New Teachers

How to Plan for Dynamic Instruction

New teachers in particular can benefit from these tips on dynamic instruction, which uses multiple activities to approach learning objectives.

April 10, 2024
Marie Montocchio / Ikon Images

Whether you teach second grade or middle school, you likely know that multifaceted, dynamic instruction not only engages students but also gives them multiple ways into learning content and skills. 

Consider a third-grade teacher who is sharing with students a nonfiction text about the most common birds in South Carolina. Knowledge is core to the literacy program at her school, so her unit focuses on wildlife—ornithology, in particular. 

This week, the teacher wants to show students how to use the features of nonfiction text to inform and maximize their reading experience. She could invite the students to gather on the carpet, then read the text while she pauses and invites them to turn and talk about text features as they appear in the reading. Then, the teacher may release students to try this exercise, on their own or with a partner, using another nonfiction text. 

While this routine happens in many classrooms, it doesn’t embrace dynamic instruction. Dynamic instruction emphasizes layers of learning and uses multiple activities to achieve the same learning objectives, actively engaging students mentally and physically. 

Below, I share how to plan for and execute multifaceted learning experiences using instructional layers to boost student comprehension that can be applicable in any content area.

Use Reflection Questions to Guide Lesson Planning

In the example above, our third-grade teacher could have turned to some common questions at the start of her planning process that position a lesson planner for more multilayered work:

  • How does the lesson design ensure that students’ prior knowledge and skills are preassessed to inform lesson planning?
  • How does the lesson provide a space where students need to create or show their understanding in a physical way?
  • What opportunities do students have to revise their thinking as they learn and to reflect on their work?
  • What primary materials do we need to quickly elevate learning across various lessons?
  • How do the lessons make learning stick by changing activities to keep learning fresh and engaging?

When lessons are guided by these inquiries, a very different type of learning experience will follow. 

Gather PreAssessment Data Organically

If the above scenario were to center dynamic instruction, students might enter their classroom to see a video projected on the screen showing a few of the most common birds in South Carolina, with captions to read while the speaker talks. Each student would sit in a small group of three and receive an envelope with large cutouts of various text features from a book excerpt on the topic. Enlarged nonfiction text would be hanging around the classroom, and the teacher would invite students up to read an assigned piece of nonfiction text hanging on the wall. As they read, the teacher would ask them to decide where to paste the nonfiction text features into the sequence of text.  

As students worked with their group, the teacher would listen to their conversation and take notes on their understanding. As they determined the placement of text features, the teacher could gather preassessment information to inform future planning. She would take the student work and engage in direct instruction around nonfiction text features according to students’ background knowledge. Then, she would invite students to rejoin their group and make corrections to their hanging nonfiction text features by moving the text feature cutouts to the proper section of text. Doing so is engaging and multifaceted, and it invites the collection and use of preassessment data, as it arises naturally, in response to instructional stimuli.

Ask students to show understanding kinesthetically

In our hypothetical dynamic instruction scenario, the teacher could then ask students to leave the pasted nonfiction text activity to create a diorama of the birds they’d been studying. They’d use a shoebox and create birds out of paper or clay. Then, they’d write nonfiction text features on paper, attached to toothpicks, and hang them from a string above the scene or from the side walls. Text features might include captions, labeled diagrams, sidebars, and headings—bringing the scene to life with language. After students completed this work, they’d write in response to reflection questions and obtain teacher feedback so they’d have the opportunity to revise their dioramas. 

Invite and Engage Peer Feedback

Students could then participate in a carousel walk to see and celebrate what their classmates created and what text features helped them understand the scene best. In such an exercise, students could leave short notes beside each diorama with praise and constructive feedback. 

It’s best if students have an opportunity for revision the following day, with time to incorporate the feedback on their notes. Doing so allows time for reflection and for students to gain a deeper understanding of their work. 

In dynamic instruction, the teacher would invite students, each day, to build on their learning and review the nonfiction text hanging in the classroom to revise their thinking and note the changes that were made. This would guide them to check their accuracy. Students could continue to revise and rework until they were ready to check their skill and content knowledge acquisition. 

Supply Your Classroom to Support Multifaceted Engagement

Dynamic instruction works best when you have a number of materials at the ready—relatively simple items such as tape, poster board, small to medium-sized empty boxes, Post-its, chart paper, Popsicle sticks, glue, crayons, magazines with relevant photos, and access to a printer, as well as printer paper. 

Students actively engage their minds by using their hands to build their understanding. While such activities are ideally integrated into core curricula, you can also implement them as enriching extensions if needed. 

Embrace Multiple Layers of Instruction

Ultimately, dynamic lessons like those described above are more likely to stick in students’ minds, as the learning experiences embedded within them ask students to use a multisensory approach to engage in creation, reflection, and review. 

In the book Make It Stick, researchers discuss retrieval practice—which is what students experience when they need to recall and apply their knowledge in the moment. The authors also highlight the importance of mixing up practice to deepen learning. In the scenario above, students did both by showing their knowledge through multiple modalities as they recalled and applied key information across activities.

When students are able to physically move and demonstrate their knowledge in more than one way, they’re more likely to not only remember what they learned but transfer that learning as they see it take shape across different modes or representations.

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