Giving Instructions

giving instructions

Giving instructions must be kept simple and concise

Giving instructions to English language learners can be difficult. You have to find the correct balance between making sure students understand whilst still modelling good language. It’s always good to have introduced some useful classroom language at the beginning of your course. This language will be a common necessary part of your instruction giving. I have also had more than one lesson in the early part of my teaching career where students have not understood my instructions. It is important that you plan how you are going to introduce an activity, consider the different stages, and what instructions are you going to give for each stage? This is particularly important when doing more complicated activities, like arts & crafts.

Keep it Simple

The approach that I have had the most success with is when I keep giving instructions simple. Use the least amount of words possible without using pigeon English. Use concise, short sentences, avoiding over-complicated grammatical structures. Importantly, grade the instructions to the learners.


Demonstrate the task, several times. I’m very lucky, I have a teaching assistant in most of my younger or weaker classes. I often demonstrate an activity with my assistant (if you don’t have one, use a stronger student). For the second demonstration I step back and replace myself with a student. This time the assistant and a student do the task at the front of class. Finally, the assistant is replaced with a student, so 2 student complete the task at the front of class.


Once you have the students doing the task, actively monitor to ensure the students are on task and understand the activity. Don’t be afraid to stop the whole class if there are more than a few students not on task. Go back, re-demonstrate the activity.

Practice makes Perfect

Giving instructions is something that gets easier with time. You will begin to work out what works for you and what doesn’t. Make sure you allow time for your instructions and don’t get angry when the students don’t understand, it’s probably your fault, not theirs.

Checking understanding may also be good practice to ensure your learners understand what is expected of them.

Dan has been teaching English overseas for more than six years. He specialises in teaching young learners and has experience in teaching in the UK, South Korea and Thailand.