Most teachers I know care deeply about helping their students succeed at school, and if you are reading this article, you are undoubtedly one of them. Yet, research has revealed some teaching strategies have far more impact than others. These are evidence-based teaching strategies. Busy teachers have so many demands on their time that it is hard to keep abreast of what the research really says – especially amidst the noise of trendy fads.
That’s where I can help. I am a passionate teacher who recently had both my legs amputated. This gives me time to read the research and share my findings with teachers like you.
If you want to make a larger difference in how well your students do, then learn about these 10 evidence-based teaching strategies. Some of them may surprise you!
Evidence-Based Teaching Strategy 1: A Clear Focus
You need to be crystal clear about what you want your students to learn, whether this is within a single lesson or a series of lessons. This includes being clear about what you want your students to:
Be able to do
Know and understand
A clear focus enables you to focus everything you do and everything you get your students to do on achieving this intended learning. In turn, this has a sizeable impact (d = 0.75)1 on your students’ learning.
Note, the impact of a clear focus relies on you adjusting your teaching and learning activities in line with that focus. It doesn’t come from fancy names such as learning intentions or learning targets. You can call them goals, intentions, objectives or anything else – it doesn’t matter.
Teaching Strategy 2: Pretesting
The term ‘testing’ tends to get a bad rap in teaching circles. Yet, when viewed more broadly, it actually a potent teaching strategy that underpins x strategies in this list. Pretesting is the first of these.
At a unit level, pretesting can help see what children already know and understand. Pretesting can also highlight misunderstandings your students may have. Collectively this information helps you to devise a plan to help get your students from where they are now to where you want them to be by the end of the unit. This is a critical, yet neglected aspect of teacher clarity.
At the lesson level, research has revealed that pretesting has an even larger impact on learning than typical retrieval practice. It helps students to:
Activate prior knowledge
Focus on what they need to learn
Utilise error recollection in the future
Teaching Strategy 3: Show & Tell
I call the second evidence-based teaching strategy show and tell, although the research refers to be various other names. It is grounded in the idea that novice learners learn best with explicit instruction2 and represents the I Do phase of the I Do – We Do – You Do model. instruction should make use of:
Yet, it goes further by highlighting how such instruction works best when it combines:
Meaningful and carefully crafted visuals3
The nature of show and tell varies slightly between procedural and conceptual knowledge.
Procedural Show & Tell
With procedural learning, show and tell involves:
Modelling what students need to be able to do (show)
Explaining what students need to understand (tell)
Modelling often involves working an example, which has a moderate-to-large impact on students learning4.
When worked examples are coupled with verbal explanations of the steps or actions needed, they have even more impact5.
Conceptual Show & Tell
With conceptual learning, show and tell involves:
Verbal explanations (tell)
Supporting visuals (show)
Visuals may include text, but they are not text-based. Research on the modality and multimedia effects3 show that combining meaningful visuals with verbal explanations enhances learning.
However, visuals must be used carefully. See The Use of Visuals article.
Checking for Understanding
Strategy 4: Integrate Prior Understandings
Pretesting is a powerful way to activate prior understandings. Yet, activating prior understandings is only the first step. You also need to prompt your students to integrate the new information with what they already understood, with questions such as, how does/is this new information:
Add to what I already understand
Distinct from similar concepts or procedures
Change what I previously understood
Relate with what I already understood
Relationships could be sequential, hierarchical, cause-effect or comparative. You can ask your students to show these relationships using some form of a graphic organiser:
Partially completed organisers are ideal during the We Do phase of teaching
Students should create their own graphical organiser during the You Do phase of a lesson.
And, the impact is even larger in mathematics when integrating prior understandings is coupled with worked examples.
Strategy 5: Retrieval Practice
Research shows that retrieving information from memory is a powerful way to learn. In psychology, we refer to this as the testing effect.
In fact, students who practise retrieving information from memory do far better than students who spend an equivalent amount of time restudying.
Retrieval can take many forms including:
Free recall – where students write down everything they can remember about a topic
Cued recall – where students are given cues (eg first letter) of an answer
You can also ask students to practise using a mixture of the above methods.
Strategy 6: Feedback
Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and it is the breakfast served by extraordinary teachers around the world.
Giving feedback involves telling a student:
How they performed on a particular task
How they can improve
Feedback is different to praise. Praise focuses on the student, while feedback focuses on what your student did. It provides your students with a tangible understanding of:
What they did well
Where they are at
What to do to improve
In John Hattie’s view, any teachers who seriously want to boost their children’s results should start by giving them dollops and dollops of feedback.
If you want to learn more about giving feedback, subscribe to our email list. You will then receive a free copy of our eBook How to Give Feedback to Students: The Advanced Guide. You should also check out our student feedback infographic.
Teaching Strategy 7: Spaced Practice
We know that retrieval practice works well, that it works better than restudying material, and that it gas even more impact when accompanied by feedback.
Yet, research shows that students learn more when they practice the same thing repeatedly with spaces in between than they do when they study the same thing intensely for a block of time.
For more details see Distributed vs Massed Practice.
Teaching Strategy 8: Productive Group Work
Group work can have a potent and positive impact on your students’ learning.
Yet, group work done at the wrong time or in the wrong way can backfire. Kids can muck around and leave one or 2 group members to do the work. So, follow these tips:
- Don’t use group work as teaching strategy until your class is routinely behaving well as a whole class
- When you first use group work, make the task easy enough that students won’t need help. Then spend your time watching all the groups, offering praise and positive correction when appropriate.
- Only use group work once all indivdual students have a basic mastery of the task
- Choose tasks that have a small number of discrete steps
- Make group sizes equivalent to the number of steps in the class
- Have each student complete one step, then rotate roles with repeat tasks
- Hold groups accountable for their behaviour, effort and results