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What is Explicit Instruction?

What is Explicit Instruction Title Image

Explicit instruction is a purposeful way of overtly teaching students.  Explicit in this case means a clear-cut and finite way of teaching that includes both instructional and delivery procedures.   Torgesen (2004) described explicit instruction as “instruction that does not leave anything to chance and does not make assumptions about skills and knowledge that children will acquire on their own.”  Rosenshine (1987) described explicit instruction as “a systematic method of teaching with emphasis on proceeding in small steps, checking for understanding, and achieving active and successful participation by all students.”

Explicit instruction is a series of instructional behaviors that increase the likelihood for student achievement.  Think of it as improving student outcomes with elevating your practice.  The instructional behaviors that we will look at are all about increasing modeling, providing students with frequent opportunities to respond and providing both guided and independent practice.  Instruction is explicit when teachers tell students what they need to to do using direct explanations along with sharing and modeling new knowledge (Flethcer, Lynn, Fuchs & Barnes 2019).

We will explore each of these practices in two way:  individually and in a case study.  We will look at each of the sixteen elements individually and explore each of their attributes.  We will then apply these sixteen elements to a case study of teacher and her instruction in the classroom.

Archer and Hughes have provided access to the first chapter of their book “Explicit Instruction:  Effective and Efficient Teaching.”


Please click on the link to download the chapter which includes a table to the “Sixteen Elements of Explicit Instruction.” 

Chapter One – Explicit Instruction by Archer and Hughes 2011


Let’s get started!

16 Elements of Explicit Instruction Title ImageList of the 16 Elements of Explicit Instruction – Click Here

The sixteen elements of explicit instruction are describe in Explicit Teaching by Anita Archer and Charles Hughes.  These sixteen elements are both accessible to teachers and have research to back their impact on student learning.  We are now going to explore each of the elements and their features individually.



Number 1

Focus instruction on critical content

Teach skills, strategies, vocabulary terms, concepts, and rules that will empower students on the future to match the students instructional needs (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


If you’re teaching a unit about plants, you wouldn’t focus the content on the different types of plants you would focus on the critical features of plants and how they keep a plant alive.  The knowledge of the parts of plants and how a plant stays alive are more critical for students future success than the different types of plants.


Number 2

Sequence skills logically

Consider several curricular variables, such as teaching easier skills before harder skills, teaching high-frequency skills before skills that are less frequent in usage, ensuring mastery of prerequisites to a skill before teaching the skill itself, and separating skills and strategies that are similar and thus may be confusing to students (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


You wouldn’t teach your students how to do double addition with regrouping before teaching them simple addition.  Ensuring that students have mastery of the prerequisite skill of addition will increase the likelihood that students will apply the prerequisite skills to the harder skill of addition with regrouping.


Number 3

Break down complex skills and strategies into smaller instructional units 

Teach in small steps. Segmenting complex skills into smaller instructional units of new material addresses concerns about cognitive overloading, processing demands, and the capacity of students’ working memory. Once mastered, units are synthesized. (i.e. practiced as a whole).  (Archer & Hughes, 2011)


If you are teaching a new science unit on light and sound, you wouldn’t teach all of the content and skills in one day.  You would break apart the content into smaller units, teach them individually and then once all the smaller units are taught you would review the entire unit, with all the content, together.


Number 4

Design organized and focused lessons

Make sure lessons are organized and focused, in order to make optimal use of instructional time. Organized lessons are on topic, well sequenced, and contain no irrelevant digressions (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


When you create a lesson plan, you have the content you are going to teach, the order in which to teach and any modeling, opportunities for students to respond, etc. and a place for the order in which you will teach the content.  Doing this means that your lesson is designed around teaching critical content and focused on how and when you will teach skills.


Number 5

Begin lessons with a clear statement of the lesson’s goals and your expectations

Tell learners clearly what is to be learned and why is important. Students achieve better if they understand the instructional goals and outcomes expected, as well, as how the information or skills presented will help them (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


When you begin a lesson, you wouldn’t just start the lesson without telling students what they will be learning and why.  You also wouldn’t just begin a lesson without telling the students the expectations you have for the lesson.  You would explain to students the skills they will be learning and the reason why they are learning them and what you expect for the lesson you are about to teach.


Number 6

Review prior skills and knowledge before beginning instruction

Provide a review of relevant information. Verify that students have the prerequisite skills and knowledge to learn the skill being taught in the lesson. This element also provides an opportunity to link the new skill with other related skills (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


When you begin your lesson on two-by-two multiplication, you would first ensure that students have the relevant multiplication skills.  If student’s do not have the prerequisite skills, then a review lesson may need to be done first.  Doing so demonstrates to students that basic multiplication skills connect with higher order multiplication skills like two-by-two digit multiplication.


Number 7

Provide step-by-step instruction

Model the skill and clarify the decision-making processed needed to complete a task or procedure by thinking aloud as you perform the skill. Clearly demonstrate the target skill or strategy, in order to show the students a model of proficient performance (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


This portion of the lesson is the “I do, we do, you do.”  Teacher starts by providing extensive modeling of the new skill or content (I do), practice with students with frequent opportunities to respond built in (we do) and finally the student practice both guided and independently (you do).


Number 8

Use clear and concise language

Use consistent, unambiguous wording and terminology. The complexity of your speech (e.g. vocabulary, sentence structure) should depend on students’ receptive vocabulary to reduce possible confusion.


When you are teaching a lesson about weather, you wouldn’t just refer to clouds as clouds.  You would refer to them as cumulonimbus and stratus.  Using concise language for the clouds is part of teaching the content.  When you are teaching, you keep the same wording and terminology through the lesson and subsequent practice students will do.


