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Instructions supported with images

But those don’t look like scissors Mr. Wilson!

I once read an article that claimed that everyone can only remember 7 +/- 2 things in their head at any one time. This would mean, if you were one of the lucky people who could remember 9 things, that once one more event/task/memo came into your head, one would leave and you would forget to complete it. I think children can remember even less, mainly because they are remember more important facts like the lastest football scores, the tour dates for One Direction and the latest cheats for Pokemon. So here are two techniques which I used in the classroom that helped the children remember instructions.

While teaching, I worked in a school where children from the Dyslexia Centre were integrated into my class for the afternoon lessons. This was a welcome addition to the class since the children brought a new range of expertise and skills. However, I had to consider carefully the way I presented and gave my instructions due to the difficulties that these children, and the children in my class, had in remembering these and reading them. These techniques, in my opinion, should be used in every class in order to support the children.

  • Instructions and Images When writing the instructions for tasks I always tried to write these on the IWB/flipchart. It is important to remember that you want them on display at all times, so remember not to put them somewhere that you will ‘click off’ at some point. The instructions should be simple and to the point – no room for waffle here! Follow the criteria for writing instructions which you share with the children when they are learning their instruction writing. Start with the imperative and keep them short – without writing or presenting exceptions. I would often write the instructions for the task before the start of the lesson (copying them from my lesson/session plan onto a flipchart) and then keep them covered until I wanted to present them to the children. As well as the written instructions, I would always add an image or picture that would support the children in understanding the written instructions or even allow them to understand what to do without reading them. This allowed almost all children to understand what to do although sometimes my lack of drawing skills did cause some children to exclaim – “That looks nothing like a pair of scissors!”. the other advantage of this approach is that if a child said they didn’t know what to do, they can read through the instructions and tell you which task they didn’t understand, rather than you having to explain all the tasks to them.
  • Three finger instructions There are times, however, when you can not prepare instructions or you want to give instructions at the end of a lesson or before going out to play. When doing this there are some important points to remember.
  • Firstly – always ensure you have everyone’s attention. That means that everyone has stopped and put their pencils/pens down and children are looking at you. Too often we suddenly notice the time and start to give instructions without doing this which means we have to repeat instructions later or, worse still, the instructions are not followed.
  • Secondly – give no instructions until you state – “There will be three instructions, do not start these until I have said the magic word (in my class this was ‘go!’). This is important and needs to be followed, otherwise children will start completing the first task and not hear anything else – you only need to see what happens at the end of a session at university when the tutor says before you go can you…
  • Thirdly – Give three concise instructions, using your fingers to demonstrate the sequence of the instructions. With younger classes I often get the children to mimic myself as I give the instructions using their fingers to embed the sequence/order. This is also an opportunity to promote the ordinality of the tasks – e.g. first do this, second do this.
  • And finally – Ensure that you get the children to repeat the instructions to either yourself or to each other. If you have a child who’s target is to work on instructions and organising, then ensure that you say to them – “Billy – I will be asking you to repeat these instructions to me once I have said them all” .This encourages them to pay attention and to complete their target successfully. Once this is done, correct any mistakes the children have made in repeating the instructions before uttering the magic word!

Once you have done this a few times, then it will become integral to your practice. The children will understand what they have to do and hopefully everyone will get tidied up quickly and have the correct amount of playtime. The end music on the podcast was composed by Josh Burnell and he is singing with Frances Sladen. The full version is on his Youtube channel below – contact him if you would like a copy of his CD.

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Have fun and catch you later!


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