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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Deliberate acts of teaching


Modelling, or demonstrating, is perhaps the most powerful and pervasive form of instruction. Almost everything the teacher does and says in the course of the school day provides a potential model to the students in the classroom. Much of this modelling is implicit and occurs without either teacher or students being conscious of it. However, deliberate, goal-directed modelling is an essential teaching tool.

By articulating how they arrived at a solution – thinking aloud as they go through the process – the teacher (or possibly a peer) provides the learner with a model of how a proficient reader or writer works. This sort of modelling makes the learning “visible”; it makes explicit what was previously only implicit. Modelling supports students in finding out not only what to do but also how to do it. This enhances their awareness of the literacy-learning process, especially when they are encouraged to articulate what they have learned from the modelling.

Modelling is a strategy that can be used to great effect in shared reading and writing. Teachers leading a group session can demonstrate the skills that the students need to master. They can also discuss them, providing (and modelling the use of) new language that the students need to master. This may be language for talking about encoding or decoding text, for talking about how to make meaning of a text, for discussing texts and thinking analytically about them, or for talking to develop metacognition – learning about learning.

In these examples, teachers model how proficient readers and writers work. There are many other examples of modelling in the vignettes throughout this book.

“This is a complicated set of instructions. Instructions usually begin with a verb, so I’ll start by identifying all the verbs to get an idea of the actions to be carried out.”

“Remember how yesterday we agreed that our purpose was to create an atmosphere of suspense for our audience? Looking back on our introduction, do you think we’ve chosen the best images to create this atmosphere?”

“I’m not sure about the meaning of that word, though I know that ‘aqua’ has to do with water. I’m just going to check it in the dictionary.”

“I’ve noticed in the introduction that there are lots of adjectives that imply sadness. The author could be suggesting a gloomy outcome for the main character. I’ll read the next two paragraphs aloud, and you can see if you agree with my hypothesis.”

“We’ve met the criteria for the deeper features of our draft description. Now let’s check the surface features.”

A combination of modelling and directing (or explaining) may be necessary at times. Using modelling along with other instructional strategies to convey a teaching point is especially useful for students who are not yet fully familiar with the school’s literacy practices and those who are experiencing difficulties in their literacy learning.


Prompting means encouraging the learner to use what they already know and can do. It is an effective strategy to focus students’ attention and to build their metacognitive awareness and their confidence. In order to prompt effectively, the teacher needs a detailed knowledge of the learner. Prompting may take the form of a reminder, a strong hint, a clue, or a gentle “nudge” to help students use their existing knowledge and literacy strategies to make connections and reach a solution. A prompt often takes the form of a question and involves allowing “wait time” to give students the opportunity to develop and express their own ideas.

The teacher cannot assume that students will automatically transfer their learning to new situations. Prompting is an indispensable tool for helping students to understand how and when to use their knowledge and strategies.

These are examples of teachers using prompting strategically in reading and writing sessions. Other deliberate acts of teaching can easily be identified.

“I see you’ve written ‘Sunday was the cloudyest day this week.’ Do all the words look right to you? ... Do you remember when we talked about how to alter the root word when adding suffixes to adjectives ending in ‘y’, like ‘happy’? How might that rule apply here?”

“We’ve talked about using context clues. There could be clues in the next paragraph – you might read it to yourself to see if you can discover what ‘diluted’ means. Focus particularly on the middle sentence.”

“I know you’ve done lots of crayfishing, Esther. You could help us understand why Mum made that comment on the way home from the seashore. I think there’s something deeper behind her words …”


Questioning is perhaps the instructional tool used most commonly by teachers. Questions may be directed towards building a particular aspect of students’ knowledge, such as how to use a strategy for making meaning or thinking critically. Carefully planned questions can help to build students’ metacognitive awareness of how they comprehend a text or of how a text they are writing will affect its readers. It is generally more effective to use fewer questions, strategically placed in a discussion or conversation, rather than a greater number of randomly placed questions.

