Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup



Reading in English

Instructional Formats

Instructional format refers to the way the teacher structures a lesson. When establishing the instructional format, the teacher should be purposeful (how will the activities in the lesson plan support the instructional goals?); dynamic (how will the teacher ensure the pacing of the lesson does not drag on and take up too much time?); stimulating (how will the lesson incorporate novelty to ensure fresh attention from students?); and ritualized (how will students have a sense of familiar structure?). Several different instructional formats are described below. They should be applied based on the instructional goal.

Large-Group Instruction
Large-group instruction is often overused. This is generally because teachers feel they have extensive knowledge and information to impart to students. While large-group instruction is important for some instructional goals, students can get lost in excessive amounts of teacher talk from the front of the room. Instead of being the primary and most frequent approach, it should happen in small chunks and at various times during the teaching/learning process. Teacher talk should be supported by visuals and other supports or illustrations in order to make the communication comprehensible (Krashen, 1989). While these external supports are helpful for English language learners in particular, all students can benefit from this full presentation of ideas. Teachers can and should read to their students in large-group format as a means of student engagement and also to model language use and expression and verbalize and model their cognitive process to students while reading. This process can be supported with visuals strategically placed around the room to reach all students. Teachers can model close reading practices, supporting their demonstration with PowerPoint presentations or other visuals. Large-group instruction is also an appropriate format for book talks, where teachers or librarians introduce books to students that they might find interesting. Book talks are not only an opportunity for teachers to introduce books, but also to model the process of selecting a book for personal reading.

Small-Group Discussions
Small-group formation should be purposeful, flexible, and dynamic. Teachers should have a specific academic purpose or task for grouping students in a particular way. The grouping should be flexible so students don’t feel stuck or tracked, especially if the temporary grouping structure is based on ability level. Group structures should vary from pairs, triplets, and quads. The purpose and activity should also vary.

Don't worry if some initial conversation appears off topic. This is how students process, build community, and survey context. Adults do this very thing when they are initially grouped together to perform jury duty, practice salsa in a dance class, or carry out some other formal function. To help students stay on track overall, they should also be given explicit instructions and roles in small-group work. They should also have time to practice the task given in groups before they are assessed. Roles are assigned in order to teach students how to discuss their reading and ideas. You can refine the roles as needed to promote fluid academic discussion or allow them to be abandoned when they impede discussion. The idea is not simply to provide students with something to say regardless of how closely they connect to other discussants, but to help them have academic discussion with others.

Reflect: List examples of when you provide large-group instruction, and why. Then, list examples of when you have provided opportunities for students to work in small groups, and why. How do the two grouping formats support student learning?