Number 9

Provide an adequate range of examples and non-examples

In order to establish the boundaries of when and when not to apply a skill, strategy, concept or rule, provide a wide range of examples and non-examples. A wide range of examples illustrating situations when the skill will be used or applied is necessary so that students do not under use it. Conversely, presenting a wide range of non-examples reduces the possibility that students will use the skill inappropriately (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


When teaching students about nouns, creating examples and non-examples will help students differentiate nouns from other parts of speech.  Here is an example and non-example for noun: example would be “a dog is a noun because a dog is a thing” and the non-example would be “fast is not a noun because it is not a person, place, thing or idea.” Providing students with examples and non-examples help students to differentiate between the critical features and variable attributes of content and skills.  To learn more about identifying the critical features and variable attributes, click on this link Creating Examples and Non-Examples for Words.


Number 10

 Provide guided and supported practice 

In order to promote initial success and build confidence, regulate the difficulty of practice opportunities during the lesson, and provide students with guidance in skill performance. When students demonstrate success, you can gradually increase task difficulty as you decrease the level of guidance (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


Once you have taught a lesson on one digit subtraction without regrouping, you would give your students 100 problems to practice by themselves.  Instead, you would provide students with 5 examples to do together with you, then 5 problems to practice with a partner and then 5 problems to practice independently.  Doing this allows students to practice with you, practice with another learner and then practice on their own.


Number 11

Require frequent responses

Plan for a high level of student-teacher interaction via the use of questioning. Having the students respond frequently (i.e. oral responses, written responses or action responses) helps them focus on the lesson content, provides opportunities for student elaboration, assists you in checking understanding and keeps students active and attentive (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


Creating a high level of opportunities to respond during a lesson ensure that students are actively engaged in the learning process and provide frequent opportunities for you as the teacher to monitor student progress during the lesson.  Students can offer an action response, a thumbs up or down, a verbal response, plus or minus for the operation needed, or a written response, using a small white board to write their answer.  Embedding these into your lesson plan ensures that you know when and in what part of the lesson you will be asking students to respond.


Number 12

Monitor student performance carefully 

Carefully watch and listen to students’ responses, so that you can verify student mastery as well as make timely adjustments in instruction if students are making errors. Close monitoring also allows you to provide feedback to students about how well they are doing (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


If you ask a student is a car is a noun and all the students answer no, then you can monitor the students progress and go back and either reteach the content or provide another round of examples and non-examples.  If during guided practice, two students are struggling with identifying nouns on a worksheet, you can pull those two students to reteach or model the content.  Monitoring during lesson instruction and practice guarantees that students are not coming to the end of an entire lesson with not knowing the content fully.


Number 13

Provide immediate affirmative and corrective feedback 

Follow up on students’ responses as quickly as you can. Immediate feedback to students about the accuracy of their responses helps ensure high rates of success and reduces the likelihood of practicing errors (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


Feedback has been proven to be a very effective method in increasing student outcomes (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).  Giving student immediate corrective feedback ensures that they do not come to the end of a lesson not knowing or using skills or strategies incorrectly.  Providing immediate and corrective feedback during both instruction and practice increase students positive outcomes for the lesson.  Providing affirmative feedback is equally as important.  Affirming students learning and providing specific academic and behavioral feedback ensure that students are recognized for their effort and learning during instruction and practice.


Number 14

Deliver the lesson at a brisk pace

Deliver instruction at an appropriate pace to optimize instructional time, the amount of content that can be presented and on-task behavior. Use a rate of presentation that is brisk but includes a reasonable amount of time for students’ thinking/processing, especially when they are learning new material. The desired pace is neither so slow that students get bored nor so quick that they can’t keep up (Archer & Hughes, 2011).



Delivering brisk instruction with frequent OTRs (opportunities to respond) increases the likelihood that students will be engaged and on-task during your lesson.  Using the modeling practice (I do, we do, you do) along with ensuring wait time for students responses allows students to be presented and learn new material more effectively.


Number 15

Help students organize knowledge 

Because many students have difficulty seeing how some skills and concepts fit together, it is important to use teaching techniques that make these connections more apparent or explicit. Well organized and connected information makes it easier for students to retrieve information and facilitate its integration with new material (Archer & Hughes, 2011).



When teaching students about how plants use photosynthesis to feed themselves, connecting the parts of the plant with the function they serve in photosynthesis will help student make the connection that you must have both for a plant to make food.  Connecting relevant content and skills together, ensure that students will be able to identify and retrieve content and skills quicker.


Number 16

Provide distributed and cumulative practice 

Distributed (vs. massed) practice refers to multiple opportunities to practice a skill over time. Cumulative practice is a method for providing distributed practice by including practice opportunities that address both previously and newly acquired skills. Provide students with multiple practice attempts, in order to address issues of retention as well as automaticity (Archer & Hughes, 2011).


Providing students with multiple opportunities to practice both prerequisite and current skills helps to ensure that students will not “lose” skills already learned and have opportunities to practice new skills.  Practice can be distributed before, during or after a lesson and days or weeks after a lesson has been delivered.  Not only are you providing students opportunities to practice, but you can also monitor students understanding and use of skills.


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Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York: Guilford Press.

Fletcher, J., Lyon, G. R., Fuchs, L., & Barnes, M. A. (2019). Learning disabilities: from identification to intervention (pg.99). New York: The Guilford Press.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81–112.

Intensive Intervention Course Content: Features of Explicit Instruction. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from

Rosenshine, B. (1987). Explicit teaching and teacher training. Journal of Teacher Education, 38(3), 34-36

Torgesen, J.K. (2004).  Lessons learned from research on interventions for students who have difficulty learning to read.  In P. McCardle & V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pg. 355-382).  Baltimore, Brookes.

Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Murray, C. S., & Roberts, G. (2012). Intensive interventions for students struggling in reading and mathematics: A practice guide. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction