Helping the Student Having Difficulty Following Directions

Carrying out oral directions is an essential classroom skill. It is important in the ability to learn in a group, where little or no individualized support can be available, to follow along, and comprehending. Low achieving students often become frustrated by following directions. Their difficulty carrying on instructions negatively impact their performance in school. Cognitively, following directions require for the student to be able to:

1. Attend to a specific task, and to the order in which the steps are to be performed.

2. Distinguish between what is key information and what is less important.

3. Integrate the information, and finally, to

4. Organize and execute the task.

For a student with weak auditory and/or weak language processing skills, following directions can be intimidating. For those students, you can scaffold the task by using alternative teaching techniques such as:

Provide Variety.

To increase understanding, present your directions in a variety of ways, e.g. verbal, written, demonstrating, and/or in a pictorial way.

When giving oral directions, write the key words, phrases, or list of steps on the chalkboard.

Have the student write one keyword for each oral step.

Reinforce the directions given orally with visual input. Point out to the section on the visual (book, picture, chart, overhead projector, or board) where the relevant information is shown.

Have the student visualize herself carrying out the directions.

If the student has difficulty taking in auditory and visual information simultaneously, tell her to look first at the visual display, and then guide her to the specific part of the display which you will be speaking. Give her at least five seconds to look and study the visual display, and only then deliver a brief oral explanation. Finally, direct the student to look again at the visual display.

Although the student may be able to repeat the directions verbatim, in some cases, she must be shown what to do in a step-by-step fashion.

Simplify the Information.

Use shorter sentences including only the pertinent information.

Rephrase your directions in order to increase understanding. You can use synonyms or easier words.

Give the student one step or direction to perform at a time. Allow the student to complete the step before adding a new one. For example, "Get your math workbook." (Student does.) "Turn to page 157." (Student does.) "Do problems six through twelve."

Use Pauses and Signals.

Deliver the instruction in smaller parts, one at a time, which pauses between the parts.

Use planned delays. Have the student wait for a signal or cue word, for example, "Start," "Now," or "Go" to carry out the directions.

Develop a previously established signal like clapping hands or turning the lights off and on to use every time you are about to give verbal directions.

Gain the child's attention first (e.g. call his name or touch him on the shoulder) and only then give the directions.

Provide Extra Auditory Support.

Use your voice for emphasis, increasing the volume on ordinal numbers or other key words or steps.

Use redundant preparatory statements, e.g. "Next, we are going to learn about the parts of a tree. We will read pages 22 and 23, study the diagram on page 23, and then complete the matching exercise at the bottom of page 23. So, next, we will read about the parts of a tree, study a diagram, and then do a matching exercise."

Ask the student to orally repeat, or to paraphrase the directions, so that you can clarify any steps omitted or confused.

Sequence the Steps.

After you give the directions, ask, "How many things do you need to do?"

To help the student in correctly sequencing the directions, use ordinal numbers (first, second, and third), with pauses in-between to give the child time to process the oral information.

Hold one finger, then two fingers, and then three fingers to visually reinforce the sequence.

Have the student count the number of steps, telling you how many, and then repeat each step as she holds up a finger; one step to finger.

Make sure you give the directions in the same order they must be carried out.

Train the Student in Following Complex Directions.

Enhance the student's ability to carry out multiple steps auditory directions by increasing the number of key elements he must pay attention to. For example,

a) Color the triangle.

b) Color the smallest triangle.

c) Color the first triangle yellow.

d) Color the largest triangle with blue stripes.

Give training in carrying multistep directions. Start with one command and then add to it. For example, "Give Mark a ruler." "Give Mark a ruler and Stacey a sharpener." "Give Mark a ruler, give Stacey a sharpener, and then, give me a pencil."

Provide ample training in carrying out conditional directions. Examples: "If the light is off, clap twice." "If 17 plus six is less than 28, draw a square on your paper." "If Mexico is in Europe, fold your paper in half."


* Teachers can help students understand directions by providing variety.

* Teachers can rephrase to simplify the oral information.

* Teachers can reinforce the instructions given using extra auditory support.

To continue reading teaching strategies, click on my name (Carmen Y. Reyes) at the top of this article

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