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V. Structured Instruction

Surprisingly, teacher led instruction is often a matter of informal or unstructured presentations that require little more preparation other than the introduction to the topic followed by an exploration about what the topic entails. For example, it is not uncommon for a teacher to simply say or write a topic on the board followed by a description of the topic. Often, however, this topic is based upon a formalized, or written lesson plan required by school officials. Upon closer examination, one may find that there is little actual relationship between the written lesson plan and the execution of the lesson. The disconnection between the formal institutionalized requirements of instruction and actual classroom presentation is a problem. The reason for this disconnect is associated with different purposes that planning and presenting functions serve. The formal written lesson plan usually addresses a bureaucratic mandate aimed at satisfying some standard of accepted accountability, while the actual teaching task, to be effective, addresses the demands of classroom teaching. The presenting function entails finding an appropriate means of communications within the day-to-day demand of the classroom setting and the individual attributes of its student population.

Effective teaching, according our design principles (Designing Effective Instruction for Secondary Social Studies), relies on a cycle of structured instruction that is aimed at aiding student comprehension. This approach attempts to avoid the pitfalls of a haphazard presentation, or an unstructured approach that, while interesting, fails to reinforce the key concepts, skills, or values associated with the designated topic of instruction. Effective teaching, according to this criterion, depends on effective planning, which relies on a repetitious cycle that includes a lesson opener, a lesson body, and a lesson closure. This design is based on a pattern of introduction, presentation, and reinforcement so that any attending student cannot fail to comprehend what the teacher is attempting to convey during instruction. These learning principles rely on the topical relationships between the whole (the topic of instruction) and its related parts (the essentials or characteristics of the topic).

The lesson opener, the introduction, must become more than an introduction of the topic, and it should contain an overview of the topic and its several related essential characteristic parts. The introduction, therefore, should be presented in the form of an image that is wholistic, the topic in relationship to its essential parts. For example, if the topic of instruction map making, the teacher might open the lesson with an actual classroom map of the United States, and be sure to comment on some of the map features, such as the map key, the lines of longitude and latitude, color variations indicating rainfall and vegetation, etc.

The lesson body, detailed instruction, should include the important concepts or events, as well as its main features. Lesson time, in other words, should be allowed for each of the essential parts (features or characteristics) of the topic, so that students can learn about the topic through its characteristics. Each characteristic, in other words, should be presented in a somewhat isolated form, or a one-at-a-time presentation. For example, according to our lesson on map nomenclature, the teacher would spend time on each of the major features of the map construction, which would allow time for students as ask questions or to contribute an insight that they already know about nomenclature of maps. Once each of these map features has been addressed and described (with examples), the teacher should then explore how each of these features are interrelated with each other. Interrelating the parts to whole is critical in effecting student comprehension.

The lesson closure, the summing up and reinforcing of the lesson, must include a means that will allow students to apply what they have learned through the teacher presentation or demonstration, as well as what was not learned that should have been learned. The proof of learning, according to this approach, is best understood by student demonstrations of his or her newly acquired knowledge. For example, according to the lesson on map nomenclature, the teacher might provide an activity in which each student would demonstrate his or her knowledge of map nomenclature by working and describing relationships on a different map (the application or transfer of knowledge).


1. There is disconnect between the teachers’ formal filing of an official lesson plan and the actual teaching of the lesson in the classroom.
2. The actual lesson plan is the actual presentation on instruction to students in the classroom, which may be more haphazard, undirected, and ineffective than realized.
3. Regardless of the nature of the lesson plan, formal or informal, it should follow a cycle that reinforces student learning to insure student comprehension.
4. The lesson cycle should include a lesson opener (introduction), lesson presentation (teacher presentation), and lesson closure (reinforcing conclusion).
5. Each of the three parts of the lesson cycle should be aimed at achieving a certain standard or level of comprehension, which is aimed at teaching a concept, skill, or value related to the social studies.
6. The rhythm of this cycle is based on a teacher demonstration, an exploration of each of the related parts of the topic – with an opportunity for clarification, and an opportunity for a student based demonstration on what was learned – including an opportunity for correcting misunderstandings once they are detected.
7. Although this cycle may or may not be used as an actual part of the formal lesson plan, it should become an almost habitual a cycle that dominates actual classroom instruction.

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