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The Art of Giving Instructions: Part 3

In his third and final blog post on this topic, Lindsay Clandfield switches his focus to your students. How can we teach them to give good instructions?

In my first two blog posts on this topic, I looked at the whole area of giving instructions from the perspective of a teacher. But instructions-giving need not only be something the teacher does. Learners need to follow instructions, sure. But they will perhaps at some point need to give instructions themselves, too. How can we teach learners to be good at this? This will be the focus of my last post on this topic, as I believe that giving instructions in a language not your own is also an important skill to have. Just ask anyone who has tried to figure out badly translated instructions for various devices!

Here are some of my favourite instructions-giving exercises. 


Re-order the instructions 

For this activity, you need a series of instructions for something the learners are familiar with. Give the instructions in the wrong order. Learners have to reorder them. Here is an example of instructions on changing a SIM card in a phone (to make it easier, you could give them the first and last instructions) 

  1. Remove the SIM card by simply lifting it out of the tray.
  2. Reinsert the tray. 
  3. Turn off your phone.
  4. Push gently but firmly until the tray pops out.
  5. Insert the tool (or paperclip) into the small hole next to the SIM tray.
  6. First you need a SIM-eject tool. If you don't have one, use a small paper clip.
  7. Slide the tray out from the device.  
  8. Place the new SIM card into the tray with the notch on the SIM card aligned with the notch on the tray. 

(answers. 6, 3, 5, 4, 7, 1, 8, 2)  

Write the instructions  

For this activity, find a set of pictorial instructions. The IKEA website should be good for this, as each of their products in the online catalogue has a downloadable pdf of instructions on how to assemble it. These instructions are almost always just pictures. Look at the pictures and create the written instructions for each one. Useful verbs for this are: connect/attach, screw, open, slide...  

Students match the instructions to the pictures. An alternative would be to give students the key verbs and have them make the instructions for the pictures.  

Correct the instructions  

Find a set of instructions for a simple procedure that your students should know. Rewrite some key ones so that they are clearly wrong. Students must read and find the mistakes, and then correct them. Here is an example of some instructions on how to create a group in WhatsApp, with some key errors. 

  • Click Menu above your chats list in WhatsApp. Alternatively, click the New Chat icon. 
  • Click Old* Group. 
  • Search for or select contacts to add to the group. Then click the red* arrow icon. 
  • Enter a group subject. This will be the name of the group that only you* will see.  
  • You cant* add an emoji to your group subject. 
  • You can add a group icon by clicking REMOVE* GROUP ICON. 
  • You can choose to Take Photo, Upload Photo, or do a Web Search to add an image. Once set, the icon will appear under* the group in your chats list.  
  • Click the purple* check mark icon when you're finished. 

(answers: 2 New 3 green 4 everyone 5 can 6 Add 7 next to 8 green)  

Driving Instructor/Machine Operator  

In this activity, students practice giving oral instructions to each other on how to operate a machine. The obvious best choice here is for them to role-play giving instructions on how to drive. I like to get students to sit next to each other and mime this while they are speaking as if they are roleplaying a driving class. 

Another option is to get them to give instructions for a machine they both know. For example, give instructions on how to operate the photocopier or the printer in an office.  


Instructions for a new office worker 

Students have to imagine that they work in an office which has very strange rules. For example, if the internet doesnt work you need to turn the lights in the toilet on and off twice. Or that you have to close windows in one room before you can open windows in another. Tell students they must create a series of instructions for things in the office such as how to operate the coffee machine, how the telephones work, how to use the photocopier, or how to call the elevator. 

This last activity is based on the excellent activity by David Seymour in 700 Classroom Activities (Macmillan Education 2003), which is about giving similar instructions in a strange house to a housesitter. 


This brings my short series of posts about the art of giving instructions to a close. I hope youve found some useful tips in here, and best of luck with future instructions in your classroom! 




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