Explicit Instruction

Good to Great Schools Australia recommends the use of explicit instruction as it is a proven method for successful student learning. Explicit instruction involves teachers clearly conveying new information and demonstrating how to apply it, so students do not need to discover it on their own. This teaching approach is backed by extensive evidence of its effectiveness.  

We offer a range of explicit instruction curriculum resources, professional learning courses and modules, and school improvement tools. As a non-profit with the goal of improving education outcomes for all Australian students, we provide free access to these resources for all Australian schools. Join us today to start using these valuable resources. 

Features of explicit instruction that maximise student learning

Good to Great Schools Australia resources are developed with the fundamental elements of explicit instruction. Our curriculum programs feature pedagogy built into the lesson structure. Our professional learning modules develop the skills and knowledge needed to deliver explicit instruction effectively, and our school improvement resources enable schools to embed explicit teaching practices across the school.  

Teacher talk is explicit and unambiguous 

information is presented explicitly and unambiguously to mitigate students’ misunderstanding 

Interlinked schemas form a comprehensive framework across school years 

information is presented explicitly and unambiguously to mitigate students’ misunderstanding 

Goals and objectives are explicit  

lessons have an explicit objective and a learning goal to let students know what they are about to learn and what the outcome of the learning will be 

Scaffolded learning  

limited new information builds on skills from the previous lesson and recurs throughout subsequent lessons

Skill acquisition builds from easy to increasingly complex 

skills are initially acquired easily so that students experience success, but later become increasingly complex, so that students are continually challenged 

Sequenced learning progressions build on previous learning 

skill development is set out in sequenced learning progressions that build on students’ previously acquired learning – students master each set of skills before progressing to new tasks 

Activate prior knowledge 

past information is regularly recalled, informing new learning 

Mastery learning 

regular checkpoints confirm that students have mastered the content before they learn new information, which is determined by students demonstrating around 90 per cent accuracy 

Address gaps in learning 

adjustments and strategies for teachers to address gaps in learning before retesting students and moving on 

Good to Great Schools Australia uses the term effective teaching to describe teaching that uses explicit and direct instruction practices to achieve the goal of students mastering the content and doing so through efficient and repetitive practice. Our effective teaching approach has a range of evidence-based features.

The comprehensive body of research on the effectiveness of explicit instruction

Educationalists have spent decades researching what methods, approaches and practices elicit the best results in students. Out of all the approaches, direct and explicit instruction practices have continuously demonstrated the highest teaching effectiveness, especially when integrated with other evidence-based teaching practices.  

Principles of Instruction

The original explicit instruction approach was pioneered by Siegfried Engelmann which was later documented Barak Rosenshine in his Principles of Instruction: Research strategies that all teachers should know. Engelmann combined knowledge from educational psychology and cognitive science to understand how students learn, and used this understanding to design and implement explicit instructional strategies.  

Cognitive science

Explicit instruction is also based on the application of cognitive science to education, to maximise learning efficiency. In their study, Teaching the Science of Learning, Weinstein, Madan, and Sumeracki highlighted the contribution of cognitive science to our understanding of effective teaching and various learning strategies including explicit instruction. 

Hattie’s Visible Learning

One of the most widely known educational research articles is the 2012 meta-analysis of nearly 1200 research studies on education conducted by Professor John Hattie. Hattie found that a key feature of explicit instruction teacher clarity, meaning using explicit, clear and unambiguous language has higher than average effects on student progress.  

The Science of Reading

The science of reading is a comprehensive body of research from the fields of education, special education, literacy, psychology, and neurology. The evidence informs how students learn to read, what skills are involved, how they work together, and which parts of the brain are responsible for reading development. This research has enabled the development of evidence-based structured literacy lessons, using explicit instruction, for systematically teaching foundational literacy skills. The five essential components of structured literacy lessons, , are phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.  

Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) refers to the gap between the actual level of a student’s development and the level of potential development or defined learning goals in knowledge and skills they are attempting to reach. Locating a students’ ZPD can help teachers plan instruction and deliver instructional scaffolding which enhances the delivery of explicit instruction.  

