What is Direct Instruction?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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Direct instruction is an approach to teaching where an instructor provides a detailed and highly structured series of directions and lectures to students, rather than encouraging students to explore and grasp concepts on their own. The teacher interacts face to face with students, leading the class, and the class does not engage in work groups and other independent activities. Direct instruction can be very suitable to teaching certain kinds of topics, like mathematics and basic science.

In direct instruction, the teacher lectures the class to provide students with the basic building blocks of knowledge, and builds on those in a series of steps. One advantage to this teaching method is that it is very easy to set goals and measure progress. In a math class, teachers can define goals as mastery of specific concepts, and may test students to see if they understand the topics covered thus far to see if the students are learning.

Direct instruction relies on tools like lecture, repeating drills, demonstrations in front of the class, and homework to reinforce skills discussed in class. Interaction between students and exploration of topics through discussion sections and private inquiry is not a part of direct instruction. Students may choose to work independently outside the classroom environment in study groups, but this is not integrated into the teacher's approach in the classroom.


This method is very systematic, relying on a tight script and very focused goals. For some kinds of learning, it is less appropriate. For example, in a history class, teachers may want students to explore historical topics and think about social issues and attitudes when evaluating historical events. Students may learn more from the material if they have access to discussions and other opportunities to probe into the events they learn about. Topics like math, where teachers want students to understand a series of concepts, can often be covered very well through direct instruction.

Educators may choose to use a combination of instruction techniques to reach their students, tailoring the approach to the class and the topic. Most teachers learn about different approaches to pedagogy while they receive their training, including an assortment of direct instruction methods. School districts may place an emphasis on a particular type of teaching, expecting their personnel to use that method in their work. Schools for at-risk youth, who often have difficulty focusing and completing tasks, may rely on direct instruction to provide very clear structure in the classroom with the goal of making it easier for students to succeed.


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