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Simplify Verbal Instructions


Study Skills & Tools Elementary School Strategy


Auditory Processing Organization Working Memory Attention Verbal Memory Processing Speed

Simplify Verbal Instructions

If your student struggles to follow your instructions, often because of lack of attention

Teach It!

  1. Objective: Clear, simple verbal instructions will help students who have attention and organization challenges tune in and maintain focus more effectively.
  2. Teacher Takeaways: a) Face the student, bend to his level and ask for the student's attention. b) Indicate with a key phrase that you have something important to say: It is time to listen, I have something important to tell you. c) For children who are easily distracted, stay at eye level or hold the student's hand while you speak. You might have the child say "yes", nod after each instruction, or repeat each step aloud. d) Give short, concrete instructions in steps. Three steps might be the maximum a child can handle. Consider numbering the steps as you say them to organize and make them easier to remember. You might also write them down in checklist form. e) Tell instructions, do not ask. Instructions phrased as questions (Can you throw this in the garbage?) imply choice. Only ask if there is truly a choice.
  3. Teacher Notes: a) Consider speaking in a soft, even-tone voice. If a child senses urgency or annoyance, he might end up focusing on your emotions instead of the instructions and get anxious or forgetful. b) If you have a student who is uncomfortable with direct eye contact, take the emphasis off of "look me in the eye." Instead, expecting the child to face in your direction may be sufficient.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

Following instructions relies on the interaction of a complex set of skills, including attention, processing and organization. When adults are deliberate in how they present instructions and are clear and realistic about their expectations, children are more likely to follow them.

Best-suited for students with weaker: Attention, Inhibition, Self-Regulation, Short-Term Memory, Working Memory, Processing Speed (Source: Digital Promise Learner Variability Project)