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Quickies on What Works in Teaching

Updated January 17, 2018

All teachers, especially those new to the profession, are always on the lookout for ideas and practices that actually work and are not just passing "fads." In the course of a career as a teacher, you will discover many things that work for you, but maybe not for your fellow teacher down the hall. You will also, if you get really good at teaching, invent things that work, and that is what this little page on ADPRIMA is all about -- what works.

Not everyone agrees on the most effective ways to teach content to all children or to motivate them. Much depends on variables over which the teacher has little, if any control. However, there are a number of principles that have nearly universal agreement. Below are a number of these. Additional information will be added to the ADPRIMA site on a regular basis.


An effective way to teach writing is to teach it as a process of brainstorming, composing, revising, and editing.

Having a clear sense of purpose for any writing assignment helps students become more interested in writing and the quality of their writing.

Children learn vocabulary better when the words they study are related to familiar experiences and the knowledge they already possess.


When reading is taught by someone who reads a lot, and who has skills in both whole language and phonetics instructional techniques, student achievement in reading increases significantly.

Children are more likely to derive meaning from a reading assignment if the teacher precedes the lesson with background information about the topic and follows it with discussion.

When students work in a cooperative learning situation that involves reading, possibilities exist for increases in self-esteem and the responsibility they take for their own work.

When students hear good readers read, and when the teacher encourages students repeatedly to read passages aloud, they are more likely to become good readers.

Telling young children stories can motivate them to want to read. Storytelling can also introduce them to different cultures and literary traditions before they can read, write, and talk about such stories themselves.

Science and Mathematics

Children in the early grades learn mathematics more effectively when they use physical objects in their lessons.

Children learn science best when they are able to do experiments and see "science in action."

In addition to leaning how to solve mathematics problems to derive an exact answer, children also learn mathematics by learning to estimate answers.

Social Studies

Social studies encompasses a wide range of content. It is not learned by memorizing facts - there are just too many.

Having students construct their own knowledge by making connections about facts and ideas reinforces and deepens understandings about the content.

Simulations, games, and role playing can be one of the most effective techniques for teaching social studies, but require the teacher to be a good explainer of the background information and manager of the activities.

Student Motivation

When teachers explain exactly what students are supposed to learn and demonstrate the steps needed to accomplish a particular academic task, students learn more.

Student understanding increases and achievement rises when teachers ask questions that require students to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information in addition to simply recalling facts.

When teachers set high expectations for students, communicate those expectations to the students and hold the students to them, student achievement rises.

Students are more motivated if they perceive value in what they are supposed to learn

When students connect success to personal effort, rather than ability or luck, they are more likely to be motivated to learn.

Young children, ages four through eight, attend more to social reinforcement and praise than to feedback about performance.

Older children are more extrinsically motivated and are more likely to engage in appropriate activities to get a good grade.

Inappropriate or indiscriminate use of extrinsic rewards has a long-term negative effect on student motivation to learn.

There are, of course, hundreds of other little gems about teaching and motivating students that could be added here. Those above represent only a small portion of what teachers have found to be effective. One caveat must be mentioned. Sometimes, a teaching method that works for one teacher will not work for another. The reason has to do with temperament and personality. It's perhaps not so much to do with the mechanical components of the method as much as the way they are implemented.

If you would like to add to this list, please feel free to do so by sending Email

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