Asking questions can be an ideal way to generate thoughtful discussions about the deeper levels of texts and to help students develop the habit of reflecting critically by asking themselves questions as they read. For example, “What do you think the author’s viewpoint is?” “How did you work this out?” “How does this support or challenge your own viewpoint on the subject?” One or two well-thought-out questions can be powerful in helping students develop their ability to look below the surface of a text they are reading or writing. It is important that teachers ask a range of questions and know why they are asking them.

Questions become effective teaching tools when:

  • they are directed towards helping students to meet a learning goal;
  • they are centred on and draw out students’ knowledge;
  • there is adequate “wait time” for students, especially those who are new learners of English, to think through their responses;
  • appropriate follow-up questions or probes are used to extend students’ thinking.

Questioning is a highly productive way of bringing out what students know and can do, so that they can apply their expertise to their tasks. An effective teacher extends questioning well beyond the kinds of questions that require students only to recall factual content or to make predictions that are purely speculative. The teacher asks questions that require students to explain their choice of language in their writing or to think critically and reflectively about texts. In responding to such questions, students learn to link their thinking about texts with their knowledge and experience.

Patterns of “teacher question, student response, and teacher reaction” can inhibit learning. For example, if the students become more occupied with finding out what is in the teacher’s head than with their own learning, they are much less likely to show creativity in composing texts or to explore the deeper features of texts. Students’ responses should be valued and not transformed by evaluative comments that suggest the responses are inadequate. In continuing the discussion, the teacher can sometimes add value to a student’s response by modeling more appropriate language or syntax.

Effective questioning by teachers during literacy learning generates focused, text-based conversations with students and between students. Co-operative activities such as “think, pair, share” and activities in which students form their own questions about texts can be useful for generating conversations.

Attending to the answers that students give, and probing their responses, is just as important as planning and asking the questions. Teachers can ask follow-up questions, such as “How do you know that?” “What evidence can you find that supports your thinking?” Students’ responses yield important information that can be used to evaluate their learning and identify their next learning steps.

Teachers sometimes categorise the kinds of questions they use, for example, as open or closed or as questions for clarification, elaboration, or justification. The kinds of question and the forms they take will depend on the teacher’s instructional objective and the learning goal of the task (which will always be related to the students’ needs). Sometimes closed questions will be most effective, for example, when the teacher wants to probe students’ ability to describe the steps in an explanatory text or to recall (in order to prioritise) the main points in an argument. It’s not necessary or even useful to plan activities based on categories of questions. There is no formula for asking the right questions. Effective teachers aim to ask questions that reveal their students’ thinking, including any misconceptions or inappropriate assumptions that they may have. Like prompting, questioning may unlock the understanding of a student who is struggling with an aspect of their reading or writing by giving them clear guidance towards what they need to do.

A teacher who uses questions effectively provides a good model to students and shows them how to develop their own questioning strategies. Teachers can model the art of self-questioning, especially in shared writing and reading, as a strategy that writers and readers can use to help them create texts and make meaning of texts.

In a classroom environment of critical reflection, thought-provoking questions are not seen as threatening; they are welcomed as a highly valued part of learning.

I wanted my students to engage in some real critical thinking about themes and effects in a complex literary text. I chose to read them Margaret Wild’s Fox. Our shared goal was “to identify the theme or themes of this picture book by describing the parts of the story and the text features that help build up the theme.”

After reading the story aloud, I asked the students what they thought its theme was. Sione said, “Life or death.” “Why do you say that?” I asked, and he responded, “Because the magpie thinks about dying, at the start and again near the end. But the dog makes her want to live.” “Is the theme just life and death in general, then, or can you be more specific?” I probed. “Why does she want to die? How does the dog make her want to live?” Sione thought for a minute, and we waited. Then he said, “She wants to die at first because she can’t fl y any more. The dog can’t really make her fl y, but he tells her he needs her.” “Where does he tell her that?” I asked. Sione took the book and found the part he wanted. “And then the magpie says, ‘I will be your missing eye and you will be my wings’.” He commented, “You can feel them being like one person together.” “What could be the theme there?” I wondered. “It’s about friendship, about helping each other when you are damaged,” put in Mia. “It’s a happy story, then, with a positive theme?” I suggested. “No, because of the fox!” cried more than one student.

