Explicit instruction

Explicit instruction is an evidence-based practice for teaching students with learning disabilities (LDs). This means that a vast amount of research, conducted over many decades, supports the use of this practice with students with LDs. Often in secondary education, this type of explicit teaching can be left by the wayside as it can be assumed that students have acquired important learning skills at this point in their education.


Explicit instruction requires careful planning. Some educators may be surprised at how challenging it can be to develop unambiguous instruction for simple concepts (Stockard, Wood, Coughlin, & Rasplica Khoury, 2018).

Follow the guidelines below and use LD@school’s backward design template to prepare for your explicit instruction lessons.

Click here to access the template Backward Design for Explicit Instruction.

Before your lesson, it is important to verify students’ background knowledge. Some students, particularly those with LDs, may not have consolidated the prerequisite skills and knowledge to be able to keep up with the new material (Hughes et al., 2017). Using diagnostic assessment, or assessment for learning, educators can assess students’ readiness and respond accordingly, for example, by teaching the prerequisite content to a small group of students while others engage in independent work.

Beginning the Lesson

Start each lesson by providing students with a clear outline of the learning goals and your expectations of them. Clearly explain what they will learn, how it is related to past learning, why it is important, and in what contexts they will be able to use the new skill or knowledge.

Next, activate students’ prior knowledge to bridge their prior knowledge to the new content to be covered in the lesson (Agrawal & Morin, 2016). It can be helpful to provide students with a graphic organizer to help logically organize the information and see the relationships among concepts. The use of graphic organizers is another evidence-based practice for students with LDs, and has been associated with improved vocabulary, comprehension, and inferential knowledge (Dexter & Hughes, 2011).

For more information, click here to access the article Graphic Organizers.

Delivering the Lesson

Stage 1: Modelling

During the modelling stage of the lesson, the educator performs a “show & tell” of the skill being taught.

Show by modelling the skill that students will need to master, following the chunking and sequencing that you determined in the planning phase. Provide a wide variety of examples to help students understand the various contexts in which the target skill can be applied. Provide a handful of counterexamples as well to help students understand the common pitfalls or limits of the concept (Alphonse & Leblanc, 2014).

Tell by thinking aloud while you perform the task, explicitly stating the what, why, how, when and where. Use vocabulary that is:

  • Clear: Use words appropriate to students’ developmental stage and comprehension level.
  • Concise: Avoid unnecessarily wordy or tangential explanations, which can be particularly difficult for students with LDs to follow.
  • Consistent: Repeat similar terminology throughout the lesson to improve students’ familiarity with the key words.

(Hughes et al., 2017)

Stage 2: Guided Practice

During the modelling stage of the lesson, students engage in purposeful practice opportunities of the target skill. Throughout this stage, provide appropriate levels of scaffolding through physical, visual, or verbal prompts. What is considered appropriate levels of scaffolding will be different for each student and will depend on the amount of time they have been practicing. Adjust accordingly, gradually reducing scaffolding as students become more proficient.

At this stage, students may work independently, in dyads, or in groups, each of which offers different opportunities for scaffolding from the teacher and from peers. Whatever the grouping, remember that practice is most effective when followed by affirmative or corrective feedback (Hattie & Yates, 2014), and so this must be considered in planning guided practice opportunities.

Stage 3: Independent Practice

Finally, during independent practice, students practice the target skill without the prompts that were available during the guided practice stage, giving them the opportunity to consolidate their understanding and ultimately achieve mastery of the skill.

Although students practice independently at this stage, educators should still closely monitor students in order to assess their use of the skills and progress toward mastery. Educators should be particularly attentive to students with LDs, who may require additional time at the previous stages (Alphonse & Leblanc, 2014).