (e.g., “first-then” cards or checklists) will support students to focus on and follow directions as independently as possible.

D. Reflect and refine

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Reflect on your student goals

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Reflect on your teacher goals

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E. Share

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Your student goals and reflections

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Your teacher goals and reflections

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Further reading

Materials informing practice 

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning [CSEFEL]. (2013). Inventory of practice for supporting social-emotional competence

Working with Autism: Giving Directions to Children 

Similar practices

This practice is from the core research project