Instructional Strategies for the Classroom

Dr. Lamont Moore
Dr. Lamont Moore
Director of Testing, Accountability, Gifted Education, and Title III; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC
Teacher kneeling down next to a student at her desk and helping her.

Improving student achievement is all about effective instruction. Instruction that is effective incorporates elements that have been proven to result in student learning. The field of education is filled with many products, programs, and tools that promise to reach all students and encouraged academic growth. Educators must not only know how to add tools to their library that actually work with students but also know how to discard tools from their library the moment they cease to improve student achievement.

What are Instructional Strategies?

Instructional strategies are techniques that educators use to ensure that students learn academic content. The goal of instructional strategies is to produce independent learners who are able to apply what is learned and expand upon it as necessary.

Types of Instructional Strategies

It is difficult to isolate an instructional strategy to one particular category because many of them fit into multiple categories. However here are six types of instructional strategies.

Activators

These strategies refer to those that are effective at jumpstarting the learning process. These strategies can be used at any point during the lesson or unit but are commonly used at the very beginning of a lesson or unit. They are used to focus the learners on what will be covered, uncover any misconceptions that may hinder learning, reveal gaps in understanding, pose essential questions, engage prior knowledge, and allow students to see how new learning will fit into what they already know about a subject or topic.

Activities that can be used to serve as activators include the following: brainstorms, essential questions, K-W-L charts, quick writes, connection games, mystery bags, icebreakers and quizzes (non-evaluative).

Critical Thinking

These instructional strategies are designed to extend and stretch student understanding from one that is basic to one that is complex and/or multifaceted. They usually employ the use of conceptual development, specialized vocabulary, detailed analysis, high levels of technical skill, performance, and demonstration. Critical thinking strategies add rigor to learning and, in many cases, require the learners to have productive struggles as they grapple with academic content.

Activities that can be used to serve as critical thinking instructional strategies include the following: role playing, scenarios, problem-based learning, science experiments, project-based learning, socratic seminars, debates, simulations, use of Bloom’s Taxonomy, use of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Levels, use of higher-order thinking skills.

Emulators

This type of strategy allows learners with the opportunity to function as if they are an expert or practitioner in a field of study. Learners are required to first know the behaviors, reasonings, and skills of an expert in the field. They are then provided with an opportunity to mimic these behaviors, reasoning, and skills through a learning activity that resembles an experience that an expert in the field would normally have. This strategy seeks to increase how well the learner connects with and sees the relevance of a particular concept.

Activities that can be used to serve as emulating instructional strategies include the following: simulations, field studies, science experiments, scenarios, author’s craft, service learning, projects, cooperative learning, artists in residence, and expert guest speakers.

Process-Related

An instructional strategy that falls into the process-related category is one that requires students to follow a specific set of procedures in order to accomplish a task or demonstrate an understanding of content. This type of strategy often develops how well learners research, record, collect, organize, and utilize data. This allows for learners to experience deeper levels of analysis and synthesis of the content that they are studying. The emphasis is on the process that must be used and less on arriving at a “right answer.” In fact, learners who arrive at a right answer without utilizing the prescribed process are often penalized or encouraged to do the activity or assignment again.

Activities that can be used to serve as process-related instructional strategies include the following: science fairs, interactive notebooks, writer’s workshop/using the writing process, cooperative learning, coding, robotics, and research projects.

Interactive

Interactive instructional strategies focus on the learner working with their peers in order to accomplish a task or to demonstrate the degree in which they understand academic content. This type of instructional strategy focuses on developing teamwork, interpersonal skills, collaboration, leadership, and effective oral and written communication within learners. In many cases, learners are evaluated on both their knowledge levels as well as how they work with others.

Activities that can be used to serve as interactive instructional strategies include the following: cooperative learning, project-based learning, literature circles, group projects, group presentations, team builder activities, think-pair-share, any of the Dr. Spencer Kagan Structures, simulations, and service projects.

Summarizers

Summarizers are instructional strategies are those that are used to effectively summarize learning. These strategies are commonly used to close a lesson or unit of instruction. The goal of a summarizer strategy is to provide learners with an opportunity to review what they have learned. It also allows educators to determine whether the necessary connections have been made and whether the students met the learning objectives of a lesson or unit. Summarizers support the retention and integration of new learning.

Activities that can be used to serve as summarizer instructional strategies include the following: exit tickets, culminating projects, journal reflections, reports, interactive notebooking, K-W-L charts, learning logs, interviews and group/individual presentations.

Knowing Which Strategy to Use

The wonderful thing about adding instructional strategies to your educational repertoire is that you have many tools to choose from in both the planning and implementation stages of instruction. The challenge that presents itself is deciding which strategies will best suit your students. Educators must be willing to consider the following in order to ensure that they select the right instructional strategies.

Know the Academic Content Standards

Educators who are very familiar with the content standards that must be taught to learners make the selection process very easy when it comes to instructional strategies. There are many strategies that will lend themselves better for some standards rather than others. For example, if when teaching the writing process to learners, you would be sure to utilize process-related instructional strategies that will make this easier for the learners.

Know Your Students’ Academic Strengths and Weaknesses

Being acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of your learners also helps in the selection process. This pertains to the student achievement as well as their study and work habits. It would not be best to use cooperative learning as an instructional strategy if the learners have not first demonstrated how to effectively function as a team or utilize group roles. This does not mean that the strategy could never be used with the learners; it simply means that more modeling and practice will need to be done prior to utilizing the instructional strategy.

Know Your Students’ Learning Styles

Very similarly, educators must also be well aware of the various learning styles held by the group of learners that they are teaching. Knowing whether there are visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or verbal learners will help narrow down which strategies would best suit them. It would not be wise to use an activator strategy such as a role-play to start a lesson when there is a large number of learners in the group who have a solitary or interpersonal learning style. This strategy would cause a level of anxiety in the learners that could cause them to be distracted from the point of the lesson.

Know What Engages Your Students

Above all, educators must know what engages their learners. They must also know what causes them to be disengaged from learning. For example, technology quickly engages some learners into the learning process. However, for other learners, technology becomes a distraction that disengages them from the learning process. Educators who are keenly aware of this will avoid choosing an instructional strategy that will not engage their learners into the learning process. 

*Updated December, 2020
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