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.