Instructional strategies are the building blocks of a good lesson. They are the tools and techniques that teachers use to help students to overcome obstacles to learning and reach higher levels of knowledge and understanding.
Usually, teachers are required to list instructional strategies in a lesson plan or unit of work. By listing out your instructional strategies before a lesson begins, you can have a plan clear for how you will help your students to succeed. It also helps a person assessing your teaching to identify your ability to faciliate learning.
Below is my database of instructional strategies that I turn to when planning lessons and units of work.
Instructional Strategies Examples
1. Active Listening: Teachers explicitly model active listening by encouraging students to nod when they understand, ask open-ended questions of the person talking, and so on. This can help critical thinking and memory retention.
2. Anticipation / Guestimation – Students are asked to anticipate the outcomes of the next steps in a group or modelled task in order to encourage forward and process thinking. In anticipating results, students must consider the logical sequences of events in a thought experiment.
3. Authentic Learning – Lessons are designed in a way that something tangible, usable, and useful for the world is done or made. For example, through their unit of work, students actually produce an app that is released on an app marketplace (see also: authentic assessment).
4. Barometer – The teacher gets students to stand along a line that is seen as a continuum of beliefs about a position. For example, the teacher can use a wall – if the students stand on the far left they believe one thing, far left another, and middle is undecided.
5. Blended Learning – The teacher uses both online instruction and in-person lessons throughout the unit of work. Students might, for example, watch videos for homework then come into class to discuss and engage in active learning (see also: flipped learning).
6. Brainstorming – This strategy is used to encourage divergent thinking (‘multiple possible solutions to a single problem’). In an open discussion session, the teacher asks students to share their thoughts, ideas or solutions – no matter how simple, complex, or out of the box. The teacher writes all idas on the board to give a visual representation of the initial thoughts and ideas of the class.
7. Chunking – Instead of delivering all the information at once, the teacher breaks down the lesson into achievable tasks of ‘chunks’. After each ‘chunk’, the teacher checks and then gives further instructions. This can make an overwhelming task seem more achievable for students and prevent cognitive overload.
8. Cognitive Tools – Teachers use instructional technologies such as calculators, apps, wearable technology, and so on, to help stimualte higher-order thinking and learning among students. Students are expected to engage in higher-order thinking processes that they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
9. Concentric Circles – Like speed dating, students are asked to have quick one-to-one conversations with one another. The teacher gets students to stand in two circles – an inner and outer circle, with students facing one another. The outer circle rotates if the teacher wants students to rotate discussion partners.
10. Connect, Extend, Challenge: Connect-extend-challenge is a strategy commonly used at the end of a lesson to encourage reflection and further thinking. Students think about how to connect new knowledge to old knowledge, reflect on how they extended their knowledge in the lesson, and then pose challenging questions for future thinking.
11. Cooperative Learning (Group Work) – Integration of cooperative learning tasks into your lesson plan can help ensure students hear not only the teacher’s th oughts on the topic, but also the thoughts of peers. According to sociocultural theory, talking to peers helps stimulate learning. Furthermore, cooperative learning involves working on common goals which helps with social skills, which will be beneficial for your students’ development. See more: cooperative learning examples.
12. Create a Headline – Students come up with a catchy headline that captures the essence of what they learned (i.e. for a newspaper). This strategy encourages students to synthesize knowledge down to its core components.
13. Culturally Responsive Teaching – Culturally responsive teaching involves incorporating elements of students’ cultural practices, beliefs, and traditions in lessons in order to engage and include culturally diverse students in the lesson.
14. De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats – The teacher has six different colored hats. Each hat represents a different way of thinking (analytical, creative, and so on).
15. Debating – Get the students to debate one another in order to pick flaws in arguments and help them refine their skills in constructing coherent arguments.
16. Democratic Vote – In democratic classrooms, students are encouraged to develop a democratic and socially conscious mindset. Having students vote on what, when, and how to learn (as well as classroom rules, and so on) encourages socially conscious thinking and empowers learners.
