Direct instruction

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Direct instruction (DI) is a popular instructional design model for classroom teaching initially developped in the 60's by Siegfried Engelmann. It grew out of the work of Siegfried Englemann and Carl Bereiter with disadvantaged children (Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966)

This method is somewhat related to mastery learning, but it is more explicit regarding curriculum design and effective planned instructional delivery (lesson planning). Some call this method "teacher proof" under the condition that he really is willing to learn a teaching script developped by professional instructional designers. Direct instruction is available as commercial instructional programs that includes materials and teacher training / in-classroom coaching.


We identified the following salient features of direct instruction:

  • Scripted Lesson Plans. Such lesson plans relieve the teacher from time-consuming preparation tasks. These are explicitly tested examples and sequences made by professional instructional designers.
  • Signal-based teachers. Teachers send frequently signals to learners to which they should respond.
  • Skill focused: Skills are taught in sequence until students have them automated.
  • Appropriate pacing: teacher-directed instruction followed by small collective or individual learning/repeating activities. Pacing of different teaching methods is rather fast, but children must have space to respond.
  • Frequent probing/testing and assessments with a appropriate corrective feedback / differential praise.
  • Direct instruction is not just drill & practise. Learners can engage in more complex tasks during certain activities.

Kenny (1980) lists the following features:

  1. goals are clear to the students
  2. time allocated for instruction is sufficient and continuous
  3. content covered is extensive
  4. students' performance is monitored
  5. questions are at a low cognitive level produce many correct #sponses
  6. feedback to students is immediate and academically orientated
  7. the teacher controls the instructional goals
  8. the teacher chooses material appropriate for the student's #vel
  9. the teacher paces the teaching
  10. interaction is structured but not authoritarian

Instructional design models

There are many descriptions of direct instruction:

According to Huitt (1996), direct instruction can be summarized as follows.

  1. More teacher-directed instruction (> 50%) and less seatwork (< 50%).
  2. Active presentation of information (could be by teacher, computer, another student).
    1. Gain students' attention
    2. Providing motivational clues
    3. Use advance organizers
    4. Expose essential content
    5. Pretesting/prompting of relevant knowledge
  3. Clear organization of presentation. This includes:
    1. component relationships
    2. sequential relationships
    3. relevance relationships
    4. transitional relationships
  4. Step-by-step progression from subtopic to subtopic (based on task analysis).
  5. Use many examples, visual prompts, and demonstrations (to mediate between concrete and abstract concepts).
  6. Constant assessment of student understanding (before, during and after the lesson).
  7. Alter pace of instruction based on assessment of student understanding (you're teaching students, not content).
  8. Effective use of time and maintaining students' attention (appropriate use of classroom management techniques).

Koslov et al. (1999) identify the following typical phases of a lesson (see also Gagne's nine events of instruction.

  1. Attention and Focus: Short wake-up
  2. Orientation or Preparation: Teacher presents goal of the lesson demonstrates how the lesson builds on prior work.
  3. Model: Teacher demonstrates concepts, propositions, strategies and/or operations. This can include repetitions, variations with different examples in order to help generalization. Teacher also can ask short questions and accept focused questions from learners.
  4. Lead: Teacher organized some guided practice. Firstly all together (choral responding) and then more individually. If necessary, he goes back to model.
  5. Test: Students have to practise individually (written).
  6. Feedback: Students are corrected (using positive rewards)
  7. Error correction: Persistent errors are identified and if necessary teacher has to start over with model/lead/test.
  8. Additional material: Learners are engaged with different materials where the same strategies have to be applied to a common feature (more generalization)
  • Problem solving and strategy discrimination skills are introduced in future lessons (once students master a certain vocabulary of basic strategies).

More generally, there is probably a wide consensus in the instructional design community that the structure of programme sequences should lead to shifts from overt to covert problem solving, from simple contexts to complex contexts that include irrelevant stimuli, from immediate to delayed feedback, from teacher-oriented presentation to the learner as chief form of information, etc. (Kenny, 1980).

More recent models like 4C/ID, Elaboration theory or Instructional transaction theory aim at integrating part-task and whole task practise.

Direct instruction today seems to be most popular in special education where this model actually came from in the beginning.



Direct instructions sites
Commercial programs
  • Huitt, W. (1996). Summary of principles of direct instruction. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved 19:28, 22 May 2006 (MEST), from HTML


  • Bereiter, C., & Engelmann, S. (1966). Teaching disadvantaged children in the preschool. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Bereiter, Carl (1981), A Constructive Look at Follow Through Results, Interchange, Vol. 12, Winter, 1981 HTML Reprint
  • Bereiter Carl and Midian Kurland, (1981). Response to House, Interchange, Volume 12, Number 1 / March, 1981,
  • Burns Alvin C., (2006) Teaching experientially with the Madeline Hunter Method: An application in a marketing research course, Simulation & Gaming, Vol. 37, No. 2, 284-294, DOI: 10.1177/1046878106287954 Abstract PDF (Access restricted)
  • Engelmann, Siegfried and Douglas Carnine (2011) Could John Stuart Mill Have Saved Our Schools?, Attainment Company. ISBN 1578617456
  • Kozloff, Martin A., Louis LaNunziata & ames Cowardin (1999), Direct Instruction In Education, HTML, retrieved, 17:17, 15 September 2006 (MEST).
  • Kenny, Dianna T. (1980). Direct instruction: An overview of theory and practice, Special, 15 12-17. PDF
  • Martha Abele Mac Iver, Elizabeth Kemper (2002). Guest Editors' Introduction: Research on Direct Instruction in Reading, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), Vol. 7, No. 2: pages 107-116. (Access restricted)
  • Martha Abele Mac Iver, Elizabeth Kemper (2002), Guest Editors' Introduction, Direct Instruction Reading Programs: Examining Effectiveness For At-Risk Students in Urban Settings, Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk (JESPAR), 7 (2). [1] (open access).
  • Rosenshine, B. (1976) Classroom instruction. In N.L. Gage (Ed.) The Psychology Of Teaching Methods., (75th NSSE Yearbook) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Schweinhart, Lawrence J., David P. Weikart, Mary B. Larner. 1986. Consequences of three preschool curriculum models through age 15. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 1, 1, 15-45.
  • Stebbins, L. B., St Pierre, R. G., Proper, E. C., Anderson, R. B., & Cerva, T. R. (1977). Education as experimentation: A planned variation model (Vol IV-A). Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates.