Publish at March 01 2015 Updated January 06 2022

Explicit teaching: an adapted method for students with difficulties

Explicit teaching method gains momentum with studies touting its effects on struggling students

There's a little war going on in the education community. Don't panic, there is nothing dangerous about this conflict. It is only ideological. What is the object of the division? The educational method. Some believe that in 2015, we should choose more active approaches that leave students more autonomous at the heart of their education.

Or, another camp, that of more explicit teaching, has been gaining strength in recent years. In fact, according to some studies, this method would even be more effective in teaching reading, writing and math. Have we been wrong all these years? The picture is more nuanced than that.

Explicit is not just lecture

Although it is a more "passive" method, it would be more than wrong to believe that explicit teaching is just a new way of calling lectures. In fact, explicit teaching requires a great deal of upstream work on the part of the teacher, who must first specify the learning objectives and identify the key ideas to be inculcated. In addition, he or she must know the children's prior knowledge, plan his or her strategy, and develop learning devices (e.g., models, cards, slide shows, videos) and review devices.

Then, the lessons take place in three parts. The first part is modeling. In this stage, the teacher explains aloud and with the prepared devices the reasoning involving the where, when, how, why, and other questions related to a piece of knowledge. In this way, he will explicitly describe the entire pathway that leads him to solve a problem.

Then, once the new concept has been instilled, guided practice is initiated. Pairs of students are created to do assignments or exercises that continue what has just been learned. The teacher must be very present and immediately pick up students who get lost. The team principle also allows the children to help and correct each other. The goal is to consolidate what has been learned until phase 3, the independent practice. At this point, the child practices the concepts alone. However, the teacher's presence is still important since he or she can see who is still having difficulty understanding and help them individually. This video designed by the Ontario platform Cyberprofs shows the different stages of the method very well.

Helping struggling students

But why is this approach slowly coming back in the educational news? It's because, as we said earlier, it's reportedly quite effective, especially with struggling students. For experts, these children do not respond as well to approaches that let them learn on their own. Instead, they need more guidance and a stronger consolidation process so that the learning remains permanently in their memory. A meta-analysis of different studies done in 2010 showed, moreover, that this method was excellent for basic subjects such as French and mathematics for this type of student.

However, as researcher Clément Gauthier in a paper published in November 2014 points out, this approach should not be seen as a new dogma. Especially since other studies and experiments have also shown positive impacts of more participatory pedagogies with struggling students. However, looking at the surveys published in the last few years, this pedagogical method would be more valid for these children than others.

On the other hand, it should be known that it is extremely demanding for the teacher. It requires not only more lesson preparation, but also close monitoring of the students' learning and activities. There must be a lot of feedback to ensure that the learner always stays on the right track. A method that is therefore not all restful and that should, according to stakeholders, be prioritized for core subjects.

Illustration: Olesya Feketa, shutterstock


Appy, Bernard. "Direct Explicit Teaching." Vimeo. January 2015.

Roger Alphonse, Jean, and Raymond Leblanc. "Explicit Instruction: An Effective Teaching Strategy In Reading, Writing And Mathematics, For Students With A Learning Disability." Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO). Accessed February 26, 2015.

Tagne, Gustave, and Clément Gauthier. "Explicit Teaching, A Structured Approach To Facilitating Skill Learning." [email protected] Last updated December 2, 2014.

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