5 ingredients for following verbal directions better…

5 ingredients for following verbal directions better…


The most common concern I hear from classroom teachers is their student’s ability to follow verbal directions within the classroom.

Although there are no specific Common Core Standards which address “following verbal directions” explicitly, success with these tasks underpins everything within the classroom.  Following verbal directions in Kindergarten allows a student to be successful in classroom routines, which then sets the foundation for going through the steps in a multi-step word problem by 5th grade.

Whether it’s attention, language processing, or 2nd language involvement, there are a variety of ways to help students with following directions better.

Establish and maintain eye contact

As educators, we all know this.  I have been in my therapy room as well as in classrooms- sometimes verbal directions need to be given across a table or away from the direct eye contact of a student.  It’s easy to fall into these habits!  Be mindful of getting eye contact from a student before an important direction needs to be given- it will pay off!

When you practice, make it engaging!

“Fun with Directions”  by Hamaguchi Apps is an excellent way of making practice fun and engaging.  This app includes all of the necessary items to make for effective intervention: multiple levels, data collection, and feedback.


You can set up specific students as well as group them according to grade or ability level: you decide how to organize it.  The levels of the targets are presented in “easy”, “intermediate,” and “advanced.”  There are a variety of tasks including open/close, color/erase, push, and give.  Concepts that are targeted include top/middle/bottom and color.  Intermediate and advanced levels are no walk in the park.  There are multiple elements presented within a direction, and the statements can be confusing to some students.  It can really help with sharpening listening instead of just hearing similar directions that differ only in number of concepts.


Data is collected within the app, and PDF reports are available to be emailed for each session you record data.  Data will even log over multiple sessions if you don’t tap the end session button.  If you are using it with more than one student, make sure to end sessions so data does not overlap!

By far, the best feature is the “Superstar Direction”- this allows for teachers to see that the student can repeat back their direction.  If necessary, you can even re-record to increase a student’s perception of success.

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Because of all of the features, it was well worth the $15.99…

Check for understanding

So often, I will see this accommodation on a student’s IEP and wonder: “What does that mean to everyone on this student’s team?”  Checking for understanding can be as simple as asking “Do you know what to do?”  One of the first recommendations I give to teachers is to have the student repeat the direction back- but that is only one part!  Ask the student to repeat it back and then ask “What are you going to do first?”  This question will help with getting the student moving in the right direction.

Also, repetition can be helpful “self-talk” while working through something challenging.  By repeating what they need to do to themselves, students can take charge of their success more readily.

Use visual supports

I am a big believer in specific visual supports to help students with taking personal responsibility.  Visual supports allows students to get a reminder about preferred behaviors without having to be verbally reminded.  I often say to families and teachers- when children are give multiple reminders in school it can become no different than a reminder to clean their room or do their homework- they will resist sometimes!  Visuals allow for more independence and are easily faded over time.

Check out this visual for a student’s desk!

Desk Visual for Listening Skills

Visualize, then do it!

This recommendation follows from checking for understanding.  After presenting a direction to a student, ask them to imagine what they are going to do first, next, and last.  It will take some time commitment, but it has paid off for me.  When students can verbalize what they are being asked to do, they have been more likely to be successful.

It goes without saying…

These recommendations might be just a reminder to some experienced professionals, however, we should all be mindful of the best practices to reach our students with different challenges and who come from different backgrounds.  When we set the foundation for good listening skills through following verbal directions, we are giving students power to be more active in their future learning.

If you liked the information you got here, leave a comment!

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One thought on “5 ingredients for following verbal directions better…

  1. Great food for thought. These steps can be applied to many everyday events- driving somewhere new, navigating the supermarket, undertaking a new project at home.

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