Gradual Release: I Do, We Do, You Do

I Do:

“If the skill you are teaching consists of steps to follow or actions to complete, the best way to begin instruction is to show students what to do.” (Explicit Instruction, p29). When you are modeling a skill, it is important to be clear and concise. Focus on the most important aspects. Also, here is not the time to give non-examples. Giving non-examples can be very useful, but they are not to be used here as they complicate the process.

Design the “I do” portion of your lesson with the idea that students will visualize your verbalization as they perform the skill. So it must be simple if it is to be useful. Once students demonstrate proficiency in the skill, it is the teacher’s responsibility to shift to guided practice. Make the students’ responsible for their own learning. Do this by involving them in the modelling. Ask questions that require students to apply the knowledge they learned in your demonstration/modeling. Note, this portion is still teacher-led. The students are participating, but the teacher is the one “doing” the work. The students are answering questions about the content but not performing the skill.

This step (involving students) is needed because students struggle to just sit and listen for long periods of time. This helps students to be engaged in the lesson by having them recall critical content. It also allows for the teacher to verify understanding.

We Do:

The primary purpose of this stage is to both build off of the teacher model and increase the likelihood of student success. Verbal prompts make up a key component of this stage. These prompts include

  1. Directives (the teacher says, “do this”)
  2. Questions (the teacher asks, “How do we do this?”)
  3. Reminders (the teacher says, “remember to do ‘this’ step)

Each ‘step’ of the verbal prompt involves less and less scaffolding. When a teacher says “do this” it is nearly impossible for a student to make a mistake because they are being told what to do at each step. When a teacher asks questions, they are having students recall the steps that make up the skill (practicing more independently). Finally, a reminder can simply be a verbal announcement to ‘remind’ students about critical parts of the skill.

As students gain proficiency, the teacher again removes supports. By removing support, the teacher is enabling students to gain confidence in using the skill. The teacher is also able to provide immediate feedback by walking around the room and observing/interacting with students.

You Do:

The purpose and focus of independent practice is to see if students can apply the skill without any prompts. It is important to note that the initial independent practice should be done in a whole class setting, not as homework. The reason for this is to allow for corrective feedback. Practice makes permanent, so you want perfect practice to make ‘perfect’ permanent. In order to prevent/reduce imperfect practice, have students only answer one problem at a time at first. In between each problem, you (the teacher) can go over the steps and the answer. This allows students to see and fix their mistakes, and it gives the teacher another opportunity to informally assess their students and provide feedback.

Once a majority of the students are able to consistently answer questions correctly, you can give students more leeway to take on the work at their own pace, focusing on the few students who still need verbal prompts (questions/reminders).


Note: “I do, We do, You do” is not a procedure to follow blindly. The appropriate time to spend on each step depends on the complexity of the skill and the background knowledge your students have.


Unlock Student Achievement, Teach Tier 2 Words

Many of the vocabulary words I teach in science (or you teach in math, social studies, English, etc) class would be classified as tier 3 words. Yet, in order to understand these words, students are often required to understand a variety of tier 2 words. Therefore, when students lack the necessary tier 2 words, they are not able to efficiently/effectively learn the new vocabulary words. Without a robust tier 2 vocabulary, students will be locked out of academic success.


Convection Currents: current in a fluid that results in hotter, less dense material rising and colder, more dense material sinking

In order to understand “Convection Currents” a student must know and understand the following tier 2 words ‘current, fluid, and dense’. If students do not know the tier 2 words, they will be stuck memorizing the definition without gaining understanding. This problem compounds itself when students face an assessment.


Compare and contrast convection currents in the Earth’s mantle with those that happen in Earth’s atmosphere.

If they do not understand the tier 2 words, they do not have a hope of answering the question correctly, even if they know the content. For example, ‘compare/contrast’ Even if a student understands convection currents, they must also understand what the question is asking.

We can often assume that students know and understand tier 2 words since they appear everywhere and are used in multiple classes. This assuming is a problem as it makes learning much harder than necessary for low-achieving students.

I have experienced students performing poorly on an assessment who know the content well. But, when I rephrase the question, they are able to give a perfect answer.


How are convection currents in the Earth’s mantle and in the atmosphere the same? How are they different?

My students understood the content, they did not understand the question. I likely face this issue more than other teachers as I teach in an entirely ESL context. However, like most good teaching practices, there are steps you can take that will benefit ALL students.

We can explicitly teach tier two words. This will be particularly helpful for students because they will see these words in multiple classes. And if they can understand them, learning the content-specific vocabulary words will become much easier. Students will also be able to perform better on assessments because they will better understand the questions being asked. Tier 2 words are key for academic success. Give your students the key.

One way my department is trying to address this issue is by making a list of common tier 2 words with student friendly definitions. We will put this list on Quizlet and have students practice the flashcards. We used to do nothing, now we are doing something. What do you do for words in tier 2?

Getting Students To Use New Vocabulary

Present student friendly explanations first then get students using and applying the words in such a way where you can provide correction and feedback. Below are some strategies from “Bringing Words To Life”. I highly recommend you buy and read the book as it is chock full of research and everyday applications for teachers.

  1. Word Associations
    1. infamous, criminal, outlaw, bandit
    2. Ask students
      1. Which word goes with ________?
    3. Then ask students why
    4. Goal: build explicit connections between known words and new words, forces students to directly deal with the word by manipulating it
    5. Associations are not just synonyms!!
  2. Have You Ever…?
    1. Helps students associate new words with their lives.
    2. This strategy can work particularly well when the vocabulary deals with actions and emotions.
  3. Applause Applause
    1. In this strategy, the students clap hard and quickly if they would like to be associated with the word, or soft and quietly if they would not like to be associated with the word.
      1. Make students explain why they clapped loudly or quietly. This helps ensure that the students are actually engaging with the word’s meaning.
        1. This can be done by having students talk with a partner (engaging all students)
          1. You can walk around the room and listen to student explanations to make sure they are on track
  4. Which Would…
    1. In this strategy, the teacher can pose a question with the vocabulary word (students can pose each other questions as a way to review). Students should then explain why they chose their answer.
      1. Which situation would be more disappointing…forgetting your homework or losing your favorite toy? Why?
        1. Students can then talk with a partner and you can walk around the room assessing students’ understanding.