Ideas for Organizing Your Teaching

Doing What Works (DWW), a web site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, supports teacher quality by creating and contextualizing resources around research-based instructional practices. The latest topic DWW has addressed is how to organize teaching using best practices.

A practice guide titled Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning was developed by an expert panel convened by the Institute of Education Sciences. It offered a set of seven research-based recommendations. A summary of the research evidence and a level-of-evidence rating are provided for each recommendation. These seven recommendations have been synthesized to result in the four recommended practices presented on the How to Organize Your Teaching web site.

Each of the four recommended practices (described below) includes short videos of interviews with teachers, researchers, and administrators; ideas for action; profiles of teachers and schools that are implementing best practices; and research evidence and related links.


Space learning over time with review and quizzing.

A key aspect of effective teaching and learning is helping students to retain information over the course of the school year and beyond. Research has shown that exposing students to key concepts and facts on at least two occasions, separated by several weeks to several months, greatly reduces the rate at which information is forgotten. This is accomplished by spacing the introduction of material over time and by reviewing material with short quizzes, review games, targeted homework assignments, and exams.

Alternate worked examples with problem-solving practice.

Students learn more when worked examples, or solved problems, are alternated with problems to be solved. Worked examples can be provided for every other problem in a homework assignment or teachers can provide worked examples by thinking aloud with the whole class, assigning a similar problem, then doing another thinkaloud, followed by more practice. Students benefit from this approach, learn effective problem-solving strategies, transfer these strategies more easily, and, ultimately, solve problems more quickly.

Connect abstract and concrete representations of concepts.

Connecting abstract ideas with concrete contexts can help students understand challenging topics and learn to transfer their understanding to new situations. There are many ways teachers can connect the abstract and the concrete, including using stories, simulations, hands-on activities, visual representations, and real-world problem solving.

Teaching a new concept in purely abstract terms can make it difficult for students to fully understand what is being taught. On the other hand, teaching a new concept in exclusively concrete terms can limit a student’s ability to recognize key concepts or understand how to apply the concepts when faced with a new problem. Connecting abstract and concrete representations, and clearly highlighting the similarities and differences, can help students master the content being taught and develop better problem-solving strategies.

Use higher-order questions to help students build explanations.

Across subject areas, when teachers ask higher-order questions and provide opportunities for students to develop deep explanations, learning is enhanced. Higher-order questions often start with question stems like: why, what caused, how did it occur, what if, how do they compare, or what is the evidence? When teachers ask higher-order questions and encourage explanations, they are helping their students to develop important critical thinking skills.

There are a number of ways teachers can encourage their students to develop explanations. During class discussions, homework assignments, or while reading, teachers can encourage students to explain their thinking out loud or in writing. Units of study that begin with a provocative question, or set of questions, will also encourage students to develop explanations and deepen their understanding of key content.


What do these recommended practices look like in real schools? The site also paints a picture of three elementary schools that are implementing these practices. Highlights of the practices that schools have adopted, a summary of their approach, achievement data, and sample materials are provided.

Normal Park Museum Magnet Elementary School (Chattanooga, Tennessee: Urban)

Starr Elementary School (Plainwell, Michigan: Small City)

Chamberlin Hill Intermediate School (Findlay, Ohio: Suburban, grades 3-5)


States and districts can support all four recommended practices by using the planning templates to carry out needs assessment and planning. Ideas include analyzing data to track students’ retention of material over time, providing professional development about research-based practices, facilitating collaboration among teachers from different schools, and allocating resources for teaching with visual representations and hands-on experiences.


Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices
This guide presents strategies that classroom teachers and specialists can use to increase the reading ability of adolescent students. The recommendations aim to help students gain more from their reading tasks, improve their motivation for and engagement in the learning process, and assist struggling readers who may need intensive and individualized attention.

Effective Literacy and English Language Instruction for English Learners in the Elementary Grades
The target audience for this guide is a broad spectrum of school practitioners, such as administrators, curriculum specialists, coaches, staff development specialists and teachers, who face the challenge of providing effective literacy instruction for English language learners in the elementary grades. The guide also aims to reach district-level administrators who develop practice and policy options for their schools.

Encouraging Girls in Math and Science
The objective of this guide is to provide teachers with specific recommendations that can be carried out in the classroom without requiring systemic change. Other school personnel having direct contact with students, such as coaches, counselors, and principals, will also find the guide useful.

This article was written by Kimberly Lightle. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright April 2010 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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