GIVING GREAT INSTRUCTIONS!

Coralyn Bradshaw reminds us that telling children what to do needs careful thought and planning.
Teachers often think that they can´t give young learners instructions for activities in English because they are too long and complicated for them to follow. However, learning to give effective instructions in the target language is well worth the effort. It provides an opportunity for children to acquire language naturally in an authentic, purposeful context, and at the same time it gives them the satisfaction on being able to show understanding through their responses.

What sort of instructions?
There are two types of instructions which a teacher needs in the young learner classroom: • • Instructions between activities Instructions to organise an activity

The first type basically forms part of everyday teacher classroom language. Here are some examples: Take out your books! Write it in your notebooks. Give this out. Stop talkingnow, please! Nearly all teachers use this type of instruction from the very first English class. In this way, they gradually build up quite a large bank of instructions in English, which are easily understood through the context in which they are given. This type of instruction rarely causes problems. The second type is used to set up and prepare children to carry out a specific activity, such as pari- or groupwork, a team game, a board or card game, or perhaps a Total Physical Response (TPR) activity. (A typical TPR activity would be when the teacher gives a command, eg Touch your nose! The children carry out the instruction, showing that they have understood the language). With this type of instruction teachers may encounter some difficulties.

Planning
All successful teachers of youn learners have gone through trial and error, when learning how to give effective instructions. Listed below are some tips on planning, which you might find helpful:

1. Only include essential information that the children need to carry out the activity.
Children already have a lot of information to process when listening to this type of instruction. Therefore it´s important to make sure that the instructions contain only the essential information required for them to be able to do the task. Telling children the linguistic ami of the activity or what they will do after it has finished, for example, will only serve to distract them.

2. Use simple vocabulary and structures that the children will be familiar with.
Your aim is to give simple instructions which the children can carry out. Therefore the level of the languaged in which the instructions are fiven should match that which they have

already been exposed to. Using complicated structures will confuse the children and you will lose their attention.

3. Break the instructions into short sentences, each containing a key step.
As children mature, they are developing their attention span so that they can concentrate for increasingly longer periods of time. It is implortant to keep sentences short. The instructions should be broken down into easily manageable steps, and each sentence should contain a “bite.sized” step for the children to work with.

4. Make sure that the steps are in a logical order, and that no steps are missing.
Perhaps one of the most essential aspects of planning is to list the instructions in a logical order for the children to carry out. Think about when you want them to move their chairs, get into groups or teams, etc. When do you want them to look after their worksheets? Remeber that once the children are askd to move places or look at materials, thir attention will no longer be on you! As a rule of thumb, organise the children into the seating or grouping positions you require early in the instructions. Only hand out materials at the moment you want the children to look at them. If you forget one step in teh instructions and have to go back, they will get confused. Make a note of the steps to refer to until you get used to instruion giving.

5. Don´t include information about what you are doing.
It´s important to control your clasroom language. For emaple, if you are handing out materials, it isn´t necessary to tell the children what you are doing – it will be clear from your actions. While it´s good to have natural exposure to English, when giving a series of instructions, teachers should keep to the essentials of what the children need to do. This helps to focus their attention.

6. Plan which gestures you can use to accompany steps.
Teachers of young learners are used to being good actors! The art of givnig effective instructions relies heavily on the use of clear gestures to accompany the steps. Language is always more easily understood in context. Holding up and showing children the materials with which they will work, or demonstrating how they must do something, will always prodcue good results. Make sure that you always exagtgerate your gestures and make them larger than life!

7. Plan the actions you want the children to perform.
One of the problems with delivering a series of instructions is maintaining the attention span of the children. Thje age of the children will determine how many steps of the instructions they will be able to hold in their memory. The best solution is to organise the steps as far as possible in lock-steps so that you can demostrate and the children can carry out taht part of the instruction.

Delivering
Once you have carefully planned the instructions, it´s worth giving some thought to how you are going deliver them. Here are some guidelines:

1. When you are ready to begin the activity, make it obvious that you are about to give instructions.

You need to make sure that the children are listening before you start. Establish silence, make eye contact with as many children as possible and speak loudly and clearly.

2. Remember to use silent pauses and gestures to punctuate and clarify the meaning.
As you deliver the steps, look around at the children to see how tehy are doing. Repeat the instruction, if necessary, until you see that everyone is following you.

3. Always use a demonstration wherever possible.
The following options are available:    the teacher demonstrates with a child the teacher uses a pair/group of children to demonstrate the teacher demonstrates alone (in lock-step with the class if possible)

4. Don´t forget to check that the children have understood the instructions.
Don´t assume everyone has understood! Questions such as “Do you understand?” or “Has everyone understood?” are not sufficient. Children who have not understood are unlikely to let you know for fear of appearing foolish. Get concrete evicence from the children that they know hat to do. One way of doing this is to ask one or two of them to tell you quickly, in their mother tongue, what they are going to do.

Coralyn Bradshaw is a freelance teacher trainer and author, based in Spain. She has had extensive experience in the young learner field in a variety of countries and contexts. Her most recent publication is Excellent! (with co-author Jill Hadfield), published by Longman. E-mail: coralynbradshaw@hotmail.com

Article appeared in: ENGLISH TEACHING professional, Issue 38, May 2005. www.etprofessional.com