17 Teaching Principles of Effective Instruction

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What makes a teacher, highly effective?

Rosenshine identifies the hallmarks of effective teaching that he has discovered in his work over the past four decades. In his research (Rosenshine, 2012), a wide range of teachers were observed to identify the differences between the most effective and less effective teachers.

Effective and less effective teachers

I have written about Rosenshine’s research in my book, Mark Plan Teach (page 136), but I have realised that I had never blogged about it here on Teacher Toolkit. In a series of studies published by American Educator on behalf of Barack Rosenshine, Emetrius Professor at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Rosenshine shares his ten ‘research-based principles of instruction’ for teachers.

Rosenshine explains that his 10 principles come from three sources and are summarised in the report as follows.

  • ‘research in cognitive science’
  • ‘research on the classroom practices of master teachers’
  • ‘research on cognitive support to help students learn complex tasks.’

1. Review the last lesson

Research finding: The first recommendation from the research, is that a daily review is an important component of instruction. A review can help teachers strengthen the connections from the material to what students have learned.

In the classroom: The most effective teachers in the research of classroom instruction understood the importance of practice, and they began their lessons with a five-to-eight-minute review of the last lesson.

Resource: 5 Ways To Make Knowledge Stick

2. Present new material

Research findings: Our working memory where we process information is small. Presenting too much material at once may confuse students because their working memory is swamped. Therefore, the more effective teachers do not overwhelm their students by presenting too much new material at once

In the classroom: Successful teachers teach by giving a series of short presentations using many examples and guided practice.

Resource: #1MinCPD: Differentiating explanations

3. Ask a large number of questions

Research findings: Students need to practice new material. The teacher’s questions and student discussion are a major way of providing this necessary practice. The most successful teachers in these studies spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions.

In the classroom: Effective teachers increased the number of factual questions and process questions they asked during this guided practice. Test results showed that their students achieved higher scores.

Resource: Fermi Questioning

4. Provide models

Research findings: Students need cognitive support to help them learn to solve problems. A teacher modeling and thinking aloud while demonstrating how to solve a problem are examples of effective cognitive support.

In the classroom: This can be conveyed by providing prompts, modeling use of the prompt, and then guiding students as they develop independence. In the most effective teaching, students were given words such as “who,” “where,” “why,” and “how” to help them begin a question.

Resource: Try the Question Matrix?

5. Guide student practice

Research findings: It is not enough simply to present students with new material, because the material will be forgotten unless there is sufficient rehearsal. Students must spend additional time rephrasing, elaborating, and summarising new material in order to store the information in their long-term memory.

In the classroom: The most successful teachers presented only small amounts of material at a time. After this short presentation, these teachers then guided student practice – and spent more time doing so. The result? Students were better prepared and achieved higher success rates.

Resource: Designing Teacher Instruction For Student Achievement

6. Check for student understanding

Research findings: The more effective teachers frequently checked to see if all the students were learning the new material. These checks provided some of the processing needed to move new learning into long-term memory to let teachers know if students were developing misconceptions.

In the classroom: Effective teachers stopped to check for student understanding, by asking questions and asking students to summarise. In less effective teaching, the teacher asked students: “Are there any questions?” If there are no questions, the assumption is made that students understand.

Resource: Try Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce.

7.  Obtain a high success rate

The research suggests that the optimal success rate for fostering student achievement appears to be about 80 percent; judged by the quality of students’ oral responses during guided practice and their individual work.

Research findings: The most effective teachers obtained this success level by teaching in small steps. Practice, we are told, makes perfect. So, ignore the term ‘rote learning’ and consider repeating tests and questions as excellent ‘practice’.

In the classroom: Rosenshine elaborates this principle that I think is the most crucial for effective teaching: ‘providing systematic feedback and corrections’. Not only is this imperative for students to make progress, but it’s also the devil’s work if misinterpreted by school inspection frameworks and classroom observers because they are focusing solely on marking in students books and not much else.

More importantly, it’s completely pointless if a student doesn’t actually act on the teacher’s feedback –  and yes, not all feedback needs to be written, recorded and evidenced! In some cases, it is often not the best, most reliable or quickest method if you require the student to improve the work in the lesson!

Resource: Try 5 Ways To Boost Vocabulary.

8. Provide scaffolds

Research findings: A scaffold is a temporary support that is used to assist a student. These scaffolds are gradually withdrawn as learners become more competent, and include the teacher ‘thinking out aloud’ as they solve the problem.

In the classroom: One example, a teacher would show the thought processes they go through as they determine the topic of the paragraph and then use the topic to generate a summary sentence. The teacher would also anticipate likely mistakes…

Resource: Try Live Marking: Feedback in Lessons.

9. Require and monitor independent practice

Research findings: Guided practice is followed by independent practice – by students working alone and practicing the new material.

In the classroom: The more successful teachers in this research provided for extensive and successful practice, both in the classroom and after class. The research also found that students were more engaged when their teacher circulated around the room and supervised seat work. The optimal time, according to the research, is 30 seconds or less.

Resource: Metacognition – Thinking Deeply About Learning.

10. Engage students in a weekly and monthly review

Research findings: Students need extensive, broad reading and extensive practice in order to develop well-connected networks of ideas (schemas) in their long-term memory… Knowledge stored in long-term memory that is organized into patterns only occupies a tiny amount of space in our limited working memory. So having larger and better-connected patterns of knowledge frees up space in our working memory.

In the classroom:  One way of achieving this goal is to review the previous week’s work every week and the previous month’s work every fourth week. Research suggests that classes that had weekly quizzes scored better on final exams than did classes with only one or two quizzes during the term!

As I’ve discussed before, teachers face a difficult problem when they need to cover curriculum material and don’t feel they have the time for sufficient review. But the research is clear, that material that is not adequately practiced and reviewed is easily forgotten! So, go forth and test – and test again!

Resource: Read up on Gurdjieff and long-term memory.

Research summary

The principles are summarised in Rosenshine’s report as follows.

How many do you recognise in your own marking, lesson planning and teaching, or in colleagues you work with? Why not download a copy of Rosenshine’s full research paper, save the following image, and share it with your colleagues?

17 Principles of Instruction

(Credit: American Educator, Spring 2012)


In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of being most influential in the field of education. He remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing resources and ideas online as @TeacherToolkit, he has built this website (c2008) which has been described as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the UK Blog Awards (2018). Read more...

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