Gather a room of teachers together and they will give you as many teaching strategies as there are topics in the primary curriculum. This article is to give you a flavour of the 13 most important teaching strategies you should be using – the ones that have proven effectiveness in schools like yours and the ones that we use every week with the 7000 pupils we teach in our one-to-one interventions.
One of the great advances that has been made in the last 5 years in the education sector in the UK is the increasing influence of large scale research and evidence informing what we know about how children learn, and consequently how we can better teach them.
Whether that’s a greater awareness of the EEF Toolkit and their random controlled trials or the growing ResearchEd movement , or even just the vibrant #edutwitter community, many more teachers now are taking their professional development into their own hands.
Many teachers are aware of John Hattie’s ‘Index of Teaching and Learning Strategies’, and wary of implementing new instructional strategies unthinkingly; no-one wants to be stung by another ‘learning styles’ waste of effort.
But even when you know there may be better and more efficient ways to develop your students’ understanding, choosing which of the most effective teaching strategies to start with can be a challenge. This article aims to guide you through this.
What Are Effective Teaching Strategies?
Looking for a specific strategy? Find it below:
- Know Your Pupils and Develop Their Respect
- Appropriate Use of Summative and Formative Assessments
- Teach the Vocabulary
- Explicit Instruction
- Effective Questioning Techniques
- Deliberate Practice
- Reinforcing Effort/Providing Recognition
- Personalised Learning
- Collaborative Learning
- Explicitly Teach Thinking Skills and Problem Solving Techniques
- Modelling and Scaffolding
- Other Strategies To Consider
- The 6 Learning Strategies Every Child Should Know By The End of Year 6
Teaching strategies are methods and techniques that a teacher will use to support their pupils or students through the learning process; a teacher will chose the teaching strategy most suitable to the topic being studied, the level of expertise of the learner, and the stage in their learning journey.
In one lesson a teacher may use many different teaching strategies with different end goals. The most effective teaching strategies are those proven to work over large scale trials. There is no requirement for a teaching strategy to be innovative although of course some of them are.
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13 Evidence-Backed Teaching Strategies For Primary School
Below are the 13 most important teaching strategies that you and all the teachers in your school should at least have in your toolkit for every lesson. No-one is suggesting you will use them in every lesson, but an awareness of what they are and the results you can expect is essential to move your practice on.
And of course if you’re a school leader, or responsible for CPD in your school, knowing what’s current and evidence-backed is key so that you can make an informed choice the next time somebody suggests implementing a new or innovative teaching technique.
These are also the teaching techniques that our tutors use in weekly 1-to-1 maths lessons as part of our online intervention programmes, and (to a greater or lesser degree) are the ones that have ensured we continue to achieve excellent rates of progress and understanding with the primary school pupils we teach.
1. Know Your Pupils And Develop Their Respect
This may sound basic, but the basis of all good teaching is an understanding of your pupils and their learning needs. Allied to this is the respect you are held in by your pupils. The relationship between teacher and student is a vital element of the learning experience. Take time to get to know a new class from the first day, understand what motivates them their barriers to learning. This is an often overlooked teaching strategy.
All our one-to-one tutors are made aware before working with a pupil if they have any special educational needs, and take the time to get to know each pupil throughout the 1-to-1 lessons by asking about their hobbies and interests or the kinds of things they’ve been learning in school.
In this way, whenever possible a tutor can personalise a lesson or a teaching technique as appropriate to the child with a real world example.
2. Appropriate Use Of Summative and Formative Assessments
The first stage here is making sure you know the difference between summative and formative assessment. It may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many teachers don’t use each appropriately.
To cover them quickly: summative assessment refers to an assessment that takes place after a block of work has been completed, whether this is a term or a year. They are best thought of as assessments of learning.
Formative assessments are those that take place day-to-day and are used to gauge pupils’ understanding of a topic – we are assessing for learning. Formative assessment is often used in a diagnostic capacity, to help us identify whether pupils are struggling with a topic in the moment. This then guides and adapts our instruction during the lesson, to better meet children’s needs.
We advocate the use of these kinds of diagnostic assessment to identifies a child’s misconceptions. Usually this is best achieved through a set of multiple choice questions.
