6 week challenge: Week 4 – Giving Instructions


April 5, 2013 by gemmalunn

How to give instructions always raises a lot of questions and points to consider:

  • Teacher talk i.e. how to get the balance between grading your language and still exposing students to ‘real’ English.
  • Do instructions provide useful language for students?
  • In my case, should I just let my Korean co-teacher give all the instructions in Korean and just focus on the English students will use?
  • What’s the best way to give instructions?

These are all points I explored this week as well as thinking about “what to include, exclude, what ‘accompaniments’ are valuable, and what sequence is effective” (1)

This week, as with most, I gave a variety of instructions – imperative instructions, basic instructions, unnecessary instructions, a set of short instructions for a game and a set of longer instructions for a more complicated game.

I never write down instructions when lesson planning. I do however summarise them on ppt slides, either in word format or using pictures if possible and consider how I will deliver them.

I recorded and transcribed 3 different sets of instructions: short instructions for a listening activity, brief instructions for a simple game and more detailed game instructions. As with other weeks I used the ELC to reflect on these and make improvements. For the purpose of this blog I’m just going to discuss the set of longer instructions as these are the ones that needed most thought and experimentation.

The lesson

With grade 1s (11 – 12 years old) I used a battleships type game (see picture below). The instructions involved how to set up the game and how to play. I didn’t inform my co-teacher that I was focusing on giving instructions this week but due to the close working relationship we have she tends to follow my lead and we experimented with a variety of ways regardless!

Likes and interests board game

1st class

I explained the whole game using visual instructions on the ppt and modeling a question and answer with 2 students. My co-teacher then explained the game in Korean; she had given all the students boards whilst I was giving instructions so she could use these to highlight the steps (good idea!).

Pros – students hear all the instructions all the way through in English.

I graded my language.

I repeated key points (I think this is a pro!)

Visuals helped engage students.

I used modeling.

Cons – once students saw the example board on the ppt they started trying to read all the boxes rather than listening to me.

This way of giving instructions causes some students to switch off when I’m speaking as they know they’ll hear the Korean straight after.

2nd class

I said an instruction then my co-teacher translated this into Korean.

Pros – lower level students were more focused as it wasn’t just a long speech in English.

Cons – do students focus on my English or just wait for the Korean?

3rd class

I gave out the boards before I started explaining the game. I hadn’t done this before as I thought it would distract the students.

You can listen to the recording here: 


My co-teacher did give some instructions in Korean after me but as you can hear students are already starting to play the game as they understood my instructions – yay!

Pros – this way of giving instructions is like total physical response. Hopefully the language will stick more as students are instantly responding to instructions and in this way lower level students may also associate some words they don’t understand with the actions.

It saved time.

A lot less translation was needed.

Cons – This way of giving instructions was noisier as students are doing things as I tell them and not just sitting and listening to me, but it’s a good noise as students are discussing what to do!


In this post (and in fact with this whole challenge) I’m not aiming to reveal a full proof, 100% guaranteed new way of delivering instructions. What I’m trying to do is use my lessons and my students to explore my teaching and analyse how effective it is in my classroom in order to make my own conclusions about learning and teaching. Obviously some (or possibly most) of these will be in line with what’s written in the books but at least now I have my own proof.

 “If he [a teacher] is willing to create a new perspective on what he has habitually considered real…he will be continuously engaged in interpreting a reality forever new; he will feel more alive than he ever has before” (2)

 1 Classroom Observation Tasks, Wajnryb, R 1992

2. M. Greene (1973:270) quoted in Language Teaching Awareness: A Guide to Exploring Beliefs and Practices, Gebhard, J & Oprandy, R 1999.

Next week I’m going to turn the focus to my students and record them in order to find out more about student interactions.





One thought on “6 week challenge: Week 4 – Giving Instructions

  1. jonnylewington says:

    Hi! I’ve started following your blog.

    Instructions are a sticky issue, especially with young learners. They may not necessarily have the cognitive ability to digest complicated instructions even in their own language. For many activities with younger students (11 and under), I do it as a whole class first (two teams, for example, for battleship type games) and then in pairs.

    Another trick these kinds of instructions is to ask a strong student to translate them for you (and ask your co teacher to check the translation!). This rewards students for listening and gives stronger students a reason to pay attention rather than just wait for the korean!

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