A common reason students struggle to get started on assignments is that they don't understand the directions. As a result, when teachers should be addressing content-related questions as they circulate among students, they instead need to address lots of procedural questionshow to obtain and use materials, where and how to record answers, how much time students have to complete the assignment, whether you'll be collecting the assignment, what students should do if they finish early, etc. And often it's the same questions from one student to the next.
To prevent such confusion and inefficiency, use the same effective instruction and assessment practices when giving directions that you use when delivering academic content. This means giving step-by-step directions, orally and visually (using a projector ideally, but otherwise the board or chart paper), before you pass out an assignment and any related materials.
It also means requiring students to prove they understand what you expect of them rather than simply saying (or nodding) they understand. So stay away from yes-no questions such as "Does everyone understand?" or "Does anyone have any questions?", and instead ask students to restate the directions in their own words. And be sure to do this with enough students until you're sure the class as a whole is ready to get started on an activity. (For small-group activities, confirm that at least one member of each group understands the directions before turning students loose.)
In short, just an extra minute or two upfront giving directions and making sure students get them will save far more time in the end. And the less time you spend giving students directions, the more time you can spend giving them direction.
Image provided by Phillip Martin with permission
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