As well as the correct answer, we can include multiple distractors – answers that are incorrect based on a misconception a child may have e.g. around multiplying. If a child chooses an incorrect answer therefore, we can easily identify exactly where their thinking has gone wrong.
You can download our sample Diagnostic Quizzes (all including distractors and explanations of them) for free.
For pupils on our one-to-one maths interventions, we use a diagnostic quiz a the start of the intervention which is responsive based on answers to an earlier question. This helps us more clearly identify not just misconceptions and weaknesses, but also where a child’s strengths lie and what therefore needs less time spent on.
3. Teach The Vocabulary
With the new focus in the curriculum on knowledge organisers, there’s no excuse for children being without the relevant topic vocabulary. They need the words to be able to create the thoughts and the sentences to confidently speak about a given topic.
This is why our tutors will always talk through any specialist maths words at the start of a lesson with their pupils, explaining any new terms and checking for understanding of previously covered ones.
We recommended co-creating your maths vocaulary lists with your pupils. This Maths Vocabulary List is a great start.
4. Explicit Instruction
Also known as direct instruction, this teaching strategy is highly teacher-led, and focuses on frequent questioning and guided practice to help pupils learn a topic.
The backbone of explicit instruction is the use of the worked example in an Example-Problem Pair. This involves demonstrating a worked example in its entirety in silence alongside a problem that pupils will then attempt.
Silence is important in order to ensure pupils’ attention is not split between the example and the spoken explanation, making it more likely that both will be more fully absorbed and retained.
Our online interventions are particularly useful for this strategy, as they eliminate all other distractors; tutors can present a worked example in real time in a learning environment without any visual or auditory disruptions.
5. Effective Questioning Techniques
While we are all aware of the importance of questioning as a tool to gauge pupils’ understanding of a topic, certain questions and questioning strategies are more effective and accurate than others.
Questions such as “Are you sure?” and “How do you know?” encourage pupils to engage in some basic critical thinking to establish how confident they are in an answer and why, while others such as “Is there another way?” help to highlight where multiple methods to derive a solution may exist.
Our tutors encourage pupils to verbalise their reasoning and ask questions to ensure pupils have really got to grips with the topic at-hand: “How do you know that answer is right?”, “Can you tell me how else you could work it out?” or “What do you need to do first to answer this question?” are all questions that come up frequently during our lessons!
6. Deliberate Practice
One of the most effective ways of introducing new concepts to a class, Deliberate Practice involves breaking learning down into a series of sub skills, each of which is deliberately practiced in turn.
The 5 steps involved in deliberate practice are:
- Isolate the skill
- Develop the skill
- Assess the skill
- Final performance
- Retrieval practice later
You can find a full explanation of each of these stages in our blog post on Deliberate Practice in Education. But as an example, when teaching long multiplication we might use deliberate practice thus:
Identify (isolate) each specific sub skill involved in the long multiplication method; Practice (develop) each of these one by one; assess pupils’ use of these skills before moving on; have pupils put them all together for a final performance – in this case a full long multiplication problem; return to this topic in later weeks and months to check pupils still retain those skills.
At the beginning of every Third Space Learning intervention session pupils are given a warm-up question related to a previously covered topic; this enables tutors to check that they have retained the relevant skills (and where they have not, to return to the topic).
Far more than simply “splitting the whole class into small groups based on attainment”, positive and effective differentiation at the primary school level can be difficult to achieve – poor differentiation strategies risk actually widening the attainment gap we’re attempting to close.
But there are plenty of impactful differentiation strategies; techniques such as interleaving and Phased Learning, as well as the use of manipulatives and formative assessment, are among those proven to have a beneficial impact on pupils when properly employed.
As we’ve already discussed, formative assessment is a significant aspect of how Third Space’s tutors gauge pupil progress. But we also make use of several other differentiation strategies during lessons, such as Spaced Practice, interleaving and a mixture of direct instruction and inquiry-based learning.
Read more about these: 8 Differentiation Strategies To Raise Up All Pupils In A Primary School Classroom
8. Reinforcing Effort/Providing Recognition
Helping pupils make a link between putting effort into a task and receiving recognition is an important step in developing a classroom environment that fosters active learning.
