Explicit instruction is a teaching practice that evidence says makes a difference. In this video, Sue Davis explains how she uses explicit instruction in her mathematics lessons.
Watch Explicit instruction in maths | Australian Education Research Organisation on YouTube.

Duration: 6:25

This video can be used to facilitate a group session where teachers can reflect on their own practice.


Hi, my name is Sue Davis. I'm a primary school teacher from Victoria and I've been teaching for about 17 years. I recently enjoyed creating some lessons for Ochre Education and [the Australian Education Research Organisation] AERO.

I've been working on my explicit instruction, particularly incorporating student practice in my lessons. I'm excited to share some of my reflections today as you, too, develop your thinking about how to provide opportunities for students to practise what they're learning in the classroom. 

For students to retain what they learn, we know they need lots of opportunities for thinking, applying, and practising. Sometimes, as teachers, we can underestimate how much practice students need to apply what they're learning. We know that giving students one go at something is a start, but that our instruction is more powerful when we embed continual and routine opportunities for students to do the hard labour of learning to practice and apply what they know. This is so important in maths, where fluency and procedures make a huge difference to both the concepts they are learning – now – and to future learning.

Embedding lots of opportunities for practising also keeps lessons lively. It's easy to do too much talking in the classroom, so providing plentiful opportunities for practice also helps to keep my lessons interactive and means the students are active, not passive learners. Even when I'm explicitly teaching, I want that sense of 'serve and volley' in the room, where I'm constantly getting feedback from students about what they know and understand. Giving them opportunities for practice is key to that. For example, in a recent lesson on adding 100 to 4-digit numbers, students practised first with the support of base-10 blocks and a place value chart, then without the blocks.

When I'm planning a lesson, I think about what I want students to know and what they'll need to practise to learn that material well. In a recent lesson on place value, I had to make sure I gave students lots of time to practise connecting digits and numerals with the values they represent.

I started by teaching digits and what a 4-digit number is, addressing the misconception of it being a number with the digit '4' in it by including examples without the digit '4'. I made sure those initial practice opportunities were in small chunks. It's no use having my kids practise something incorrectly multiple times. Instead, I asked them to practise a little at a time and I check for understanding to make sure that they have learned what I wanted them to. If not, then I know I need to reteach them.

Once students have mastered each step, I then add the next element of the concept, ensuring that the cognitive load is manageable for them. By building on each step sequentially, I'm also able to provide multiple opportunities to practise all of the new learning in the lesson. This is important as we know that students need lots of chances to consolidate what they're learning. For example, having built up to identifying numerals from base-10 blocks, representing the value of the number, I then reverse the process to identifying place-value digits and base-10 blocks from a given numeral, which gives them additional practice of that concept.

When you're teaching online, it's important to embed lots of pause points in your lesson to allow for practise. But the beauty of being in the classroom is that you can see what students are producing in real-time. This is an important part of student practice.

As a teacher, I need to know what students are doing, so that I can intervene with corrective feedback or extend their thinking with different scaffolds. By watching what my students are doing, I can also get a sense of how the cohort is tracking, what concepts are being learned effectively, what mistakes or misconceptions may be common and if I need to address knowledge gaps. The bonus here is that I also get the opportunity to apply that as feedback on my teaching and improve my own practice. I make sure that the examples I use include a range of difficulty levels, starting with easier questions and increasing in difficulty to extend learning, but in a controlled way so that errors can be picked up at the precise point they occur.

Good tasks for independent practice in maths will also touch on key misconceptions, so I deliberately include examples, such as numbers which include zeros, as in this practice slide for placing 4-digit numbers into a place value chart. Then, I can be aware of these particular questions and have a sense of why they might be problematic for students. 

I'm still refining how I choose specific numbers for example questions. It requires knowledge of common misconceptions or areas of difficulty, so professional reading and discussions with colleagues are extremely beneficial in learning about that.

I would also remind you that every cohort of students is different, which, of course, is part of the fun, but it can mean that something that worked last time might not be so effective this time. So embrace those times where you've maybe missed a step or inadvertently used an example that's too difficult as a learning opportunity for you.

To learn more about student practice, 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