17. Demonstration – The teacher does a demonstration step-by-step of something that is too hard for the students to do on their own. This is usually done either to show how something is done to give students a theoretical understanding; or to precede students having a go themselves (see also: guided practice)
18. Devil’s Advocate – Either the teacher or a dedicated student attempts to pick apart an argument or thought process by looking for weaknesses. They don’t have to necessarily believe their critique, but should use critique as a way to strengthen or amend the original argument.
19. Differentiation – Teachers vary the content in their classroom to match the learners’ needs. It can be differentiation of delivery style, content type, assessment type, and learning environment.
20. Direct Instruction (a.k.a Explicit Teaching) – The teacher clearly and directly explains information to the students. It’s often criticized for involving teacher-centered passive learning, but is still required in some cases to present basic knowledge before active learning can occur.
21. Directing Attention – Directing attention can help guide students down the right path. It can include strategies such as asking prompting questions and pointing at a visual aid.
22. Discovery Learning – This involves lessons where students discover new information and new knowledge through exploration and inquiry.
23. Emergent Curriculum – Teachers don’t plan the whole curriculum in advance. Instead, the direction of the learning experiences is based on students’ interests and motivations. This encourages intrinsic motivation and love of learning.
24. Environmental Manipulation – The classroom layout has a strong influence on learning. Desks in rows send a message that the class should maintain their focus on the teacher, while table groups will encourage peer learning.
25. Expert Jigsaw – The expert jigsaw method gets students into groups with each group becoming experts on one section of a topic. The teacher then jumbles the groups so there is one student from each original group in each new group. In other words, the new groups have one topic expert for each topic. The topic experts in each new group teaches the group about their topic.
26. Fill-In the Gaps (Cloze Passages) – Strategically leave out pieces of information to encourage students to actively think about (and predict) what should go where.
27. Fishbowl – A strategy for whole group discussion, students are split into two groups. The first group (usually smaller) have a discussion in the middle of the classroom. The second group sit around the outside and observe and take notes on the group’s discussion.
28. Five Why’s – To get students thinking more deeply about a topic, get them to as ‘why’ something is the case. Then, get them to ask ‘why’ to their answer, then the answer after that, then the answer after that – after reaching the fifth ‘why’, the answer will be deeper and closer to the issue underpinning the discussion.
29. Flexible Seating – Flexible seating or ‘agile learning spaces’ allow students the freedom to choose a workstation to work at while completing their tasks. It can be useful for inquiry based lessons because it allows students to move between research sations such as computer and library areas.
30. Flipped Instruction – Flipped instruction is a type of instruction where the students gather the lesson information before class (primarily through reading and watching videos) to maximize active student-centered learning time during class time (such as talking in groups and talking with the teacher). It gets its term from ‘flipping’ class work and homework.
31. Formative Assessment (a.k.a Assessment for Learning) – Formative assessment involves administering assessment tasks during the learning cycle. This can help teachers assess a student’s areas of strength and weakness and the sucess of the instructional strategies so far. Teachers can then take corrective action in their teaching so the student can get back on track,
32. Four corners – The teacher poses a problem or question that has four possible answers, posed as A-B-C-D multiple choice. Each corner of the room represents one possible answer and the students have to run to the corner that they think is the correct answer.
33. Gallery Walk – The classroom is set up as a gallery where students move through different areas and engage with a range of different activities, texts, and stimuli to learn about a topic.
34. Game-Based Learning – Game-based learning refers to the incorporation of games into instructional practice. For example, you might encourage students to play scrabble to learn spelling or dice games to learn about chance.
35. Gamification – Gamification refers to the use of game-based elements in the classroom. These include elements like token economies, a point system, levelling-up, badges, and leaderboards.
36. Give One, Get One – Every student writes down a handful of key learnings, ideas, tips, or strategies based on the lesson. The teacher rotates the students in various pars, and each member of the pair gives one key learning and takes one key learning. It is a form of note-sharing that allows students to share key takeaways from lessons.
37. Graphic Organizers – The teacher uses visual organizers like flow charts, graphs, and tables to get students to visually represent what they are learning.
38. Group Roles – When giving students group work, the teacher asks students to assign each other roles to achieve accountability and transparency. This may help make the learning experience smoother.
