Explicit Instruction: What Is It?

There seems to be a nonstop debate about how to teach. Inquiry or Explicit. The inquiry based instruction groups argue that inquiry instruction is preferable because it enhances creativity, is more natural, creates deeper memories, helps students become lifelong learners and more. The explicit based instruction groups argue that explicit instruction helps students learn to read more efficiently, is in line with scientific research, gives students the tools to become lifelong learners, and more.

I think that this debate has become slightly misplaced. With many in the inquiry camp claiming that explicit instruction means lecture and many in the explicit camp claiming that inquiry instruction means discovery learning. In my lived experience, and even in my twitter experience, both are wrong. This is part 2 in a 3 part series.

  1. Inquiry Instruction 2. Explicit Instruction 3. Inquiry Vs Explicit: Who Wins?

What follows is my best case interpretation for explicit instruction and information was largely taken from Anita L. Archer’s Powerpoint presentation, Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching.

Explicit instruction is a highly interactive process that involves a lot of back and forth question and answer from students to teacher. The teacher uses the information gained in this back and forth to informally assess their students and provide affirmative or corrective feedback as necessary. This can be done in a large variety of ways. For more ideas, check out Anita L. Archer’s Powerpoint presentation (Linked above). The entire instructional process is intentionally structured in order to benefit learning.

The skills, strategies, and concepts are sequenced logically.

  • Easier skills are taught before harder skills
  • High frequency skills before low frequency skills
  • Prerequisites first
  • Similar skills are separated

The basic format of a lesson based on explicit instruction involves an opener (gathers student attention, reviews previous material, or previews current material), a body (where the content is taught), and a conclusion (involves reviewing the lesson or previewing the next one). The teachers will also base their lessons around known (to the students) instructional routines. Internalized routines allow for the students to focus on the content because they do not need to use their working memory to think about what to do next. Another benefit is that lessons can move faster because the teacher only needs to cue students to move to “the next stage” instead of explaining what they want the students to do next.

In teaching skills, the teacher demonstrates the skill first. Then, students, as a class, follow the teacher’s lead. Finally the students practice the skill on their own. This model can be simplified as

  • Model I do
  • Prompt We do
  • Check You do

This type of scaffolding reduces complex procedures and concepts into simple, attainable parts. Essentially, this type of modeling reduces the cognitive load of the student.

Explicit instruction places a high value on vocabulary and follows a four step process in introducing new words.

  1. Introduce the word
  2. Provide a student friendly definition
  3. Illustrate the word’s meaning with examples
  4. Check understanding

The goal is to catch misunderstandings early and correct them. This will allow for students to have more practice using correct meaning and move the word into their long-term memory faster. This practice will also be distributed over time. This improves retention and can help students to connect the word/information/concept to other words/informations/concepts, deepening their understanding. Explicit instruction practices also tend to involve cumulative reviews. This is in part because everything students learn is important and it involves recall which helps keep the information in long term memory.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I finally give my two cents.