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How to Get Your Students to Listen the First Time
Written by Josh Satterfield on Nov 3, 2019
By this time of the year, you probably are having some moments where you feel like you’ll lose your mind if you have to repeat the directions one. more. time. You may have felt this since September, and that’s typical for teachers. A big part of a teacher’s job is to teach students how to listen and follow directions so that they can be self-directed and independent in their work. This will only take place with repetition and reinforcement of the directions.
Too often, we think that students will come to us knowing how to listen and follow directions and some of our students can. However, many students are still asking what they are supposed to do or they just sit there waiting around for you to repeat the directions again.

Below are a few tips and tricks that you can implement tomorrow and see results!

Go Visual with Directions

Are you explaining multiple steps of directions prior to letting your students complete a task? When there are two or more steps to a task, many students are not able to recall those steps while working independently or collaboratively over an extended period of time.

It is critical to display directions and explain each step to students prior to allowing them to do independent or collaborative work. Simply type out your directions within a Google Slide or PowerPoint presentation and display them through your visual display system in your classroom. If you still have a student asking what they should be doing next, then simply point to the screen. By doing this, you are teaching them how to be self-directed and manage themselves.

Call and Response

One of my pet peeves is when I ask the class to turn to a specific page number and I have five to eight students who ask, “What page?” Oh, the pain! It’s like nails on a chalkboard! So, of course, I had to find a solution.

Using a call and response strategy for simple procedural tasks like finding a page in their reading or math textbook has been a game-changer. Instead of just saying “Please turn to page 54” and looking around for students to follow those directions, I follow up that statement with the question, “What page?” That question requires students to respond in harmony with “Page 54.”

This simple technique helps tremendously! I never have students asking what page we are turning to anymore! Once they hear the entire class respond with the page number they quickly follow the directions and are on task. It’s like magic!

Use a Countdown Timer

Isn’t it funny how it can take up to 10 minutes to clean up math manipulatives if you allow it to drag on? A timer can be your best friend! Tell kids they have two minutes to clean up and have their desktop clear. Display that two-minute countdown and watch your students work towards meeting that goal! It’s motivating to students when the directions are objective and broken down by how much time they’ll have and what success will look like at the end of the timer. If you’re consistent with using a timer, students will learn you mean what you say and they’ll have to keep pace.

Use a Magic Word

This strategy is best suited for elementary-aged students. Choose a silly word like nachos, your school mascot, or a vocabulary word and teach students to not lift a finger until you say the “Magic Word.”
For example, “When you hear the magic word, Wildcats, you will put your reading book away and take out a pencil and your math book.” Young students will listen to every word you say and anticipate hearing the magic word. You can even allow students to choose the magic word.


With each of these strategies, it is crucial to be consistent. For students to learn how to listen and follow directions, it requires us as educators to consistently repeat and reinforce these strategies.

A great app that will help you get started with many of these strategies is the ClassDojo app. Within this app, there is a Toolkit. In there, you’ll find options to display directions, timers, automatically group students, and much more! Check their website out here:

About Author: Josh Satterfield

Josh Satterfield is the founder of the Teacher's Playbook. In addition to being your Math Workshop coach, Josh is currently a 5th-grade teacher and high school boys’ basketball coach in Southeastern Michigan. Josh was born into an entrepreneurial family, and quickly gained a love for continual growth and success. His family always pushed me to dream big and work towards my goals, so that’s what I’ve tried to do throughout my life.
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