Outline on Giving Directions and Communication - Oral and Written

Teachers need to give clear and understandable oral and written directions. In classes where teachers do students' focus is on the activity and its related ideas, rather than trying to decipher directions. When students need to learn a skill, procedure, or vocabulary before they do an activity; it is a challenge to give directions and prepare them as quickly as possible and begin the activity. The following suggestions may be helpful:

Suggestions for understandable directions.

Sentence Structure

  • Use language and patterns that the students know and use.
  • The easiest structure to understand is subject, verb, object. The subject for a commands is understood as you. (You) Cut a square. (You) Draw a circle. Or (You) Fill the beaker with water.
  • Conjunctions and, how, for, and as are the most easily read and comprehended.
  • Short sentences are often easier to understand.
  • The pronoun referent should be clearly identifiable.


  • Choose words familiar to the student and specifically describe what the student should do. For example use Guess instead of predict. Look at instead of observe. This does not mean that young children should not be taught these words in kindergarten or first grade, but until you are confident students know words, don't use them in directions that students are expected to read on their own. Students should know and use words fluently before they meet them in their independent work.
  • Be specific.
  • Tell students what to do as simply as possible.
  • Tell how many. (Write three sentences that describe. Use the centimeter ruler and measure three objects. Write the name of the object and its length to the nearest centimeter.)


  • Use pictures, graphs, charts... to help students understand.
  • A picture may be placed after a word in parentheses or a box.
  • You might use rebus writing (substitute pictures for words)
  • Use illustrations to help students understand sequences.
  • Illustrate each step.
  • Illustrate difficult steps along the way.
  • Illustrate the final product. This serves as an advanced organizer and a means of self-evaluation.
  • Use color, boxes, circles, or other means to highlight certain areas.

Logical order

  • Put directions in a logical order.
  • List them in short precise phrases.
  • Number each step in the list.
  • Write the steps so the child can read one, complete it, read the next, complete it, and so forth.


  • The overall appearance
  • Leave margins on both sides, the top, and the bottom
  • Write in large type
  • Write or print legibly
  • Do not mix upper case and lower case inappropriately
  • Write everything in cursive or print
  • Allow enough space between each step (double space)
  • Use capital letters, color, bold, italics, or underlinings selectively to focus attention. Do not color each letter in a word a different color.


  • The activity itself should motivate students. However, even the most motivational activity can't keep students' interest if it is not organized to get students' attention, focus their action on the activity, and sustain them until completion of the activity. An activity that is motivational and has good directions will grab the students’ attention and maintain their interest even if they may need to struggle with some difficult vocabulary, concepts, and/or materials to complete an activity.
  • Design the activity to increase interest and/or a sense of continued success.
  • Introduce the activity to generate interest. Relate the activity to the student’s life, the importance of the activity, and the possibility of success.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©