Elementary Teaching Methods

One of the most difficult parts of developing as a teacher is learning how to pick the correct teaching methodology for your classroom. Before deciding which method(s) to use, teachers should start from the end of the lesson and work backwards. Teachers can mold the lesson’s mission easily by establishing what students should take away from the lesson and how they will be assessed. Teachers can further reinforce these skills and/or ideas by developing plans for hands-on activities, lectures, and collaborative learning.

Of course, there are many different methods that can be utilized in teaching students. Here are some of the best and most used:

Direct/Traditional, Teacher-Centered

The direct or traditional method of teaching has long been the standard model. In this method, the teacher acts as an anchor, hitting all the points of a specific lesson, while students listen and respond to the lecture. It is the teacher’s responsibility in this model to keep the student’s attention and convey the main learning points of the lesson.

A direct/traditional approach is most commonly used as beginning instruction for a new subject or skill. For example, an elementary teacher explaining basic sentence structures may want to begin by explaining what a period is, what it looks like, and where it goes in relation to the sentence. Teachers using this method must be cognizant of their students’ abilities to pay attention for long stretches.

The direct/traditional model is excellent for those who need to hear or read a lesson to learn, but it is not usually the most conducive method for verbal learners. It also usually requires note-taking, a skill often not developed until later in life (teacher-centered lessons are for this reason very popular in adult education, particularly at colleges and universities). Here are some other pros and cons to direct/traditional teaching:

Pros

Cons

  • Teacher can be sure that all lesson points are made
  • Quiet and structured learning environment
  • Lesson plans are more of a script rather than a list of activities
  • Easy to prepare
  • Measuring success of the lesson cannot be made while teaching
  • Students are not directly involved and cannot give feedback
  • Non-verbal based learners may struggle to keep up
  • Less appropriate for younger students who cannot take notes

Hands-On/Inquiry, Student-Centered

The rise of Montessori-based education has led to the adoption of hands-on instruction methods in many classrooms. This type of student-centered activity creates experimentation, exploration, and self-discovery, helping engage learners in a more active classroom.

Hands-on lesson plans are often developed as “experiments,” such as multi-day (or -week) projects or various “learning centers” throughout the classroom. For example, an elementary science teacher might use a hands-on hypothesis-experiment lesson to explain soil erosion, allowing students to see and experience the changes rather than reading about them from a book.

Despite the engagement, hands-on lessons can also be somewhat chaotic. Without having a set of learning points, experiment-based lesson plans can make it more difficult to ensure that all students are taking away the same points from a lesson. Teachers using an inquiry-based method must be extraordinarily organized and plan lessons far in advance to plan for the extensive work that it takes to implement longer learning activities. Here are some other pros and cons to inquiry-based teaching:

Pros

Cons

  • Students are constantly engaged in their learning
  • Students must be more responsible for their education
  • Hands-on lessons are more memorable and can be incorporated with past lessons
  • Feedback on student progress and engagement is instant and in-the-moment
  • Classroom management with many hands-on lessons will be difficult
  • Planning lessons and preparing materials in advance is more necessary
  • All important learning fundamentals may not be covered in the process.
  • Transferring from hands-on to traditional teaching in a given lesson can be difficult

Collaborative/Cooperative, Shared-Centered

Collaborative and cooperative teaching can be a great way to get students to interact with their peers and their instructors. Cooperative lesson plans include projects that involve group work, partner learning, or teacher-student work. This method can be extremely beneficial for struggling students; it also gives the teacher the ability to identify and target students that need extra attention.

However, not all students respond positively to group work; in fact, early elementary teachers often find that enforcing positive group skills can be more difficult than ensuring a project is completed. Secondly, having a one-on-one teacher-to-student experience may mean devoting less time to other students. Additionally, those students that truly do need extra attention sometimes feel singled out, leading to anxiety in the classroom. Here are some of the pros and cons associated with collaborative learning:

Pros

Cons

  • Encourages discussions and revisiting of lessons
  • Allows for student-student teaching
  • Identifies different levels of learners
  • Teacher can work directly with struggling students in a sharing capacity
  • Not as effective with students who do not respond positively to group learning
  • Group learning places more responsibility on students
  • Singles out struggling students
  • Assessment of group work can be more difficult to implement

Deciding on the Right Method

Choosing which teaching method will be most appropriate for your lesson is an entirely situational experience. Knowing your students, classroom culture, and your teaching mission can make the decision easier and more streamlined. Furthermore, combining the styles can ensure that all students, no matter their learning styles, can benefit from a diverse and meaningful classroom experience

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