We brainstormed other possible themes: students now suggested “loneliness”, “betrayal”, and “feeling left out”. I asked them to work in pairs to find evidence, both in the text and in the illustrations, for the theme or themes they thought most important in the text.

Teacher, year 5 and 6 class

Giving feedback

The impact of effective feedback on student outcomes has been established through a number of studies (for example, Hattie, 1999, and Crooks, 1988). Hattie, on the basis of extensive research, describes feedback as the most powerful single factor that enhances achievement. Like modelling, feedback pervades the school day: most interactions between teachers and students involve some element of feedback.

The purposes of feedback are:

  • to affirm;
  • to inform;
  • to guide future learning.

Like all the teaching strategies, feedback is most effective when it relates to specific learning goals that students recognise and understand and to the ultimate aim of enabling students to monitor and regulate their own learning. Feedback should always be honest and specific so that students know how they are doing and what they have achieved.

Effective feedback motivates students to learn. The way that students feel about and perceive themselves affects their expectations and consequently their performance. A simple comment can have a major impact – positive or negative – on a student’s motivation and confidence. It is important to consider cultural and social appropriateness when giving feedback (as when using any teaching strategy). Students approaching adolescence often respond more positively when feedback is given privately rather than in public.

 Feedback may be thought of as either descriptive or evaluative. Descriptive feedback means describing or explaining what has or has not been achieved and why. It also involves giving information on how to learn further or what to do in order to succeed. Evaluative feedback involves making a judgment about what the learner is doing or has done and carries the idea of approval or disapproval.

 Interactions involving feedback can yield valuable knowledge of learners as well as enabling them to move forward.

These are examples of feedback. There are many examples of this and other deliberate acts of teaching in the vignettes throughout this book.

“You went back and cross-checked with what you’d read earlier to clarify your understanding. Making connections with other parts of the text is what expert readers do.”

“I notice you’ve checked the punctuation of your piece. But there is something else you need to attend to. Remember that one of your personal writing goals is to check your use of spelling conventions for the plural words in your writing.”

“That’s an interesting opinion – but remember our discussion in guided reading this morning about finding evidence in the text. What evidence can you give to justify your opinion that the wolf was afraid?”

“I like your choice of language in the second paragraph. I get a clear mental image of what it was like for Josh when he first stepped inside the space station. There’s one part, just here, that I don’t understand – I think it needs elaboration. You may need to go back to the website you’ve been using to get more information to ensure it’s clear to the reader.”

The primary use of feedback is not to indicate whether learners are right or wrong but to enable them to reflect on their use of strategies and on their learning. Feedback involves giving learners information about when to use what they know and what they can do. Feedback can provide a model of what proficient readers and writers do and how they think. An important message for teachers to convey, in their feedback to students, is that using effective strategies in their reading and writing is what causes their success; this is crucial to building students’ metacognition. It’s especially useful to encourage students themselves to suggest what they could do to solve the problems they identify. This is a great way to build their awareness of how they can increase their control of their own learning.

Feedback may be verbal or non-verbal, spoken or written. The quality of the teacher’s written feedback on a student’s writing is especially important, both for providing further guidance and for the student’s confidence. Students in years 5 to 8 will benefit from receiving regular written feedback about their writing that gives details of what they have achieved and have yet to achieve and indicates their next learning steps.

The teacher should not allow their feedback to take over the ownership of the learning task. For example, a teacher may be tempted to “improve” a student’s piece of writing, with the result that the student’s voice or sense of ownership may be lost (even though the teacher may feel that the work is better crafted).

Criteria developed from shared learning goals give valuable focus to teachers’ conversations with students and to the feedback that they provide. It is essential to ensure that the students understand the information conveyed through feedback and to provide time and opportunity for them to act on it.

