How to Provide Explicit Instruction to Promote Successful Learning of New Skills

How to Provide Explicit Instruction to Promote Successful Learning of New SkillsHow to Provide Explicit Instruction to Promote Successful Learning of New Skills

Are you familiar with the instructional approach entitled explicit instruction?  It is defined as: “a group of research-supported instructional behaviors used to design and deliver instruction that provides needed supports for successful learning through clarity of language and purpose, and reduction of cognitive load. It promotes active student engagement by requiring frequent and varied responses followed by appropriate affirmative and corrective feedback, and assists long-term retention through the use of purposeful practice strategies.” (Hughes, Morris, Therrien, & Benson, 2017).

Okay great so what does that mean?  In a nutshell, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Pub. L. 94-142) defined special education as “specially designed instruction” – explicit instruction is one type of instruction for students with disabilities with 40+ years of research to help back it up!

As pediatric therapists in the school setting, it is important to be aware of how to provide explicit instruction to promote successful learning of new skills for students with disabilities.   Most likely, you are providing a similar type of instruction based on motor learning theories.

Here are the 6 principles of providing explicit instruction:

  1. Increase engagement time during the learning process and provide opportunities for practice. Need ideas on how to do this?  Read this post.
  2. Offer just right activities to promote success for the student.
  3. Teach the skill efficiently increasing what you cover to facilitate the greater potential of learning the skill.
  4. Encourage students to spend time learning the skills in groups.  Students will learn from peers and learn by teaching others.
  5. Scaffold instruction by knowing when to provide help and when to slowly diminish assistance.  Read more here on scaffolding or chaining.
  6. Address different forms of knowledge – in the “therapy world” this means teach the skill in different environments.  Learning how to maintain your balance while walking in a therapy room is a completely different skill than learning how to maintain your balance in a busy classroom.

Here are helpful suggestions on how to provide explicit instruction to promote successful learning of new skills for students with disabilities:

  • Focus instruction on the most important part of the skill.
  • Break down large tasks into smaller tasks to teach.
  • Be prepared with a pre-planned, organized session.  Try writing a lesson plan.
  • Inform students what the goal is for each instructional session.  Read how to maximize time spent on goal practice.
  • Provide demonstration with easy to follow steps.
  • Use simple language when providing directions.
  • Monitor performance frequently with ongoing data collection.
  • Provide immediate and concise feedback.
  • Offer opportunities to practice parts of the skill and the whole skill or task.

In special education, evidence suggests that explicit instruction promotes learning more effectively and efficiently than other approaches to instruction, especially for students experiencing difficulty learning new skills.


Hughes, C. A., Morris, J. A., Therrien, W. J., Benson, S. K. (2017). Explicit instruction: Historical and contemporary contexts. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 32, 140–148. doi:10.1111/ldrp.12142

Riccomini, P. J., Morano, S., & Hughes, C. A. (2017). Big Ideas in Special Education: Specially Designed Instruction, High-Leverage Practices, Explicit Instruction, and Intensive Instruction. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 50(1), 20-27.

If you are looking for handwriting resources that utilize the principles and elements of explicit instruction, check out the Handwriting Resources created by Thia Triggs, OTR.

CAPITALS FIRST Explicit Instruction

CAPITALS FIRST Book 1 Explicit Instruction Uppercase

This digital download includes instructions for capital letters made with lines and curves which is the perfect way to start for children to learn letter formations at the top. Print Path letter font is compatible with Handwriting Without Tears materials but allows your children to learn formations on the three-lined paper they are most likely to encounter. Quality handwriting instruction involves more than providing letter worksheets. If you have been giving dashed-line alphabetical-order handwriting worksheets to your students, consider upgrading your handwriting instruction to include research-based best practices. A succinct scope is shared in the Teachers Guide, which is included with the CAPITALS FIRST practice book. Letters are specifically sequenced to help children use skills they already have to learn new letters.  FIND OUT MORE.

If you need help with providing explicit instruction for teaching students ball skills, check out Teaching Catching, Throwing and Kicking Skills.

Help children learn how to catch, throw and kick with this packet full of information of age progression of skills, visual picture cards, tips, letter to parents and more!  FIND OUT MORE.

How to Provide Explicit Instruction to Promote Successful Learning of New Skills