Direct Instruction

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We Teach the Direct Instruction Method

The method has been shown to be effective and empowering for teachers and students alike. Watch our video about Direct Instruction below.


Direct Instruction is one of the research-based approaches to student learning that UW Tacoma shares with its students. Developed by Siegfried Engelmann and Wesley Becker during the 1960s, Direct Instruction uses lessons designed around small learning steps and clearly defined teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear instruction that eliminates misinterpretations can greatly improve and accelerate learning.

The method has been shown to be effective and empowering for teachers and students alike. It is also controversial within the education community.


Basically, Direct Instruction is an explicit step-by-step approach to teaching that follows five over-all rules:

  1. Be clear by designing tasks and examples in such a way as to prevent misinterpretations. Also be clear about what students should be able to do by the end of the program.
  2. Be efficient by teaching more in less time and at less cost. Use clear and consistent language and generalizable strategies that can be applied to a range of problems. For high-needs students, this means determining first what they need most to know and sequencing instruction accordingly.
  3. Teach to mastery, or in other words, teach concepts so thoroughly that students will never forget them. The first step toward this goal is to start as close as possible to each student’s ability. Repetition is an essential tool.
  4. Celebrate success often. Praise more than blame.
  5. Use data to monitor student success and adjust instruction accordingly.

In Direct Instruction, teachers identify key skills, teach them first, and then build on this foundation. Research strongly supports this method for improving student performance in reading and math. Project Follow Through, a $500 million federal study comparing the success of nine K-3 teaching models during 1967-77, revealed that the Direct Instruction model outperformed other models in terms of student’s acquisition of academic skills, problem-solving skills, and self-esteem. The results of the study have been replicated in subsequent research.

Direct Instruction is controversial because it flouts successive waves of “progressive” teaching methods that have taken hold over the past half-century. Critics of the method consider it a type of rote learning that undermines students’ creativity.

But unlike most other teaching methods, Direct Instruction is characterized by accountability—student failure is considered instructional failure. Teachers using Direct Instruction are provided with high quality research-based instructional tools and related teaching methods. This way, all children can be taught, and all teachers can succeed.

For more information about Direct Instruction see: The National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI)