Using Explicit Teaching

A while back I was sent to a conference that all teachers in my district had to attend. I was not exactly thrilled about going because it was on explicit teaching. I already knew what that was and felt I would be wasting my time. The conference was by Anita Archer and I had a bit of an attitude when I attended. I’ll be honest, I pulled out papers to grade thinking that I would be bored the majority of the conference. It turned out to be one of the best conferences I attended. There is so much more to explicit teaching than one realizes.

What is explicit teaching and how to do you use this teaching method in the classroom so that it is an effective method? Check out this blog post where I walk you through everything you need to know to help you make explicit teaching successful in your classroom!

Understanding Explicit Teaching

What is Explicit Teaching?

Explicit Teaching is a very clear and direct, results-oriented, kind of approach to teaching. It gives the students a clear understanding of what they will be able to learn at the end of a lesson. Teachers using this method make use of “stages” or “scaffolds” to achieve their lesson objectives. It is very specific so students have an idea of what they will be learning. Students are also closely monitored through the entire process so teachers know if they are on the right track.

Explicit Teaching is one of the most engaging approaches of teaching. It makes use of all the students’ senses and helps students become active in the lessons. Teachers that use Explicit Teaching are often enthusiastic, lively, and very supportive of their students’ progress. You also encourage students when doing the activities, which also aides in their active engagement.

In this type of teaching, students learn in small steps. Since explicit teaching is not about memorization tricks, the lessons are divided into small, quick-to-learn topics and activities. The way to achieve learning is to do progressive activities to learn the lesson. You need to know your students’ learning abilities and attention spans so you can adjust your activities to each of your students.

It allows teachers to use multiple ways to teach. You can combine techniques like presenting models, using PowerPoint presentations, charts, cards, games, etc. However, they must be geared towards an objective or goal.

In Explicit Teaching, teachers do not let students just “do”. In every activity, you should closely monitor your students’ progress. In this way, students are properly and appropriately guided, which means using the right activities based on the student’s developmental abilities (including comprehension level and attention span). If you imagine hovering, that’s more like it but with less interruption and less negative feedback. And once your students have more understanding of the lesson, you can let them perform independent activities.

Ultimately, Explicit Teaching wants students to completely understand concepts, execute the learning correctly, and be creative with the use of what they have learned.

Scaffolding during Explicit Teaching

What are the Scaffolds?

In my post, Are you scaffolding or Rescuing, I talk about what scaffolding is and how to determine the proper level of scaffolding you should be doing in the classroom. There are several supporting levels in Explicit Teaching. There are as many as 20 levels in detail but I can sum it up for you in 5 levels:

  1. Prior Knowledge

Your students should know what you are going to do for the day. Let them be introduced to the topic and activities you are going to give them. In this way, you are already preparing your students’ minds, so everyone is on the right page.

Present some questions to know if your students have any background knowledge on your topic. In this way, you may teach definitions, terms, formulas, and other pre-requisites to the lesson before starting it. Your students will be able to develop a sense of belongingness and understanding with the lesson instead of being lost.

  1. Instructions

Now your students know what you are about to tackle; it is time for you to give clear and direct instructions on how to learn the lesson of the day.

Your instructions should be detailed and progressive. Give instructions with a visual aid one-by-one. In this way, you can clearly explain the steps and your students can follow easily. After explaining one step, let them try it, and then move on to the next with the same explanation method (for instance, teaching it with a visual aid).

  1. Perform

If they have already learned the instructions clearly, it’s time to know if they can perform the instructions correctly. Give them a series of activities that progress as they learn. The progressive activities should be higher in difficulty so you can challenge your students’ abilities and understanding. Also, consider including a performance activity. They can perform individually, by pair, or by group.

  1. Close Monitoring

Hover over your students while they work to see their progress. You can also try to ask questions or give more examples and time if you see them having some difficulty with some activities. You can also consider changing the activity or moving a bit backward if it’s just too hard. Sometimes an in-between step is needed.

Open yourself to a consistent inquiry of your students so they can approach you without hesitation. You can also present a model, that they can use as a guide, taped to the board. In this way, you may help them find their own mistakes. For example, if what they are doing does not look like the example on the board, then they know they will need to correct their activity.

  1. Feedback and Assessment

Letting the students know how they perform is critical. Use methods that will help them feel good about their performance.

Be constructive and objective with your feedback. Ask them questions to help them find out their mistakes. Like “is this number bigger than this? Then what do you think we should do?” Feedback is critical and you can learn all about 5 tips I give to help you give effective feedback here.

Use quizzes and homework to assess their understanding. This assessment method can also help you know if you need to adjust your activities to a more difficult level or retain the simplicity before moving on.

If you want to learn more scaffolding strategies that apply for any content area, head to my Scaffolding Strategies blog post.

How to Use Explicit Teaching

To use Explicit Teaching, it will start with your lesson planning. Make an objective-type kind of lesson plan instead of topic-type lesson plan. Here’s an example:





Students should be able to add similar fractions

Adding similar fractions


Students should be able to write their own paragraph

Learning how to write a paragraph


Students should be able to read words that start with letter “A”

Reading the letter A

ScienceStudents should be able to know the difference of tsunami and tidal wave


Students should be able to know why there is a tsunami

Students should be able to give examples of other water-based disasters

Water-related disasters

This kind of lesson plan will be able to help you measure what your students should actually learn at the end of the lesson or activity you are going to give them. Just like the approach, your lesson plan needs to be direct and clear. Then, when monitoring your students’ progress, you can just create a checklist and check the ones that have been mastered from this list.

Next, are your “scaffolds” of activities. Structure your activities in the order of their level of difficulty. Your instructions should be well-presented and easy to understand. Consider also the time you allot with your activities: from instruction to assessment and additional activities (if necessary). Make the additional activities fit each of your student’s needs so you know when to spend more time. Also, mix some activities up so you have some that are individual, in partners, and by the group to have a little variety. Your goal is to lock your students’ attention to the lesson. You should maintain their interest as the activities progress. Think about each activity you are planning to use and determine if it is the most effective way to learn that lesson.

Finally, assess. Use quizzes, homework and even consider letting them tell you in their own words. Ask them questions and let them answer in a chorus or have them write down what they think they have learned in the lesson for the day.

How Effective is Explicit Teaching?

Because you are giving direct, concise, and simple ways to learn the lesson, there is often less room for confusion or misunderstandings.

There is also a higher chance that your students can learn quickly with the little steps they do to learn the lesson. This also helps students begin to feel successful and confident! If you have presented the instructions clearly, your students can follow easily, too.

Your close monitoring and constructive feedback can help them find their way out of mistakes and troubles. And eventually, they can develop self-realization and independence along the way.

Does it Fit You and Your Students?

Explicit Teaching can overlap other teaching approaches and methods. This is just one of the ways to effectively teach a lesson and can be combined with other methods, too.

It also lets you be more structural and systematized. It helps your students learn the lesson with small, progressive steps. It requires you to be concise yet brings in more participation from your students.

Now that you know about Explicit Teaching, you can evaluate your methods and adopt this results-oriented approach. Give it a try and you may be able to enjoy it as much as your students.

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