Worksheets including instructions with image on each step

Give clear directions

teaching practice

For student year

Early years

Helps students to

  • know what is expected
  • perform tasks effectively
  • Helps teachers to

  • use less verbal repetition
  • promote independence
  • facilitate performance
  • Summary

    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. 


    How the practice works

    Watch this video to learn more about this practice.

    Duration: 2:44

    Preparing to teach

    Directions are given all the time in teaching and often it seems like a stream of constant directions - for both the teacher and the student. 

    Good directions need to be clear and they need thinking time which means we need to pause.

    Clear directions:
    • 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.

    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.

    In the classroom

    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.

    Practice toolkit

    Practice implementation planner template

    We know that in the busyness of teaching it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:

    • Guidance around goal setting
    • Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
    • Prompting questions

    Implementation planner template

    Implementation planner with examples

    Set your professional learning goal for:

    Give clear directions
    You can set and save your goal for inclusive practices using inclusionED. Saved goals will appear in your profile. Here you can access, refine and review your goal easily.

    Benefits of goal setting

    Setting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
    How to set goals
    The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.

    SMART goals refers to goals that are:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time-phased
    Read more about Improving teaching practices.


    Practice Brief - Give Clear Directions

    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 

    Related Practices

    This practice is from the core research project