Surface, deep and transfer of knowledge

Surface understanding refers to the learning of one or multiple ideas. Deep understanding reflects the creation of relationships between ideas and the extension of ideas into abstract thinking. Students can then develop a conceptual understanding and ideas that link knowledge, shaping the acquisition of further surface and deep knowledge. Engelmann’s Direct Instruction programs remain the best example of an explicit instructional design approach that responds to the acquisition and transfer of knowledge from a surface to a deep level. These programs follow a pattern in which teachers use examples (deep knowledge), then explain rules, and finally allow students to progress to making generalisations (transfer of knowledge). 

Automaticity to optimise mastery and learning growth

Automaticity occurs when an activity or process is experienced repeatedly and becomes more automatic, so less attention is required, and attention can then be given to other processes or tasks. Promoting automaticity in learning allows students to process information quickly and accurately, resulting in more efficient performance. Automaticity is an inherent component of fluency and is achieved through learning that emphasises practice and repetition. It involves students being able to identify letters, letter patterns and isolated words accurately and quickly. Students achieve mastery when they can provide an answer as quickly as they can say their name. The Reading League (2022)  demonstrate that a student’s automatic word recognition and comprehension skills can be increased through the effective connection of word pronunciation, letter sequencing, and the meaning of a word. 

Spaced practice and sequenced lessons

Spaced practice refers to the teaching of a skill over incremental points in time. Students form connections between concepts during practice as they retrieve information from their long-term memory and combine it with information from their short-term memory, ultimately building their knowledge base. Explicit teaching uses logical analysis and testing of the content students are to learn as well as appropriate selection and sequencing of instructional examples. Lessons with multiple learning intentions and several short exercises are more likely to help students achieve knowledge mastery. 

Clear instructional language

The English language is complex and ambiguous, which allows for multiple interpretations and all learners are idiosyncratically capable of interpreting information differently. In explicit teaching, teachers communicate to reduce errors and misinterpretations. Lesson’s structure instruction seamlessly through faultless communication of only one logical interpretation by the student so that concepts are learned perfectly. This technique is fundamental to explicit instruction. Engelmann and Carnine’s Theory of Instruction (1982) prioritises faultless and clear communication between student and teacher, which enables all other aspects of instruction to work. 

Mastery learning

Mastery learning is based on the premise that all students can learn the content and places the responsibility for learning on the teaching delivered. Lessons are designed so that the student group learns the information together and achieves the same level of mastery. Mastery learning complements the practice of grouping students by their ZPD levels rather than year levels. Each lesson includes a limited amount of new information taught explicitly that builds on skills from the previous lesson. Once introduced, these skills and knowledge recur throughout subsequent lessons. Teachers present easier skills first so that students can experience initial success and gradually increase the difficulty of skills. This process results in students continually tackling more challenging content. 

Clear learning objectives visible to learners

When students understand the learning intention at the start of a lesson, they are more informed as to what success looks like and how to get there. This dynamic motivates students and maximises their engagement in the lesson. Black and Wiliam’s (1998) research on classroom assessment shows that clear learning objectives enable students to create a picture of the intended learning targets and self-assess where they are headed and how they will get there, resulting in more committed and effective learners. 

Structured lessons

Building a set structure for a lesson ensures consistency in students’ application of teaching information. A set structure ensures high student engagement because they know how their learning is being set up, so can devote all their attention to what is being taught. Lessons have three distinct phases, opening, main and closing. Rosenshine and Steven’s (1986) summary of several teacher effects studies concluded that well-structured lessons include a beginning that contains a short review of prior learning, visible learning intentions, explicit instruction delivered in small steps, guidance during initial practise, extensive practise for students, and continuous feedback and corrections. 

Progress tracked through data to inform teaching

Student data refers to information gathered about individual students to form a complete picture of student learning and needs. The most common use of data in schools measures student progress and mastery, as well as data that informs progress achievement such as attendance or student welfare data. Teachers also use data to inform their instruction so they can adapt and refine their teaching practices and strategies to focus on what students need most. 

