Giving instructions is an integral part of being a teacher. You are going to be spending a lot of time telling students what to do and when to do it. However, if the students do not understand what you are saying, all your instructions are going to be meaningless. So, how do we make sure that we give instructions to our students that they will actually understand?
Giving instructions in the classroom
Telling students what to do, who do not understand your language can be a ginormous challenge. There is no way around it, and the only way you get good at this, is with practice. The thing to remember most, I think, is to be patient and not get angry with students who do not understand. There will be some students who do not follow because they are not paying attention, and you can discipline them accordingly, but there will also be students who listen to every word you say, and they still do not get it. It is not from a lack of trying, they just simply do not understand your words, and that is okay. Try and take the time to explain again, simpler. If that doesn’t work, try and show them exactly what to do, even if you have to solve the first exercise for them.
The best activity in the world can end up being a waste of time if the students do not understand what it is that they are supposed to do. There are two simple rules to keep in mind when you are giving instructions, and they are:
- Instructions must be comprehensible to the students
- Instructions must be logical
Before you start giving out your instructions, try and ask yourself these questions:
- What should the students do in order to successfully complete this activity?
- What is the most important information that I am trying to convey?
- Which information should come first, which information should come last?
Immediately before starting an activity, after you have given instructions, a way to check the students understanding is by asking a couple of students to tell you, what you want them to do. Another method is to have a couple of students demonstrate what you want them to do.
When you are giving instructions to the students, make sure you are standing in the front of the room, facing the students and not the whiteboard, blackboard, window, computer or your phone. Speak out into the classroom with a slightly elevated voice to make sure they can all hear you. A teacher raising his voice means he is talking to everyone, and that everyone should be listening right now.
Try and give sequential instructions. If you have more than 6 steps for an activity or exercise, break it up into parts of two, do those two and explain the following two steps. You wouldn’t necessarily understand all the steps at once, so maybe they won’t either. But try and give the most important instructions BEFORE handing out any papers or aids or materials to the students. You can be guaranteed that when students get something in their hands, they will start examining it, so make sure they know WHAT to do with the things you give to them BEFORE you give it to them.
After you have explained the steps you want them to follow, always try to demonstrate it yourself. Show the students exactly what you want them to do, and they will get not only an auditory explanation but they can see, physically, what it is you are trying to make them do. Again, if you are doing a game or an activity, do the first part with the students, even if it means solving the first exercise for them. Here, it is also a good idea to use the board to make examples. So if you are trying to have them solve an exercise, show it on the board so they can all see.
When you are finished explaining, look around the room at look at the responses. Did they start? Are they all staring blank back at you, then explain again. Have most started but a few haven’t, help those individually. Try and check if they understand what they need to do. But, especially in Chinese classrooms, avoid asking questions like “Okay?”, “Understand?” and “Clear?” because the students are, in a lack of a better word, programmed to respond immediately with a confirming answer, even if they do not understand. A student can have no clue what he or she is about to do, and if you ask “Okay?”, the student will answer “Okay!” without even blinking.
For giving instructions and in general when talking to students, it can be a good idea to develop a set of gestures that you use to demonstrate certain meanings or phrases that you use a lot. Like a simple gesture for “read”, “write”, “listen”, “speak”, “think” and so on. Try and think of instructions that you are likely to be giving many times in the same class over the course of your lessons and find gestures to match them.