4 (not so obvious) Ways to Amp Up Your Instruction

You probably know the main components of a lesson. You may even be required to write them all down in your lesson plans. Whether it's a lesson you've created from scratch or a plan laid out in your curriculum's teacher manual, whether it's a lesson you've done every year since the beginning of everything (you know, an oldie but a goodie), or one that is fresh and new, these four ideas can help you teach it more effectively.

Check out these 4 (not so obvious) ways to give your instruction, especially your whole-group lessons, a boost!

I'm not here to list the obvious. These ideas may not be generic, but they are rooted in solid, effective teaching practice. Ready to amp up the way you teach?


One day a few years ago I lost my voice. Woke up and it just wasn't there. Too much work to make sub plans, so I trudged into school, not sure how I was going to get anything done with my class when my throat was raw and I couldn't talk.

It turned out to be one of the most productive days students had in awhile. And it wasn't because I gave them a bunch of work to do while I sat at my desk sipping hot tea. No, no. I just had to get a little creative with my delivery. I remember during my math mini-lesson, instead of verbally teaching, I wrote it on the doc camera for students to read. I couldn't write down every single thing I would have said, so I was forced to boil things down to what was really important.

I also gave more responsibility to students. Instead of me explaining how to work through a problem, I had a student take over. We instituted a simple set of signals to help communicate certain things: a ding of the bell meant to pause so I could point something out; a flash of the lights prompted students to check the screen for a written direction.

I'm not literally telling you to teach silently. But I do want you to make your words matter and to remember that an effective delivery doesn't always consist of you talking and students listening. I often catch myself rambling or taking a tangent too far and remind myself of that day when students learned a lot without me saying a thing.

BONUS TIP: Use the volume of your voice to your advantage. Don't get stuck thinking, "What I'm about to say is really important, so I better say it really loud to make sure everyone hears it." The key is to have students tuned into what you're about to say. Then you can say it in a calm voice. And sometimes, raise your voice, even when it's not necessary. The last thing you want is a colorless voice that becomes wallpaper.


You may already write objectives into your lesson plans, but do students ever know what the objective is at the outset of a lesson? Putting an objective into student-friendly language, and making it known to your class, does a few things. It shifts away from a "one single keeper of knowledge spewing forth information" mentality toward one in which everyone is heading in the same direction. Plus, having a student-friendly objective posted and visible gives you an anchor to refer back to, a measuring stick to check with, a reminder to what the focus should be.

I call these student-friendly lesson objectives learning targets. I start with a target symbol and then write the target as an "I can" statement that tells what the student should be able to do by the end of the lesson. For me, I've found learning targets to be most helpful when they are (1) simply said, and (2) actionable... where students can show to me and to themselves that they've hit the target.

BONUS TIP: A side benefit of using learning targets is the built-in focus it gives you as you move through a lesson. Still, sometimes there are other key moments to your plan you want to be sure to remember and to get right. I like to jot down a short list on a sticky-note of these points... sometimes just a trigger word or phrase for a certain transition or question I wanted to include. The sticky note serves as my little cheat-sheet to help me stay on track.


Oh, the dreadful, pointless question... "Does that make sense?" I'm as guilty as anyone for asking it, but what does it accomplish? We explain something to the class and then we ask them if it makes sense. The majority of students lack the self-confidence to admit in front of their peers that something doesn't make sense, and many students want to please you so badly that they will agree to anything. Let's try to cut down on how often we ask students if what we just said makes sense.

Instead, ask students to show you that something does indeed make sense, through a formative assessment. You might have students write/do/solve something with whiteboards/markers, or have students engage in a quick turn and talk while you circulate and listen in, or maybe use an exit slip.

BONUS TIP: Use your learning target to help you focus your "check-in" on what really matters to the lesson.


Routines have their place, don't get me wrong. But an element of unpredictability to a lesson creates instant engagement (or re-engagement). In a way that still makes sense to what's at the heart of the lesson, try to add something students wouldn't expect. It could be as simple as a different location where students sit (e.g. bring them to a gathering area on the floor; have them swap seats with someone halfway through; etc.), incorporating a unique task or scenario, or changing the way in which students perform a task (e.g. with a partner; in a notebook; through a drawing; etc.). We're often taught that a lesson's "hook" is a perfect spot to do something surprising in order to engage students. Let's just be sure that we don't assume that a tidy little hook will carry students' engagement through the entirety of the lesson on its own.

Be mindful of particular students who may not be as successful with the unexpected. Students who rely on order and predictability benefit from (and deserve) a "heads-up" about something that might throw them off track.

BONUS TIP: If everything about a lesson is unpredictable, your pacing and focus will suffer. Train students on certain procedures to help cut down on wasted time. For example, you might have a designated spot on your board, outlined with a rectangle, where the page number is posted of whatever textbook is being used during a particular lesson. Find lots of other time-saving tips in my Steal Back the Minutes! post.

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Let these ideas give your whole-group instruction a boost. And for easy, practical ways to differentiate your whole-group instruction, check out my post HERE.