What, exactly, do I say to students? Teacher Prompts that Promote Positive & Specific Directions

Have you ever had someone give you directions and you got completely lost? Or attempted to follow a recipe and the dish turned out awful? Maybe to were trying to recreate a craft or model you saw online and it turned out nothing like the original picture.

In my speech and debate class I used to have students write out the directions how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I set up a table in the front of the room with the main ingredients: bread, peanut butter and jelly. Then, I selected two volunteers: one student to read aloud his or her directions and the second volunteer to literally follow the directions exactly as they were being communicated. Here is where the challenge (and silliness) began. Giving clear, concise instructions to others is an important skill for young people to learn. In this activity, students practiced communicating ideas to others, recognizing steps in a process, and recognizing the importance of the use of clear language.

As teachers, we are always looking for ways to support student learning, articulate our objectives clearly, prompt students thinking or actions in positive and specific ways.  Here are more than a dozen positive and specific teacher prompts that cue student engagement, action, and thinking from George McClosky, Bob R. Van Divner, & Lisa Perkins’ list of “Self-Regulation Executive Function Definitions with Examples of Teacher Prompts.” No matter the student, classified or not, prompting in positive, specific, and brief directions helps all students succeed.

Perceive – “Everyone look at the board.”

“Listen to this.”

“Try and notice how . . .”

Modulate – “This is the kind of problem that requires a lot of thinking power to complete.”

Gauge – “What kind of thinking will this situation require?”

Sustain – “You might need to think longer about this if you want to come up with a good answer.”

Stop/Interrupt – “Please stop doing that.”

Inhibit – “Let’s listen to what XXX is saying.”

Hold – “Hold that thought while we continue.”

Manipulate – “Now take what you just said and try to think about what might happen next.”

Foresee/Plan (Short-term) – “Can you come up with a plan for solving . . .”

General/Associate – “Is this similar to any other  . . . . we have already done?”

Balance – “Be sure to look closely enough to see all the details.”

Store – “Remember what you just heard.”

Retrieve – “Who can recall what we saw . . .”

Time – “Spend about five minutes thinking about it.”

Monitor – “Look at each item carefully. Some require  . . . and some require . . .”

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