Encouraging pupils to put more effort into activities only goes so far without something to provide them with the motivation to do so. Praise and recognition are motivators that pupils are already familiar with; shifting them from being correct to giving full effort can be highly effective.
Third Space Learning’s tutors establish an effort-focused environment right from the first session, encouraging pupils to talk through their answers and celebrate their mistakes as learning opportunities, ensuring they approach each intervention as another chance to try.
Since we began our intervention programmes, our tutors have celebrated and rewarded pupil effort by awarding over 32 MILLION Effort Points!
Literally ‘thinking about thinking’, metacognition has been recognised by the EEF as one of the most effective, lowest cost teaching strategies there is, with pupil making an average of seven months’ additional progress.
Metacognition often incorporates some of the other effective teaching strategies, such as effective questioning – “How do you know?” not only asks pupils to justify their solutions, but has them thinking about their own thought processes for deriving that solution.
Teaching pupils how to plan, monitor and self-evaluate their learning also improves pupil motivation and encourages them to work harder in lessons, tying into another teaching strategy.
All our tutors are trained to use a variety of metacognitive strategies as standard during sessions, and we provide pupils with numerous moments for self-reflection both during and after sessions.
10. Personalised Learning
It might sound obvious, but pupils are more likely to engage with learning when is more targeted to them and appeals to their interests! This may be difficult to achieve early on – especially with a full class of 30 pupils – but as familiarity and rapport builds throughout the year it should become easier to make activities and even questions more personalised to individual children.
At Third Space, we’ve built our online interventions on personalisation; all our pupils undertake an Initial Diagnostic Assessment when they begin their programmes, which identifies their strengths and weaknesses in maths and allows us to design a lesson plan that helps them make progress where they need it.
Our tutors then build on this by adding a personal touch to those lessons, incorporating pupils’ interests into lessons with ease thanks to our online platform.
11. Collaborative Learning
Also referred to as ‘cooperative learning’, the idea of having pupils work in groups for certain classroom activities won’t be new to most teachers.
But the EEF notes that the impact of group work can vary widely, and that to make it most effective teachers should focus on well-structured tasks that promote talk and interaction between pupils.
The concept of ‘competitive’ collaborative learning (where groups of students compete against one another) has been shown to have some impact, but caution is advised in case pupils focus more on the competition rather than the learning.
12. Explicitly Teach Thinking Skills And Problem Solving Techniques
Problem solving skills don’t always come naturally to pupils; while metacognitive strategies such as those mentioned above make it more likely that pupils will be able to apply critical thinking to a problem, there is no set way to ensure that this will happen.
Craig Barton’s considerable research into the topic suggests that context-agnostic deployment of problem solving techniques only occurs once pupils have secure domain knowledge, and the opportunity to practice.
Without these, pupils often fall into the trap of attributing importance to the so-called ‘surface features’ of a problem, which we naturally discount as irrelevant to the actual maths involved.
That said, explicit teaching of thinking skills is still of considerably importance; once domain knowledge has been (relatively) secured, teaching pupils how to recognise and focus on the ‘deep structure’ of problems enables them to apply their knowledge more effectively.
Headteacher Clare Sealy suggests including several ‘Same Surface Different Deep’ (SSDD) problems in lessons – where the surface features of the questions are the same, but the deep structure varies (e.g. division, multiplication, addition etc.). These questions eliminate any confusion regarding surface features and thus allow pupils to focus on differentiating the deep structures.
13. Modelling And Scaffolding
You may already be familiar with the “I do, We do, You do” method of scaffolding, but it’s worth taking some time to dive into why it’s as effective as it is.
Modelling is one of the most important factors in ensuring student learning of a particular topic, but it is most impactful when it can introduce new concepts without increasing pupils’ cognitive load – hence the ‘I, We You’ approach.
By building from teacher-led, to joint construction, to independent working, we create a structure that presents learning as less of a step-change and more of an actual process. It also allows us greater flexibility; more time can be spent on one stage e.g. joint construction is it becomes necessary.