39. Growth Mindsets – The teacher models a growth mindset in class, which is a mindset that involves self-belief that you can learn and improve. This is a useful instructional strategy when students recently experienced failure and feel disheartened.
40. Guided Practice – This instructional strategy involves guiding students through a learning task one step at a time, with the teacher demonstrating each step along the way.
41. High Expectations – The strategy of setting high expectations involves letting students know that you expect them to try their personal best. They don’t have to be the best, but they have to try as hard as they can, and the teacher will be happy.
42. Homework: Homework can be an instructional strategy for knowledge consolidation, repetition to commit information to long-term memory, or to introduce new knowledge in flipped learning scenarios.
43. Hot Seat – One student is placed on a seat in front of the class and the class asks them tough questions. The person in the middle can be answering questions on a topic they studied, or, can pretend they’re a famous historical figure.
44. I Do We Do You Do Method – This three-step method involves the teacher modeling a task, then the class doing the task as a group (with the teacher), then the students getting to try the task independently.
45. Inquiry-Based Learning – This strategy involves asking students to “inquire” about a complex question or puzzle. Students are tasked with going through the process of conducting research, experiments, and observation in order to find both questions and answers to those questions.
46. Intentional Mistakes – The teacher intentionally makes a mistake in order to encourage students to be alert to errors or mistakes and get them excited about paying attention in class to ‘catch’ the teacher out making an error.
47. Just-in-Time Learning – This is a strategy that involves learning information that is relevant and pertinent to a task at hand. In other words, you learn things when you need to learn them. For an adult example, you’d learn accounting as soon as tax season arrives!
48. KWL Charts – Students are given charts split into three sections. The sections are: know, want to know, and learned. Students usually fill out the first two columns at the beginning of the lesson to present prior knowledge and curiosities. This can give context to the lesson and help the teacher to target the lesson at the right level for the students. At the end of the lesson, the students fill out the third column: learned. Ideally, they will be answering questions asked in the ‘want to know’ column.
49. Lesson Objective Transparency – The teacher starts the lesson by presenting the lesson objective. This can help students to understand the whole purpose of the lesson and the direction it’s headed, which minimizes confusion.
50. Lesson Recording – Record the lesson in order for the students to review it at their own pace. This can help students learn at their own pace and may assist slower students to ensure they don’t miss anything.
51. Manipulatives – Teachers use physical objects to represent abstract concepts, which helps students to visualize the learning content. This is common in math classrooms.
52. Metacognition – Students are encouraged to reflect upon their own thinking and learning to see if they could improve how they learn. For example, you could have students reflect on why they were distracted, how they could prevent procrastination, or whether they could have learned a task more effectively if they approached it in a different way.
53. Modeled Teaching – This strategy involves the teacher demonstrating how something is done so students have a ‘model’ to follow when they get a chance to do it themselves.
54. Multiple Intelligences – The theory of multiple intelligences proposes that students learn in different ways, be it musical, spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, and so on. By giving students multiple ways of approaching a topic, you’re leaving the door open to learning through multiple different perspectives.
55. Mystery Making – The teacher drips out data or information that is enough to spark curiosity and may have the answer embedded within it, but requires students to ‘solve’ the mystery or curiosity through critical and analytical thinking.
56. Non-Verbal Gestures – Non-verbal gestures are frequently used in classroom management – for example, when the teacher gives a warning glance to chatty students in the class. But they can also be used mid-lesson, such as giving a thumbs up or smile to indicate to a student that they are on the right track.
57. Note Taking (Cornell Method) – When watching a video or listening to a direct instruction lesson, have the students take high-quality notes by giving them Cornell method notepaper. This involves having unique columns for notes, recall, and summarization.
58. Open-Ended Questioning – The teacher asks questions that require elaborated responses rather than closed ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. This encourages students to articulate their thoughts. In the process, they sort and order their thinking.
59. Parent and Community Engagement – This strategy is valuable because engaging parents and the community gives students a chance to develop civic citizenship skills during their learning.
60. Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) – Students pair up with peers, where an advanced student is paired with a less advanced student. The more advanced student assists the less advanced student, which helps both consolidate knowledge.
