Principles of Explicit Instruction for Distance Learning [Educators]

young boy distance learning on computer

The text Explicit Instruction by Anita L. Archer and Charles A. Hughes outlines a systematic and engaging instructional delivery method called explicit instruction which is appropriate for all students, including those at risk and with disabilities. Explicit instruction is useful across a variety of subjects and any grade level. While the text was not written specifically for distance learning, many of the principles of explicit instruction could be applicable for distance learning or while students are learning at home. To read the first chapter of the book free of charge, click here.

Sixteen Elements of Explicit Instruction from the text Explicit Instruction, p. 2-3
Focus instruction on critical content
Sequence skills logically
Break down complex skills and strategies into smaller instructional units
Begin lessons with a clear statement of the lesson’s goals and your expectations
Review prior skills and knowledge before instruction
Provide step-by-step demonstrations
Use clear and concise language
Provide an adequate range of examples & nonexamples
Provide guided and supported practice
Require frequent responses
Monitor student performance closely
Provide immediate affirmative and corrective feedback
Deliver the lesson at a brisk pace
Help students organize knowledge
Provide distributed and cumulative practice

Archer, A., & Hughes, C. (2011). Explicit instruction: effective and efficient teaching / Anita L. Archer, Charles A. Hughes. New York: Guilford Press.

The following elements may be helpful to incorporate in a distance learning scenario.

Begin lessons with a clear statement of the lesson’s goals and your expectations.

When starting a new lesson or activity, tell the learner what he or she will learn and why this is important.

Example: This math activity helps you practice addition facts. This is important because we add all the time in life, like at the grocery store or in restaurants or when playing games.

Teachers Engaging in Distance Learning: State the lesson or activity goal or objective at the beginning of a session and have students repeat some or all of it. When providing summaries of work or lessons, review the lesson goal within the summary.

Teachers Helping Caregivers Provide Structure: Clearly label the activity goal on items for caregivers to share with learners.

More information: Register for a free account at and watch the Instructional Goal Statements course

Provide step-by-step demonstrations.

Model exactly how to do a skill or strategy for a learner by showing them the steps to complete the work and describing why you are doing what you are doing.

Example: When teaching a learner how to draw an array for multiplication, describe how to set up the array and why you are doing that. “The multiplication problem is 4 x 3. So I am going to start by drawing 4 dots going across the page. That is the 4 in the multiplication problem. Then I will make 3 dots down. That represents the 3 in the problem. Then I will fill in the rest of the dots and count how many there are. I see that is 12. That shows what 4 x 3 is, or 4 rows of 3.”

Teachers Engaging in Distance Learning: Slow the process down a good amount and really exaggerate the steps for students. If possible, use a white board feature on teleconferencing software so that you can really show students the steps in a process.

Teachers Helping Caregivers Provide Structure: Give caregivers several worked examples to use. Cue them in to common vocabulary you would use to teach the skill or strategy. Send them links to online teaching videos that show the strategy demonstrated by another educator.

More information: Register for a free account at and watch the Clear Model course

Require frequent responses.

Encourage the learner to engage with the teacher/instructor frequently to maximize attention. Use methods like oral responses, written responses, or action response to check for student understanding.

Example: When reading aloud, have the student repeat the last word you read while you point to it; when explaining the steps of a process you are teaching, pause and have students answer questions to previously learned information or repeat back the new information.

Teachers Engaging in Distance Learning: Use a variety of methods to elicit responses from students during distance learning lessons (oral responses, choral unison responses, chats in a chat box, whiteboards or response slates, response cards, etc.) Plan to ask a response frequently (ex: ask for one response every 2-3 minutes for younger learners; ask for one response ever 5-7 minutes from older learners).

Teachers Helping Caregivers Provide Structure: When providing an activity for caregivers, give them a list of 2-4 questions they can ask their learner throughout the activity to elicit responses.

More information: Register for a free account at and watch the Eliciting Responses course

Help students organize knowledge.

Learners can often have difficulty organizing and connecting information they learn from one day to the next. Try using graphic organizers to help learners organize newly learned information consistently.

Teachers Engaging in Distance Learning: Pick 1-2 basic graphic organizers for fiction text and for nonfiction text and stick with having learners use those when they read and discuss text. Model how to use the graphic organizers step-by-step or send learners completed examples.

Teachers Helping Caregivers Provide Structure: Send blank copies of the graphic organizers chosen for fiction and for nonfiction, along with completed examples to use as an “answer key.”**Nonfiction organizers for younger students (p. 6, 9)

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[April 2020]