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Direct Instruction Teaching Method: Definition, Examples & Strategies

Instructor: Maria Howard

Maria is a teacher and a learning specialist and has master's degrees in literature and education.

Learn about direct instruction and how educators use it effectively in their classrooms. Explore strategies for using direct instruction, including what types of information and subjects it is best suited for.

We also recommend watching Direct Instruction & Discovery Instruction: Definition & Differences and Differentiated Instruction: Adapting the Learning Environment for Students

What Is Direct Instruction?

Direct Instruction is the use of straightforward, explicit teaching techniques, usually to teach a specific skill. It is a teacher-directed method, meaning that the teacher stands in front of a classroom and presents the information. It might be a lesson in which the teacher very clearly outlines the order of all the planets in the solar system, or it might be a simple explanation and some examples of the double-ff-ll-ss-zz spelling rule.

A teacher standing in front of his students delivering a lecture, an example of what a classroom looks like during direct instruction.
Photo of a teacher giving a lecture to his students

You might be thinking, 'Isn't that how everything is taught in classrooms?' Yes, this used to be true, but then we found that not all students benefited from listening to a teacher talk all day and that not all lessons were best taught through direct instruction. Teachers now match the type of instruction to the task, teaching directly when it suits the skill being taught. The order of the planets is something best learned directly, while teaching what materials are magnetic is better learned, and much more engaging, through experimentation.

Constructivism: Hands-On, Collaborative and Project-Based

To understand the movement away from direct instruction, you have to learn about constructivism. Constructivism comes from the progressive education movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, when education reformers like John Dewey and Maria Montessori sought to make learners more active participants in their own education. Progressive education reformers saw direct instruction as largely ineffective and passive, through which learners are spoon-fed information instead of discovering for themselves.

A major feature of constructivism is that it is student-driven rather than teacher-driven. Students take part in hands-on, collaborative and/or project-based learning. Instead of being told explicitly that magnets attract metals that contain iron, students are given magnets and asked to find which materials they 'stick to' in the classroom. In science education, this is often called inquiry-based learning, an important part of many contemporary science curricula, in which students explore science concepts for themselves through carefully set-up experiments.

Looking at this photo, it is not hard to imagine how a hands-on lesson in a garden is a more engaging and meaningful way to teach about plants than a classroom lecture.
Photo of children and teacher in garden

Matching the Instruction to the Task

So, for several decades, we had two models of instruction, constructivist and direct instruction, and students usually had all of one or the other. This meant that the constructivist students were sometimes unclear about what exactly they were supposed to get from that activity about magnets, and the kids receiving direct instruction listened to a whole lot of classroom lectures.

Teachers now know that it is most effective to match the type of instruction to the task. This means there are times where direct instruction is the most appropriate and times when another form of instruction, like class discussions or hands-on activities, are better suited to what is being taught.

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