Ensuring engagement of all learners

Engagement refers to the interactivity students have with the lesson content, teacher, and fellow students. Teachers use engagement techniques to elicit frequent written, verbal or movement responses and actively engage the students in learning. As students actively engage, they are focused, attentive and responsive to the task at hand, thereby minimising off-task behaviour and maximising learning time. These presentation techniques include signalling, choral responses, individual turns, specific positive praise, pair/share, pronounce with me, track with me, read with me, gesture with me, and picking non-volunteers. Hollingsworth and Ybarra’s (2009) research concludes that when teachers design an objective well and present it to students, this improves students’ understanding of what they will be learning, increases student engagement in the lesson, and leads to enhanced student outcome. 

Embedding behaviour routines

Routines are an important part of an efficient classroom in which lessons run to schedule, learning time is maximised, and students are focused on learning without unnecessary distractions. Teachers communicate routines and expectations as well as their purpose to students to establish positive classroom routines. As students understand the expectations regarding behaviour, they are empowered to take control of the personal learning behaviours that will lead to their success. Clear instructions, visual references, and opportunities to practice routines enable students to follow them effectively and efficiently. 

Pedagogy built into the lesson structure

Pedagogy refers to the principles and methods of instruction. Effective teaching lessons have built-in mechanisms to challenge students, keep them engaged and on-task, provide feedback about their successes, and specify rewards. There is also frequent interaction between teachers and students. Fisher and Frey (2013)  state that students are not “empty vessels” into which knowledge can be poured; they need to receive an appropriate level of challenge within a learning environment based on interactions. They pointed out that according to several studies – including Jean Piaget‘s work on cognitive structures and schema (1952), Lev Vygotsky‘s work on zones of proximal development (1962, 1978), Albert Bandura‘s work on attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation (1965), and the work of David Wood, Jerome Bruner, and Gail Ross on scaffolded instruction (1976) – learning occurs through interactions with others, and specific learning occurs when these interactions are intentional. 

Teach fluently with confidence and expression

Teachers who use published evidence-based lessons can maximise student results if they practise them before teaching. The less familiar a teacher is with a lesson, the more time they will need to put into practising it before they deliver it. 

Differentiation of learners

Differentiation refers to tailoring instruction to the learning needs of individual students and is often known as a solution or a response to intervention for struggling learners. It enables all students in a group to progress regardless of where they are on the learning continuum. 

Continually checking for understanding

Questioning students to check for understanding ensures students have learned the content being taught and are acquiring a mastery of concepts and skills. For example, asking students to respond to a question in unison or randomly picking a student to answer are ways to check if they have learnt the content that was just taught to them. Both approaches are more effective than always selecting a student who is volunteering an answer and then assuming that most of the class has learnt the skill or concept. 


Good to Great Schools Australia has developed curriculum programs featuring explicit instruction and the evidence-based practices listed above. In order to access any of the hyperlinks listed below, ensure you are signed up and logged in.  

  • Music for Learning: A complete toolkit for delivering high-quality, evidence-based music lessons. Specialist music background is not required! 
  • Oz-e-science:  A complete toolkit for effective teaching of science, designed to make students fall in love with science class. Specialist science background is not required! 

Professional Learning

Our Course Modules cover the knowledge, skills and practices of explicit instruction. These modules take 4-6 hours to complete. There are modules for all school roles, here are a few examples to browse: 

Program Modules are online, self-paced professional learning modules that cover the knowledge, skills and practice of specific curriculum programs. These take 6 to 8 hours to complete. Most of our curriculum programs have a complementary Program Module. 


Practice modules are online, self-paced professional learning modules that cover the knowledge, skills and practices of explicit instruction. These modules take 2 to 4 hours to complete. 



School improvement

Effective Teaching Techniques School Improvement Posters and Practice Cards 

This range of posters and practice cards home in on specific effective teaching techniques. The posters are great for having a visual reminder on the wall and the practice cards can be used in coaching sessions. 


    Completely FREE Effective Teaching Techniques Guide containing information about our:
    ⦁ Classroom-ready curriculum resources mapped to the Australian  curriculum and based on robust evidence.
    ⦁ Professional learning modules aligned with AITSL professional standards for teachers, teacher aides, principals and instruction coaches.
    ⦁ School improvement tools based on best international practices for success in literacy, numeric skills and other key areas.

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