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At its simplest, telling means supplying what the student needs, such as an unknown word, the URL of a relevant website, or the steps in a literacy learning task. The idea is to fill a gap at that moment to enable the student to maintain momentum and move on. The teacher makes a professional judgment, for example, to reduce the number of challenges facing a student who lacks confidence in their ability to complete their learning task. For example, the teacher tells the student how to spell the unfamiliar word they need for a piece of writing or, at the beginning of a reading task, tells them the theme of the text. This may be the most effective way to work with some students who do not have the background knowledge on which to base productive prediction. Simply providing a label or definition may be the most efficient way to move a student’s learning on.
A strategic use of telling may involve providing the language needed to participate successfully in an activity. Telling can also mean providing information about when to use a particular literacy strategy in a given task – making explicit the fact that the students can apply their existing knowledge at this point and so building their awareness of when to apply that knowledge in future situations.
Examples of a teacher making a strategic decision to supply what the students need at that moment may be:
“Today we’re going to focus on …”
“This text is about … We’re going to read in order to find out …”
“This is a new idea. You will need to start a new paragraph.”
“This is quite an unusual word. It’s pronounced … and it means …”