61. Play-based learning – Teachers can create play scenarios where learning occurs, such as roleplay scenarios, cooperative play, and imaginative play.
62. Pop Quiz – The teacher lets the students know there will be a surprise quiz at some point in the unit of work. This keeps the students on their toes, and encourages high expectations at all times. The quiz can also be used as a form of formative assessment.
63. Positive Reinforcement – Students are given rewards for positive behavior or for reaching high standards with the expectation that the positive reinforcement will encourage repetition of that behavior (see also negative reinforcement).
64. Poster Presentations – Students are given a small poster and asked to present everything they have learned about the topic on that poster. This gets them to put their ideas into a succinct and presentable way, and in the process, helps them to categorize and clarify their ideas.
65. Predicting – The teacher asks students to predict (guestimate, hypothesize) the outcome of an event, then conducts the experiment to find the result. This encourages students to think through logical causes, consequences, and probabilities.
66. Prior Knowledge Assessment – Before planning or teaching a lesson, the teacher conducts an assessment with the students to gauge their level of knowledge, which helps to ensure the content is at the right level for students’ needs.
67. Project-based learning (PBL) – Lessons are designed around completing a project. In the process of making the project, student learn how to apply their knowledge in the completion of a real project.
68. Prompting – Prompting involves using strategic questions, cues, and visual aids to focus students’ attention on valuable information. It keeps students on the right path and helps them overcome learning barriers.
69. Read Aloud – The teacher reads the text out loud to the class. This can be beneficial as an instructional strategy because it allows you to have students do a close reading of sentences, keywords, and images as a whole group.
70. Reciprocal Teaching – Reciprocal teaching requires students to take turns to teach one another. This gives students a chance to take the role of teacher which requires them to think about how to articulate concepts and break them down to their constituent parts. This helps both the ‘teacher’ and the ‘learner’ students.
71. Reflection-in-Practice / Immediate Feedback – Teachers encourage students to reflect while they work. For example, have students pause and reflect every 5 minutes on what they just did and whether it’s going in the right track.
72. Role Play – Students take on a role and argue from that person’s perspective. This allows students to think from divergent perspectives and become experts in specific aspects of a scenario.
73. Role Modelling – The teacher sets high expectations by modeling correct behavior. This is common in science labs, where the teacher follows safety standards diligently; or, is also common in behavior management.
74. Rote Learning – The teacher presents information that the student is expceted to learn by memory. This strategy focuses of memorization of facts and it common, for example, in learning the times tables. See also: banking model of education.
75. Scaffolding – This is a strategy that involves the teacher investigating what level the student is at, what level they can do with help, and what level is just too hard. The teacher then targets the learning task at the perfect ‘Goldilocks’ zone where the work is hard enough to be achieved with a little help from the teacher, so it extends student learning and challenges the student.
76. Self-Paced Learning – Students are given time and space to learn at their own pace. This reduces the likelihood that students will be forced to move on before knowledge is sufficiently consolidated and understanding is achieved.
77. Service Learning – The teacher gets students to learn through a community-based project that is of service to the community (e.g. restoring a natural habitat or helping the needy). The process of the task should meet curriculum goals.
78. Silent Conversation – A silent conversation requires students to write down their thoughts on a piece of paper (post-it notes work) and paste their thoughts onto a wall or poster. Students also respond to one another’s notes to engage in ‘conversation’ through writing.
79. SIT: Surprising, Interesting, Troubling – A strategy students use to reflect upon a text. After engaging with a text (book, movie, etc.), students reflect on things in the text that they found surprising, interesting, and troubling. This can stimulate further discussion.
80. Situated Learning – Students learn in a professional and authentic learning environment, allowing them to apply theory to practice.
81. Sixty-Second Strategy – This strategy usually takes place in response to a student presentation. The class engage in three steps in under 60 seconds: respond, reflect, and review. Here’s a great video on the strategy.
82. Snowball Discussions – Students start individually, then pair up for a discussion, then pairs join to create a group of four for a follow-up discussion. The group of four pairs with another group to make a group of eight, who then share notes, and so on. This culminates in a whole class discussion.
