Explicit instruction is a teaching practice that evidence says makes a difference. In this video, Melissa Garstang-Leary explains how she uses explicit instruction in her English lessons.
Watch Explicit instruction in English | Australian Education Research Organisation on YouTube.

Duration: 6:06


Hi, my name is Melissa Garstang-Leary. I have taught English at a primary and vocational level in both the Catholic and state systems. I've been teaching for approximately 15 years and I'm extremely passionate about teaching English.

I've recently enjoyed creating some lessons for Ochre Education and [the Australian Education and Research Organisation] AERO. I've been working on my explicit instruction, particularly using worked examples in the English classroom. I'm excited to share some of my reflections today as you, too, develop your thinking and practise in using worked examples.

We have a complex job in English. We need to help our students master skills in reading and writing across a large range of genres and text types. This can sometimes seem like a daunting job. Using worked examples is a critical part of teaching. What seems obvious to us is often not obvious to our students. They don't always know what success looks like. Whilst providing a model to students can be helpful, they need more than this – particularly when it comes to the composing process.

After years of experience, I know that students need me to show them how an example is created and the decisions I made as I work through to the finished product. Using worked examples allows me to show in a really clear and concise way what is involved in any given task, what its components are, but also gives me the opportunity to demonstrate the steps along the way, narrating and explaining my thinking.

Worked examples are particularly important for students who are uncertain or lack the necessary mental models to complete a task to a high standard. As an English teacher, what I'm often asking students to do is complex. We know writing, for example, is a complex craft with many moving parts. Worked examples help to demystify the process for students, making explicit what is not always obvious to them. 

As an English teacher, I know that there are a variety of circumstances where the worked example might look different. A worked example in reading – where I might read through a complex text, narrating my thinking and problem-solving as I go – looks different to a worked example for constructing a sentence or writing a paragraph. Therefore, I need to think carefully about what it is that I – as a good writer or a reader – think about, decide and do.

In a recent lesson on how to write a biography, I knew that students would need a fully worked example, showing them exactly how to use the information contained in their plan, their topic sentence, dot points for supporting details, and a concluding sentence, and how to transfer this into a functioning paragraph. In particular, how to compose supporting sentences based on brief dot points (without simply copying word for word from their plan and losing the richness and depth of their research).

To start with, I made sure the worked example was developed in my lesson plan. Planning the worked example ahead of time is useful because you can be sure that it's a good example and you can also share it with colleagues. In the English classroom, some common worked examples we might develop could include using simplified language to transpose complex poetry under the line of the original text. This allows students to analyse and engage with the text without the additional load of figuring out complex vocabulary. Using a word investigation map to detail the word parts, structure, and origin of vocabulary to teach students the meaning of words, the connection between words, and spelling conventions and generalisations.

To make a good worked example, I start by thinking about the learning objective and the student data. What do my students need to know or do in accordance with the curriculum or the relevant benchmark? This will form the basis of my assessment. So I then think about the success criteria: what are the specifics students need to know and do by the end of the lesson to be successful? Using this information, I can then determine the steps required to complete the given task – breaking every step down so it can be fully explained and demonstrated in the worked example. I then road-test it with myself or with a colleague. I do this by quickly doing the teaching. Is there anything missing? Is there something in the example that is going to make the objective of the worked example more challenging than it needs to be? 

I want to avoid trying to do everything at once. When developing a worked example for writing a biographical paragraph, I don't want to draw attention to every decision I have to make. This is far too much. Instead, I think about the objectives of the lesson. What is it that I think will be the most common stumbling block for my students? Do I want to draw attention to the formal structure of the paragraph, the use of key information, the vocabulary choices I make as I go? All of these are worthy choices, but I cannot expect students to make note of all of these ideas in a single example.

To learn more about worked examples, download the Explicit Instruction Tried and Tested Guide from the AERO website and good luck as you explore this element of your own teaching.

Keywords: practice implementation, explicit teaching