The importance of GIVING INSTRUCTIONS for a task-based activity

Hello Exam Seekers,

In 2011 I went to Canada to study for the TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test). It was a great experience not only learning what I needed for the TKT but also visiting a new country and enjoying the time in Canada. If you ever have the time – and the money -, visit Canada, it is really worthwhile.

Well, as I mentioned in the post I narrate why I decided to start this blog, I didn’t know I was taking the TKT prep. course back then. I thought that I was only taking a general course for English teachers. Actually, I didn’t know there was a test to assess the teachers’ knowledge about teaching, I had no idea of what the TKT was, and not even what it meant.

Well, even though I didn’t know anything about the course I was taking, the program description was: The objectives of this course are to teach students the fundamentals of TESOL and to prepare students for the Cambridge Teaching Knowledge Test. Students who take this course will be more confident in presenting and giving instructions; and will be given the opportunity to lead ESL activities and observe an ESL class. This meant that one of the first things I would learn would be how to give instructions since we would be doing that for the rest of the course.

Later, when I was working at one specific English school, they asked us, teachers, to prepare workshops for each other. I decided to use my previous knowledge on How to Give Instructions in my workshop. So, here is somewhat what I prepared for my peers back then:

Read Instructions before operating - Give instructions and follow instructions
Read / Follow / Give Instructions

First of all, When should we give instructions?

We give instructions at all times! If we want people to do something specific for us, or if someone asks how to do things, or how to assemble things we read instructions. So we should give instructions BEFORE a task, in our case, before a task-based activity so that it can go well and smoothly.

There are two ways of giving instructions, this is the first one:

And this is the second one:

Can you perceive any difference? What is your opinion about them? If you were receiving instructions from different people, which would you prefer?

The first ones are what we call poor instructions giving. You can see that one is too fast, the other is confusing, both are messy, badly explained, unclear…

The second one is a woman giving instructions properly. You can see that she shows a moderate pace, it is organized, well explained, clear…

Why is it important to give clear instructions?

  • Students will understand it the first time;
  • It avoids misunderstandings;
  • You don’t need to repeat yourself;
  • You don’t need to repeat it individually;
  • You won’t waste time;
  • Activities will flow;
  • Students will do exactly what you asked.

Remember that it also applies to your lives. If you are giving instructions to other people instead of your students, you also have to do them clearly to avoid the problems mentioned above.

How to give instructions for a task-based activity?

So how can we do it properly? There are a few simple steps:

1. Give clear and simple instructions.

Use simple words and phrases in the present simple, imperative, or be going to depending on your intention. Good examples of simple and clear instructions are: “I want you to sit down and open your books to page 18” or “You are going to sit down and open your books to page 18“. Another way is by being direct “Sit down. Open your books to page 18“.

2. Break too long instructions.

Sometimes you have lots of instructions to give, so break them into parts. Instead of saying: “You are going to sit down, open your books to page 18 and do activity 6. You are going to put the name of an activity you like and draw it on the side“, say this: “I want you to sit down and open your books to page 18. (wait for students to do what is asked) Look at activity six. Write the name of the activity you like most and draw it on the side“. Can you see the difference?

3. Demonstrate.

Use the words “for example“. If you feel that the instructions are too complicated, simply invite a volunteer and model the activity to the class.

4. Ask Instructions Checking Questions (ICQs).

It is not good to use “Do you have any questions?” at all times. Sometimes the students lie and don’t tell you that they didn’t get anything – not because they are bad students, but because they feel embarrassed to be in the spotlight. So try using ICQs, for example: “Are you going to first draw or write your name?

5. Ask “Do you have any questions?”.

But sometimes using this question is not wrong, specially if you tried ICQs first.

6. Hand out papers or say “Turn to page…”.

One very important step, especially with kids is handing out things. Just hand your material to your students once you explained it, otherwise, they will forget that you exist and start doing the activity before you ask them to do so. Later they will have lots of questions related to the thing you have just explained but they were not paying attention.

7. Say, “Please start”.

Last, but not least… be polite! Whenever you want them to do things, say “please“. People will enjoy it and they tend to do it faster and happily.

Tips on how to give instructions
Tips to give good instructions

Tips to give good instructions:

How can we give good instructions after all?

  • Always get students’ attention;
  • Start with the main verbs – imperatives (it keeps sentences clear/short/simple);
  • Speak loud and clear;
  • Grade your language;
  • Show-don’t give;
  • Use visuals/Realia;
  • Check understanding: either/or questions;
  • Give examples;
  • Use keywords / Give logical aspects;
  • Use gestures.

By following these steps I’m sure your classes will be much better. If you have some tips to share with other teachers, comment in the comment section.


That’s it for today! Please like the post and follow the blog on:

You can also listen to this post at Anchor!!!

Have a great week,
Patricia Moura


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