10 Ways to Teach Students to Follow Directions

Getting your students to follow directions can be a challenge sometimes. It’s even more frustrating when it takes up your limited teaching time. So what can you do, besides have the patience of a saint?

Even a teacher with excellent classroom management will, from time to time, have a student or two who manages to miss the directions provided, or simply doesn’t follow them for whatever reason. Without fail these cute little ones are always quick to say, “What are we doing?” or “I don’t know what to do.” While the first time you hear it you are likely to not have a problem helping out, but after a few times, you’ll be tired of repeating yourself. That’s where these ten ideas come in.

Help your students follow directions with these 10 classroom management tips that are sure to help you be successful while teaching.


1.) When providing directions, always make sure you are using an appropriate voice and message. Use the appropriate voice volume, tone, and even the speed, so your students listen well. If you talk too quietly or quickly, they aren’t going to be able to follow directions. Some schools provide portable microphones that teachers can wear. If you scream or shout at them, they are more likely to resist you and your instructions.

2.) Start each activity off with an anticipatory set or an attention getter.  To start any activity with instructions, catch their attention first. Establish a moment of silence to grab their attention, stand in front, write a word on the board, or use hand gestures.

Once you have their focused eyes, start with an introduction of what you are about to do. Then, one by one, give instructions while checking their reaction. Their faces will let you know if they are confused or if they get it.

3.) Use actions with keywords. When you give instructions, try to create keywords that are equivalent to actions. This is a good strategy for giving verbal instructions. It is like having a “go” signal. When you say the “magic word,” they should be able to do the correct action. You may also use hand gestures or sound signals. For example, tell them to start writing when you put your hand down.

4.) You repeat, they repeat.  Repeat only once and ask them to repeat the directions. Have one, a few, or all of them say the instructions aloud. Give printed out instructions to take home projects or have them copy the instructions in their notes. Repetition is still a key to remembering and this is important in making your students follow directions effectively.

5.) Use visuals to help students follow directions.  Say your instructions with visual aids: PowerPoint presentations, flipcharts, flashcards, or just simply writing the numbered instructions on the board. When they have the instructions right in front of them, it’s easy to point at them.

6.) Break it down!  Support your instructions with examples or simplify them by breaking them down in detail. You may also consider modeling the instructions or role-playing them if needed. Actions speak louder than words, right?

7.) Direct with a Reason.  Some students have a lot of questions, and these questions are usually a “why” question. When providing your instructions include the “why” for doing it. For example, “turn your books to page 4 and find the most difficult word you encounter. After that, be prepared to know what this means and be able to use it in a sentence.”

8.) Check with a question.  Ask your students questions to check to see if they are following directions correctly. Yes, you can still ask the usual “any questions?” but most likely no one will say anything, and as soon as you have them get started, the questions will begin! So instead, ask specific questions, like “which page should we turn to?” or “what should we do after dividing?” Consider asking these other questions too:

  • What are you doing now?
  • Where are you right now?
  • Which one are you doing?
  • What should you be doing right now?

9.) Check with others.  When they first come to you, ask if they have reached out to any of their other classmates. If not yet, remind them of the “3 Before Me” Rule. I always write it on my board – “C3B4 Me” to remind students. I have my students quietly ask a neighbor what the directions were AND then ask two more – even if the first person told them. That way they are confirming the directions are the same from all three people. If all three people don’t know the directions, then the student should come to see me. At that point, I know I need to try another option on this list.

10.) CountdownGive your students a time frame to do something. A simple counting to five while clapping your hands to take out their books or to use a timer on the board to show how long they have left to finish cleaning up. And once they are done, teach them a signal to give if they are finished, like one clap or putting their hands above their book.

The most important tip of all when it comes to getting students to follow directions is to use consistency. The more routine you are with your procedures and directions, the more they will be able to follow them on autopilot.


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