Why Your Students Don't Follow Directions

Do you ever feel like this?

New and old teachers alike sometimes struggle to get their students to follow directions. It happens to the best of us! Sometimes they really aren't paying attention. But more often than not, the problem lies with YOU. Gasp! Did I just blame the teacher? Umm, yeah. But hey, I'm guilty of these mistakes too!

Lets look at the 3 main reasons students don't follow directions:

You start talking before they are listening.

It's REALLY hard to not do this. Maybe they aren't all talking. Maybe they just aren't listening yet. Are some of the kids still moving around? Is Stevie still writing? Is Sally looking for a pencil?

It's really important (like super duper important) to have everyone's attention before you utter even one word of the directions. Starting on the very first day of school, train your students to make eye contact with you to show they are listening. When all eyes are on you, then you at least know they aren't distracted doing something else.

You give them too much at once.

The younger your students are, the more important this one is. But even older kids can get overwhelmed (or tune out) when you give them a bunch of things to do at once. Try giving them instructions about materials or procedures before telling them what to do to complete an assignment. For example, don't say, "Take out your pencil, highlighter, and post-its. As you read the passage, highlight important vocabulary and use the post-its to do your text marking and ask questions." Whoa! That's just too much.

Instead, give them the directions about materials first: "Take out your pencil, highlighter, and post-its." Then wait. Let them dig through their desks and get them out because the second you say, "Take out...", they'll stop listening and start digging around anyway. Once everyone has their materials and is settled, move on to what you want them to do.

That's leads me to mistake #3...

You only give directions verbally.

Using the same example, I wouldn't just tell my students to highlight important vocabulary, I would have them write this on the top of their papers:

important words

It's pretty clear that I want them to highlight important words in yellow, right? Now they SEE the directions in addition to hearing them. For younger students, you can try a set of visual direction cards on the board.

What about the post-its? I would have them take one and do this:

They can stick it right on their desk in case they forget what text marking to do. When students hear AND see the directions, they are much more likely to follow them!

I hope you've enjoyed these little tips. If you have one that works for your class, let me know. I love hearing new ideas!


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