83. Spaced Repetition – The teacher re-introduces information after blocks of time with the intention of reinforcing the information at a later date when the students may be at risk of forgetting. By having to regularly re-engage with information, students may be more likely to commit the information to long-term memory.
84. Spiral Learning (Spiral Curriculum) – The teacher returns to previous lessons for current lessons, but builds upon previous content by asking students to add depth and detail. This spiral approach where the teacher ‘returns’ to past lessons creates continuity in learning and helps reinforce old knowledge in students’ long-term memory.
85. Stimulus Materials and Props – The teacher uses materials and props which can be anything from posters on the walls to puppets, in order to stimulate learning.
86. Strategic Pauses – When speaking to the class, the teacher pauses at strategic moments to encourage the students to reflect, re-focus their attention, or attempt a task in their own minds before the teacher continues.
87. Student-Led Curriculum – A student-led curriculum in a curriculum that is not set in stone by the teachers, but allows students to choose the direction of learning. It’s increasingly difficult to do this in the era of the ‘crowded curriculum’ where there is so much to teach each day jut to meet the core curriculum requirements.
88. Student-Teacher Conference – The teacher takes time during individual work to go up to each student and have one-to-one time to give them differentiated support.
89. Summarizing and Paraphrasing – The teacher asks students to repeat back to them an explanation of the content, but in their own words, to demonstrate understanding and knowledge.
90. Summative Assessment – Summative assessment occurs at the end of a learning scenario. It gives students something to strive toward, instils a healthy sense of competition, and allows teachers to assess progress. However, high-stakes summative assessments can lead to too much student stress.
91. SWOT analysis – This strategy is useful when getting students to self-reflect. It encourages them to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, as well as future opportunities and threats that they can prepare for.
92. Teaching to Mastery – The teacher retains the focus on one unit of learning until it is ‘mastered’ by the student. This may be a benchmark such as 90% in a test or success in a task three times in a row.
93. Team Teaching – Team teaching involves working with one or more other teachers. It can be good for splitting classes into small differentiated groups, splitting workloads between teachers based on areas of expertise, and increasing the amount of tailored support for individual students in the class.
94. Think Pair Share – Students spend one minute alone thinking about a topic, then spend one minute with a partner comparing their thoughts. Finally, the due share their thoughts with the whole class group.
95. Thumbs Down, Thumbs Up – A quick strategy to gather formative feedback, teachers simply ask for a thumbs up or thumbs down from the class to get instant feedback on whether they understand the information and are ready to move onto the next step in the lesson.
96. Two-Minute Presentation – The teacher assigns the students a task of conducting research and consolidating knowledge into a two minute presentation by the end of the lesson.
97. Unconditional Positive Regard – This strategy involves a teacher who always lets the student know that they believe the student can do their best. It’s often invoked when a student has recently failed and needs a teacher who demonstrates belief in them and their ability to always do better.
98. Visual Aids – Visual aids can include posters, handouts, pictires, and graphs that can help scaffold learning.
99. Whole Group Class Discussion (a.k.a Circle Time) – The class comes together for a shared discussion. This allows students to hear other students’ perspectives and hear explanations about topics from more people than just the teacher.
100. Word Wall – A word wall is quite simply a wall of words that are central for the subject being studied. This wall can act as a stimulus for learners who need only look at the wall to be spurred to think about key concepts or terms when writing or thinking about the topic.
101. Worked Examples – Providing students with worked examples can give them a clear mental model for what they should be aspiring toward. For example, presenting students with examples of A+ B and C- essays helps them compare and see the difference between good and bad work.
102. Zone of Proximal Development – Teachers reflect on what students can do, can’t do, and can do with assistance. They then cater the lessons to the ‘proximal development’ zone, where they can do challenging tasks with assistance. The teacher aims to have the students practice those tasks until they can do them without assistance, thereby extending the students’ zone of proximal development beyond its current horizons.
There are, of course, many more instructional strategies examples than those listed here. However, these ones can form a great start for finding instructional strategies to include on your lesson plan and start integrating into your teaching to improve your pedagogical skills and, ultimately, your students’ learning.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]