Ways to Teach Students to Follow Directions

Procedures and Activities to Help Students Follow DirectionsTeaching students to listen carefully to instructions can be a real challenge. Below you will find some procedures for following directions that require practice for students to understand and know what is expected.

Following the procedures is a list of activities including printables to use to help improve following instructions skills.

Procedure #1 – Gaining Attention

The most important step for teachers is to focus students’ attention before giving instructions. Find a phrase or signal to use to let students know that instructions are coming. Announcing ‘Look at me.’ can be a cue to focus. This procedure works well if used sparingly. Students begin to ignore it if your use it over and over again during the same lesson. 

Procedure #2 – Student Repeat

Have students echo short precise instructions. This way students not only hear them a second time but must listen carefully to be able to repeat. Turn to a partner and explain what you are to do works well when the instructions are more complicated or have several steps. Also, if instructions contain several steps, writing them on the board for students to follow is a great help. 

Procedure #3 – Routine

Students thrive on routine. Decide how you want students to head their papers, sharpen their pencils, ask for help and so on. Be sure you know what works best for you and stick to it throughout the year. Changing procedures can be really confusing to students.

One routine I like to use is to ask students head up their papers, put their pencils down when finished, and look at me. This is a cue to ‘focus’ and ‘do it now.’ Also I receive far fewer papers without headings. 

Activity #1 – Following Directions with Goofy – YouTube

Walt Disney created this educational video. Goofy shows a variety of examples in which directions are important. He also explains what would happen if there weren’t any directions. The video explains that directions come in three forms: visual such as signs, spoken such as from a teacher, and written such as those that help assemble items. Finally tips are given for following directions.

Activity #2 – Teaching with Games

Games provide great learning opportunities for teaching many skills. Learning how to following directions while playing is an extra bonus.

Try one of these:

Book Games

Book games help with word development. Select approximately seven words for students to practice. On standard index cards print one word on each card. You will need three copies of each word. To play, shuffle the cards. Each player is given six cards. Place the remainder of the cards face down in the center of the table. The first player asks another specific player, “Do you have —?” The player can’t ask for a word unless he has one in his hand. The player asked must give up all the cards with that word. If the player asked does not have the word, the first player draws a card from the center of the table. Play continues to the second player.

The object of the game is to collect a book – three cards all with the same word. When a player gets a book, he lays his ‘book’ on the table before him. The player earns one point for his book. Play continues until all hands are empty and there are no more cards to draw from. The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the game.

Follow the Leader

Students stand in a circle with one player in the middle of the circle. The middle player closes his eyes while the rest of the players choose a leader from the group. The middle player opens his eyes, and the game begins. The leader makes slow specific movements while the rest of the students follow the actions precisely. The player in the middle of the circle tries to guess who the leader is. Once the leader is revealed, the game is over.

Activity #3 – Following Instructions using Classic Literature

Example of the Following Directions Activity using Tom Sawyer

Download the handout for this activity.


In the handout are six excerpts from classical literature. Duplicate these excerpts; one for each student. Teacher instructions follow the excerpts. Do not duplicate these as the practice will be oral.

I recommend completing only one practice at a time, so that students can concentrate fully.

Teacher Instructions:

Have students read one excerpt. The excerpts may be read silently or aloud. Following this explain to the students that you are going to give some oral instructions. Let students know, you will read the instructions, pause, and then repeat them a second time. You will not read any instruction a third time, so students must listen carefully.

Ten tasks are given for each passage. Tasks include simple instructions to do with the passage such as draw a box around the main character’s name. Highlight what the character did in a specific situation. In sentence six, draw a line under the word that tells the time of day. And so on.

Activity #4 – Following Instructions using Textbooks

To practice following instructions as well as learning how to use parts of a book provide specific instructions such as the ones listed below.

  1. Look in the index to find Battle of the Alamo.
  2. Go to the article.
  3. Write down the dates when the battle took place.

A variation of this activity can be completed with maps or atlases. Here are some example questions.

  1. How many miles is Washington, D.C. from here?
  2. Write down the name of the largest lake on the map.
  3. Which direction do you travel to go from Seattle to San Francisco?

Activity #5 – Magic Tricks

Students love doing magic tricks. Have students try one of these tricks. They must follow instructions carefully to make the tricks work.

Activity #6 – Crafts

Making crafts is a fun way to teach following directions. Because most students enjoy this activity, students tend to focus on the instructions.

This idea from Education World is sure to be a hit with students. Students draw lines on graph paper according to specific directions. If done correctly, they’ll draw a picture of George Washington.

Ideas and Free Printable to Teach Following Directions

Gay Miller

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