All Third Space Learning intervention lessons make use of this kind of gradual scaffolding method, and our online platform lends even more flexibility to the scaffolding structure – tutors can pull from a bank of ‘support slides’ if spending more time on a concept or process is necessary.
Other Teaching Strategies To Consider
The teaching strategies above form the basis of our one-to-one lessons, but some other teaching practices you’ll need to consider in your own classroom include :
- Use of education technology
Knowing when and where to bring technology into the classroom is a delicate balancing act. While children tend to react well to technology-based lessons, there’s always the risk that they focus on the tech over the maths.
- Behaviour management
Effective classroom management is its own topic, but there’s no doubt that a well-behaved class (not necessarily a perfectly-behaved one) is far more likely to engage with lessons.
- Inquiry-based learning
While triggering the curiosity of your pupils for a topic is the necessary first step in inquiry-based learning, presenting them with the opportunity to research and report on the topic is where learning really occurs.
- How you manage class discussions e.g. ‘Think, pair, share’
Somewhat related to behaviour management, class or group discussions are most beneficial when they have a clear, well-established structure to them. Students should not only feel they have the opportunity to share their thoughts, but understand that others’ thoughts also have value.
- Feedback process and understanding
The single most impactful teaching strategy when used correctly, feedback (whether from the teacher or another source e.g. peer marking) needs to be specific, encouraging and actionable – pupils need to be able to understand where they could improve, and how.
- Growth Mindset
Separate from praise and rewarding effort, growth mindset can be a very valuable tool in developing pupils’ resilience and fostering a more positive attitude towards both maths specifically and learning in general.
The 6 Learning Strategies Every Child Should Know By The End Of Year 6
Last, but not least, central to any good teaching practice is explicitly teaching learners of all ages about learning strategies.
The following 6 learning strategies are incorporated into our one-to-one interventions, and by the end of Year 6 we believe every child should know the principles of what they involve, even if they are less clear on the terminology.
- Spaced Practice
Ensuring that learned material is revisited at regular intervals instead of all at once much later on, when more of it is likely to be forgotten. For older students, study calendars can be of immense help in the run-up to major milestones such as the KS2 SATs.
- Retrieval Practice
Retrieval is the process of recalling information purely from memory, without the aid of learning materials. Effective retrieval practice helps embed information more thoroughly in our minds, since we no longer need context to recall it.
Tied into effective questioning, elaboration puts the onus on pupils to do more than ‘just’ recalling information. The use of open ended questions such as “How did I get that answer” help pupils to make connections between the things they’ve learnt rather than seeing them as several unrelated facts.
A wealth of research is now available that suggests the benefits of interleaving – mixing practice of different skills with one another – in helping pupils better identify the necessary strategies to solve different problems. Interleaving with connected topics (e.g. division and multiplication) amplifies this effect.
- Concrete Examples
We at Third Space Learning are huge fans of the Concrete Pictorial Abstract Approach, and one interesting way to extend it is to ask pupils to come up with their own concrete examples for concepts, based on the examples we’ve used in explaining the concept to them.
- Dual Coding
Combining words and visuals in teaching materials. This isn’t referring to speech (as we established earlier), but having pupils create some kind of visual aid (e.g. a sketch, a diagram) to accompany written text can help them reinforce the concept in their brain in two different ways, making it easier to recall.
And underpinning everything is the importance of reducing the cognitive load of your pupils. None of these strategies will be of any use if your class are overwhelmed by all the information being thrown at them!
Struggling to choose which of these to try with your class? Our Quality First Teaching Strategies Checklist is a handy reference for the 10 most impactful strategies of those we’ve covered in this post.
- Hattie’s Index Of Teaching & Learning Strategies And Their Effect Size
- EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit
- Teaching in Effective Primary Schools: Research into Pedagogy and Children’s Learning (Siram, Taggart et. al) published by UCL IOE Press.
If you’d like to find out more about how Third Space Learning could help your pupils succeed in primary maths, call 0203 771 0095 or book a demo today. Our SATs intervention programme is offering double-up lessons for a limited time, so your Year 6 pupils can get in the practice they need before the KS2 SATs.