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Learning and Teaching should be Inclusive and Enjoyable:

Direct Teaching


“Direct Teaching” is a structured approach to teaching which involves a high level of interactivity.   It is not seen as the single best model, but one of several approaches.   This paper complements other parts of the Learning and Teaching Toolkit which deal with other approaches, such as independent learning.
The term “Direct Teaching” can also be used in a looser way to describe a teaching style which is strongly teacher-directed and involves ‘direct’ communication with a pupil, group of pupils or class.   In the late 1990s, HMI in Scotland began to re-emphasise the importance of direct teaching in reaction to a sterile worksheet based approach.   This should not be seen as an argument for unrelieved ‘top down’ whole class teaching.

Points Arising from Research

The Direct Teaching approach is particularly effective in the teaching of skills rather than knowledge


The teacher needs a very good level of knowledge and understanding of the topic and a very easy control of the ideas.

Key Elements of Direct Teaching

The Madeline Hunter model:

Hunter is associated with the following teaching system, which emphasises modelling, guided practice and then independent practice. 


There are 7 stages:

  1. Establish the objectives of the teaching

  2. Draw the pupils into the topic (referred to as the “anticipatory set” and sometimes placed first in order here)

  3. Make expectations and assessment standards clear to pupils

  4. Teach the topic:

  1. Deliver the input

  2. Provide modelling/demonstrations

  3. Give directions for pupils

  4. Check for pupils’ understanding (See Toolkit section on Questioning)

  1. Give guided practice in the task

  2. Draw teacher-controlled work to a close

  3. Provide independent practice


This process is highly structured or “scripted”


The order of elements can be changed according to the specific situation


In some situations it may be that not all elements will be present


It will be used most commonly in the whole class situation, but can be used with groups


Active pupil involvement takes this form:  Watch how I do it >>> Help me do it  >>> I’ll watch you do it  >>> You do it alone


The approach involves a high level of active participation by pupils


At the end of the process it is important to check pupils’ knowledge/understanding


Independent practice must be monitored to ensure that pupils are doing it correctly


The learned skills must be transferable to other situations


To help with this, Bloom’s Taxonomy may be used to indicate the levels of learning which are necessary (See reference to Bloom in the Toolkit section on Questioning)

Other interpretations of the process


Introduce the skill >>> Explain the skill >>> Demonstrate/model the skill >>> Review what has been done >>> Apply the skill >>> Reflect on the process, identifying next steps for improvement


Directing pupils on to task >>> Specific instruction >>> Demonstration >>> Explanations/illustrations >>> Questions/discussion >>> Consolidation >>> Evaluation


Goals >>> Modelling/input >>> Practice/feedback >>> Differentiation >>> Review

Characteristics of effective instruction and explanation


Clear and well structured


Kept short (3-5 mins for lower Primary pupils, up to 10-15 mins for upper Secondary)


Pupil time on task will be maximised


The teacher’s enthusiasm will be conveyed


Attention maintained through varied tone, use of humour etc


Good examples used which seem relevant to pupils’ lives


Language used which is appropriate for the pupils


Lessons delivered at a brisk pace and accompanied by checks on pupil understanding

Other features


“Scaffolding” (additional support) will be needed for less structured skills


Pupils learn best in the Zone of Proximal Development (from Vygotsky) which means that the teacher needs to know pupils’ current level of understanding and their potential to learn – and tailor the teaching accordingly. 


Parents or peer tutors may be able to use a Direct Teaching model with guidance


Teacher-pupil interaction is important in informing, explaining, modelling, listening, demonstrating, describing, questioning, coaching


Differentiation is important in the process, particularly for less structured skills:

  • Tasks to be graded in difficulty and to increase in difficulty

  • Texts may be varied to match reading ages

  • Outcomes may be varied to suit aptitudes (eg oral, written, visual art….)

  •  Difficult areas need to be anticipated

  • Teachers must have sound knowledge of pupils’ abilities, aptitudes and preferred learning styles (see Toolkit section on Learning Styles)

  • Appropriate models need to be talked through

  • Appropriate support for pupil practice is needed

  • Pupils reach a stage where they can proceed unaided at their optimum highest level

Some reservations


There is a danger of teaching skills without pupils understanding why they are valuable


There is a danger that skills taught in this way will not transfer to other contexts


Decontextualising the skills will improve potential for transfer (ie presenting them to pupils in unfamiliar contexts to see if they are understood out of normal context)


Direct Teaching strategies work best when objectives are clearly identifiable and achievable, but less so when they are more experiential and less concrete


Pupils may become too reliant on information delivered by the teacher


We must be aware of the need to promote intrinsic motivation


Direct Teaching should be complemented by (and can prepare for) self-directed study

Reflection and Discussion

To what extent do you use Direct Teaching approaches in your classroom?

Do you use or could you use a very structured, “scripted” approach?

Are some curricular areas more suited to such approaches?

Some Activities Relating To the Issue of Direct Teaching

Key element




Some examples and suggestions

The Madeline Hunter Model

This process is highly structured or “scripted”

Most teachers feel comfortable with the idea of direct teaching.  However, it can be seen as a process which must follow closely a clear set of “rules”.  Consider how your own teaching matches this pattern.  Are there some elements of your teaching which are more suited to the approach than others?  “Script” a 7-stage approach for a specific topic (bearing in mind the flexibility which it offers).

Other interpretations of the process

Three different descriptions

Consider some elements of your course and reflect on how your delivery of them matches the various patterns.  Is there scope for rethinking any aspects?

Effective instruction and explanation

Use good examples which seem relevant to pupils’ lives

Consider the ways in which you explain things to pupils.  Can you build in any illustrations which are more closely related to pupils’ lives?  Perhaps you could ask them to come up with such examples themselves.

Some reservations

Decontextualising the skills will improve potential for transfer

It is important to teach skills in context.  How, then, can we ensure that pupils will be able to transfer them to other contexts – in other curricular areas and out-of-school contexts?  Consider how you might adapt teaching to ensure that key skills can more easily be transferred.  Having a look at Bloom’s Taxonomy may help.

Selected References

Further Reading

Many books on teaching give advice on direct teaching approaches.  For example, the following book looks at many different aspects of teaching in the whole-class context:

Active Whole-Class Teaching by Robert Powell, Robert Powell Publications, ISBN 1901841 057
Contains many practical suggestions for effective whole-class work

Direct Interactive Teaching, Published by the Scottish Council on the Curriculum (2000) ISBN 185955 6876
Gives advice on teaching approaches, emphasising the interactive elements of direct teaching.  Contains suggestions for teachers to reflect on their current practice.



University of Phoenix site which introduces the Hunter model and provides links

Humboldt University site which gives a clear, thorough, but concise explanation of Hunter’s model

Notes for a presentation on direct teaching issues.   Site seems to be connected to Sunderland University

American site which comments on and gives a slightly different take on the Direct Teaching model

Gives an account of direct teaching approaches in Maths

Gives an explanation of Hunter’s model, explaining the flexibility with which it can be used


Last updated 20/08/2010
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