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Why does the Student / Teacher Game still play a vital role in Direct Instruction Lessons?

Updated: Apr 25

During these unprecedented times, teachers have had to adapt quite quickly to teaching live lessons from home to students, that in many cases are also at home. While as professionals we can find those quite places to work, although hard at times with many of us having our own children at home, we are able to adapt and concentrate in doing our job to the highest standards. However, this is much more difficult for the children. They have so many distractions at home including games consoles, television, mobile phones to name just a few. Many children are not fortunate enough to have private spaces to do their work and must work alongside siblings or other family members so find it hard to concentrate. Finding ways to motivate students and keep them engaged in a live lesson is paramount if we are to have any success and allow these children to continue to flourish.

For many of the students who are on Direct Instruction programmes all the following apply. The students have very low self-esteem, many view schools as a torturous place as they cannot access the work and feel that their only escape is to become disruptive. In the case of remote online learning they feel this is a place they do not need to be without any real repercussion. Unfortunately, what they do not understand is that these absences and their sporadic attendance will only exacerbate their problems further down the line.

One of the beautiful things about Direct Instruction is it is not only allows the students, who participate on the programme, the basic skills they need to access the curriculum, but it also gives them an enormous sense of accomplishment. This achievement then leads the student to adopt a different mind-set: one of hope and not fear, one of success not failure and most importantly reward and achievement instead of negativity at the end of the programme. Skills are then transferred to core curriculum subjects and this positivity breeds. I guess as we hear so much about the R number on the news, I would like to use this analogy for Direct Instruction. Unlike this dreadful virus, our aim is to keep the positivity R number above 1 so it spreads through our children. Confidence is enhanced, self-image is improved and just like in fishing when we get a bite, this is the time to strike, hook students and in turn catch the positive mindsets. This will indeed, set these students up for the future.

At the start of any Direct Instruction programme the expectations on behaviour in a Direct Instruction class are embedded. In Direct Instruction we like to use STAR:

S – Sit Tall

T – Talk Big

A – Answer on Signal

R – Respect Others

Students who can follow these expectations earn class points in the student/ teacher game. When students fail to meet these expectations then the teacher earns points. The Teacher-Student game is therefore, a simple and effective way to motivate students to work hard and, in addition, reinforces good behaviour and academic success. It facilitates instruction by prompting students to obey the rules and follow directions. This will help them achieve academic success and promoting mastery by giving students consistent reinforcement for working hard and responding correctly.

The positive effect of using this game has changed the way I teach. The students love to beat the teacher and gain their rewards for doing so. Even in Year 9 the students embrace the student / teacher game with much enthusiasm so you must not feel you cannot use this with higher Year groups. You will be surprised!

How does this work online?

It is so important to keep students engaged online and there are numerous theories on how to do this that have been shared recently. Teaching Direct Instruction remotely does need some adapting, but it can be done and at the DI South Hub we are happy to support you through our webinars on how to do this. The focus of this article, however, is keeping the students engaged and the student / teacher game does this. Your expectations will be higher than the STAR ones in class: students should remain on mute until they are asked an individual turns question(s), students should not clog up the chat function unless asked to do so, cameras should be activated (subject to schools safeguarding policy). For students doing these things they are awarded students points. Students responding to their individual turns and the class getting all the answers correct first time also earns them student points.

Teachers earn points when students abuse the chat function with unnecessary messages, students do not respond to an individual turn, students have not followed your explicit instructions i.e. to follow along using their finger in the workbook. In class you will often be able see this behaviour and award the teacher point. However, when doing it online you can monitor it by students asking the question, “What question are we on?” or “Where are we?” Once you have started awarding the teacher’s points you find that the students start to follow along just as they would in class. No student wants to be the one giving the teacher ‘cheap’ points.

The game should not be seen to be negative though. Simply saying, “Not everyone is following along so that is a teacher point” should do the trick.

The game is set up for the students to win, they always earn 2 points for a positive behaviour and the teacher can only have one point for a negative behaviour. It is recommended that whilst online the ratio of positive to negative praise should be given in the ratio of 4:1.

I would like to mention here that it is, of course, alright for the teacher to win occasionally. This will, hopefully, teach the students to accept defeat gracefully. However, the main aim of the game is to reward positive behaviour and this is achieved by giving the teacher a point for a student’s unwanted behaviour but then awarding them 2 points for stopping such behaviour and following the rules.

My last point is to try and use a mini white board to show the tally of points. The students love to see the student’s points racking up and show teacher points as you tally them. This keeps students on their toes throughout, encouraging them to comply and gain rewards.

Remember the student / teacher game’s premise is to assist the teacher in modifying student behaviour, exhibiting high standards. It really does work so give it a go!

Below, I have outlined the rules of the game and copied in two slides from our PowerPoint that we use when supporting staff regarding engagement in lessons.

Please get in touch with is DIsouthhub@avonbourneacademy.org.uk or visit www.direct-instruction.co.uk if you require any support.

The game should be used daily with all instructional groups.

Rules for playing the game:

• The group earns points when every student in the group is doing what the teacher expects of them. (e.g., following directions and getting the correct answer)

• The teacher earns points when any individual in the group is not doing what the teacher expects of them. (e.g., not attending; not responding; talking out of turn; out of seat; inappropriate contact) Note teachers should not award teacher points for students getting answers incorrect unless they are evidently making those errors through a behaviour issue and not an academic one.


• Display the game format where all students can see it.

• Present student performance expectations to the group. (You will earn a point if everyone responds on signal.)

• Award points only for pre-taught expectations.

• Award points when students perform at a high level of mastery. (Wow, you just read that whole column of words with no mistakes. Two points for you!)

• Award points for working hard to master something that has been difficult. (That was hard, but now you have got it; a point for working so hard to get it right!)

• When awarding student points, always pair the point with a statement about why the point was earned. (Everyone is touching the title; a point for you.)

• Teacher points are never awarded for academic errors or minor behaviours for which you have not previously established an expectation.

• When awarding teacher points, name the behaviour, not the individual. (Someone is not looking at the book, my point.)

• Award points frequently, with quick pacing and without interrupting the flow of instruction.

• To ensure the game is highly motivating, make sure the students win 95-100% of the time. Scoring:

• Use tally marks to record points as earned.

• Count by fives to add up the points. This speeds up the counting progress and provides practise on counting by five.

• Make it a big deal when they win. Act sad and demoralised. Students LOVE to beat the teacher when the game is played effectively. You will find it is effective even without any additional reinforcement.

Reference: ErrorCorrectionsVol3-HO-Cover.docx (nifdi.org)

All that is left to say is get yourself a whiteboard and a whiteboard pen and start to motivate your students using the Student / Teacher game.

Have fun!

Kevin Surrey

Director of Direct Instruction DI Hub UK