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by Jean Roger Alphonse and Raymond Leblanc

Image of a teacher and a student reading

A Description of the Strategy

Explicit instruction is based on research studies relating to effective teaching practices. This research aimed to identify educational interventions that were the most effective in supporting the learning of students with learning disabilities (LDs) in the core subjects of reading, writing and mathematics. Explicit instruction involves using highly structured and sequenced steps to teach a specific skill. With this approach, the educator intentionally aims to teach students with LDs using a series of actions in three main stages: preparing for the lesson, interacting with students over the course of the lesson, consolidating the lesson taught (Gauthier, Bissonnette & Richard, 2013).

It is important that educators take the time to prepare their lessons in advance. During this stage, they should reflect on the anticipated learning outcomes, on the educational activities to be performed, in the execution of the various stages, on the required materials, on the estimated time required for each step, and how the anticipated learning outcomes will be evaluated. Ultimately, the teacher must specify the learning objectives they will pursue with their students with LDs: that which drives planning activities in reverse (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2010), which consists of determining: the anticipated results, what constitutes as evidence of learning and educational activities. It is thus apparent that the explicit determination of learning outcomes and evidence of learning in advance will help to facilitate the learning of students with LDs.

Over the course of the lesson, the implementation of explicit instruction, when planning for educational activities should be adopted: the educator demonstrates to students with LDs what they must do (modeling the practice); then guides students through a group activity (guided or directed practice) so that students have the necessary skills to complete the task, and then the students practice the task independently (autonomous practice).

Research Results

Bissonnette et al. (2010) published an article in The Review of Applied Research on Learning (translated title) entitled What Teaching Strategies are Effective in Promoting Fundamental Learning for Students with Learning Disabilities at the Elementary Level? The article was a meta-synthesis that aimed to identify strategies that promoted reading, writing and math skills for students with LDs who were at risk for failure. The meta-synthesis grouped results reported in 11 meta-analyses, from 362 research studies over a period of 40 years, involving 30 000 students with LDs at risk for failure, both at the elementary and secondary levels. These studies were carried out using experimental designs that permitted the researchers to establish comparisons and to draw reliable conclusions (Bissonnette et al., 2010).

The results of the various meta-analyses showed that structured and guided teaching, also known as explicit instruction, were those which favoured the learning of fundamental skills in reading, writing and math for students with LDs at risk for failure at the elementary level. Bissonnette et al. (2010) concluded that explicit instruction should be utilized as the basis for teaching reading, writing and math, which could also include steps for reciprocal teaching. Reciprocal teaching is an interactive verbal technique where students with LDs work in small groups and take turns acting as the teacher. An example of this would be in order to explain and apply the four strategies which result in readers who are able to understand a text, which includes: predicted, questioning, clarifying and summarizing. It is therefore interesting to see explicit instruction used in combination with reciprocal teaching, especially during the guided practice stage.

Additional educational supports also support additional effective methods for supporting students with LDs, according to these researchers. These include tutoring, information available to educators and students with LDs and communications with parents, which all constitute additional educational support mechanisms that can help improve the performance of students with LDs in the areas of reading, writing and math. In addition, these methods can be used in tandem with explicit instruction and reciprocal teaching.

Finally, according to Bissonnette et al. (2010), the effects obtained using a constructivist approach for students with LDs on reading, writing and math achievement were below the minimum level chosen for this study. Consequently, the authors do not recommend this teaching strategy when there are other educational strategies that have proven to be much more effective, including explicit instruction and reciprocal teaching.

Implementing the Strategy: The Three Steps of Explicit Instruction

According to Gauthier, Bissonnette and Richard (2013), explicit instruction can be divided into three sequential steps: modeling, guided or directed practice, and independent practice. The modeling step promotes the understanding of the learning objectives for students with LDs. Guided practice allows students to practice using the technique and to consolidate their understanding through group work. Independent practice provides students with learning opportunities to acquire and master the target skills.

  • Explicit instruction begins with modeling. This step consists of the teacher demonstrating a task for students and describing exactly what is being done as it is being done. The goal of the modeling step is for the teacher to explicitly state the what, why, how, when and where of what they are doing. The information is presented in small units, in a graduated sequence, usually ranging from simple to more complex, not only to meet the working memory limitations of students with LDs, but also to enhance the connections between new and prior knowledge. The teacher can then use examples of what to do and what not to do to more directly highlight the skills they are trying to teach to students with LDs, to facilitate their understanding of the learning objectives and thus improve the quality of modeling.
  • After modeling, the next step of explicit instruction is guided practice, also referred to as directed practice, which allows students with LDs (with the proper supports) to succeed in achieving the desired learning objectives. It also helps students to gain the confidence and motivation necessary to continue their learning. This step is conducive to group work activities, which gives the teacher the opportunity to circulate and confirm that all students with LDs have understood the lesson. It also allows students not only the opportunity to try the tasks that were modeled, but ensures that they receive feedback on their finished work. Guided practice helps students with LDs to “verify, adjust, consolidate and to deepen their understanding of the learning taking place, by connecting their new learning with that which is already present in their long term memories” (translated from Gauthier et al., 2004, p.28).
  • Finally, independent practice allows students with LDs to put themselves in new learning situations where they can apply what they have understood from the modeling and guided practice steps. This final learning step provides students with LDs an opportunity to test out their understanding in order to obtain the highest level of mastery possible, with the goal of consolidating their learning. This step also identifies any students with LDs who may be in need of some additional support before they move on.

Additional Resources

This video from the Pennsylvania Department of Education describes what explicit instruction is and how it can be implemented the classroom.

Click here to visit the ldonline website and read an article entitled, "Direct, Explicit Comprehension Strategy Instruction".


Bissonnette, S., Richard, M., Gauthier, C. & Bouchard, C. (2010). Quelles sont les stratégies d’enseignement efficaces favorisant les apprentissages fondamentaux auprès des élèves en difficulté de niveau élémentaire? Résultats d’une méga-analyse. Revue de recherche appliquée sur l’apprentissage, 3 (1), 1-35. Accessed from: http://www.ccl-cca.ca/pdfs/JARL/Jarl-Vol3Article1.pdf

Gauthier, C., Mellouki, M., Simard, D., Bissonnette, S. et Richard, M. (2004). Interventions pédagogiques efficaces et réussite scolaire des élèves provenant de milieux défavorisés. Une revue de littérature. Rapport de recherche préparé pour le Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture. Québec, Québec: Université Laval.

Gauthier, C., Bissonnette,S. & Richard, M (2013). Enseignement explicite et la réussite des élèves. La gestion des apprentissages. Québec, Canada : Éditions du Renouveau Pédagogique Inc. (ÉRPI).

Tomlinson, C. A. & McTighe, J. (2010).  Intégrer la différenciation pédagogique et la planification  à rebours. Montréal, Canada : Chenelière Éducation.

horizontal line tealJean Roger Alphonse is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, with a concentration in Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. He also teaches in the pre-service training program at the University of Ottawa. In terms of research, his areas of interest are teaching and learning strategies, differentiated learning, and coaching and support for teachers

 Dr. Raymond LeBlanc is vice-dean of research and professional development and professor in the Faculty of Education and a member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of Ottawa.  His research domain is special education, socio-cultural approach and differential teaching.  His research and scholarly activities are in ASD, developmental disabilities, learning styles, language and communication, learning disabilities, qualitative methodologies, cultural psychology and quality of life. He is co-director of a collection in neuropsychology and special education which has published 26 books.