The teacher and year 7 students had been working on personal experience writing. The shared goal was “to recount a personal experience in a way that has impact on the reader”. The task was “to share a significant moment in time with a reader”. The teacher and students had jointly developed the following criteria:

  • feelings suggested through descriptive actions;
  • expressive and precise verbs, adjectives, and adverbs used to depict atmosphere;
  • use of deliberately selected poetic language features, e.g., metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia, and alliteration, to suggest feelings and atmosphere;
  • main ideas broken into paragraphs.

This is Jessica’s published text. (Her draft version is on page 56.)

A Journey Through the Morning

Brrr! I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk, my nose was red and my lips were blue. Who would have thought that an innocent, harmless winters walk to school could suddenly turn into a blistering snowstorm!

My fingers were numb as I shivered my way into school and up the stairs. The pins and needles in my left foot felt like a thousand darts jabbing at me.

My friends bounded over from the computer to say “hi” to me but I wasn’t listening. All I could think about was getting to the heater.

I slowly approached the heater and finally collapsed. I felt the warmth drain back into my veins like water draining through a sieve.

I look over to the whiteboard and remember the horrors of the school day. the dreaded climb up the mountain of math’s, the horrifying swim through the waves of writing and finally to conquer the rocks of reading.

I slumped down off the heater and groaned as I sat on the ground. I knew then that it was goingto be a long day.

The teacher gave Jessica the following written feedback on her published text.

This writing has impact, Jessica – I can feel the coldness of this horrible school morning very clearly. You’ve achieved this by:

  • using full descriptions to “paint a picture”, e.g., “my nose was red and my lips were blue”;
  • using expressive verbs such as “shivered”, “bounded over”, and “slumped down”;
  • using poetic imagery reasonably carefully, especially similes and alliteration – though beware that you don’t over-use these because too many can make writing sound insincere.

You have also begun to experiment with paragraphing clearly.

Your goal: To make your tenses consistent in your writing. Avoid moving between the present and past tense (unless there is a reason for doing so).

The teacher gave Jessica feedback that primarily related to the writing rather than the writer. It specified what she had achieved in the writing, it linked specifically to the agreed goal and criteria, and it suggested the next steps in Jessica’s learning. The teacher discussed the feedback with Jessica, and together they decided how Jessica’s goal could be met. This written feedback was supplemented by oral feedback during the writing process.


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 …”


Explaining can be thought of as an extension of telling. Teachers may explain the task itself, or they may explain a strategy, a learning activity, or the content of a text. For example, the teacher may explain:

  • what they want the students to do and think about while reading a particular text;
  • how a certain task will help the students to achieve a particular goal;
  • the background to a writing topic.

Teachers also use explanations in the context of classroom management (for example, when they explain what is involved in an activity such as buddy reading, reciprocal teaching, or giving peer feedback) so that all the students can participate confidently.

A characteristic of explanations is that they are verbally explicit. Careful explanations enable students to develop their own understandings. Throughout the many interactions that occur during the school day, the teacher needs to be alert and ready to explain things, picking up cues from the students and adapting the use of this teaching strategy to supply what each learner needs. Sometimes a direct approach is best (“Let me explain this to you”), especially for students who are not yet familiar with the literacy-learning practices of New Zealand classrooms.

In the following example, the teacher provides an explanation that clarifies both text content (“how the rain falls”) and a text feature (use of the passive voice).

“This sentence, ‘The vast oceans are struck by the sun’s rays’, uses the passive voice. It is called ‘passive’ because it emphasises what happens as a result of an action rather than the action itself. It would be ‘active’ if it read ‘The sun’s rays strike the vast oceans.’ In this case, the emphasis would be on what the sun did rather than what happened to the ocean. We know from the title, How the Rain Falls, that the text is about the water, not the sun.”


Directing is simply giving a specific instruction. Like all these instructional strategies, it is used deliberately, for a purpose.

Everyday examples of directing are:

“Read the next two paragraphs and think about …”

“Find the sentence in the text that suggests …”

“Check that your piece of writing explains …”

“Turn to your buddy and discuss why …”

“Point out the suffixes that show what tense the writer is using.”

Published on: 22 Mar 2016