Theme – Explicit teaching

Explicit teaching is when teachers clearly explain to students why they are learning something, how it connects to what they already know, how to do it and what it looks like when they have succeeded.

The evidence shows that students who experience explicit teaching practices perform better than students who do not, and that explicit teaching can benefit all students (that is, across all year groups and ability levels) when learning new or complex concepts and skills.

Practical strategies for implementing explicit teaching

What works best in practice (pages 10-12) provides teachers with key strategies on how to:

  • prepare for explicit teaching
  • explain, model and guide learning
  • monitor student progress and check for understanding.

The reflection toolkit (page 8) provides a framework and support to teachers when implementing these evidence-based strategies.

Video conversation with Northern Beaches Secondary College, Balgowlah Boys Campus

In this video, Mark Scott, former Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, sits down with Principal, Paul Sheather, Deputy Principal, Ben Seldon, and students of Northern Beaches Secondary College, Balgowlah Boys Campus. Mark hears first-hand how the school’s focus on explicit teaching has helped it become one of the state’s top performing schools in English.

Balgowlah Boys Campus and explicit teaching

Mark Scott:               

So today we’re talking with the Principal, Paul Sheather, and the Deputy Principal, Ben Seldon, and students at Northern Beaches Secondary College Balgowlah Boys Campus. And we’re going to talk about explicit teaching, which is one of the eight effective teaching practice areas identified in the ‘What works best: 2020 update’. So, gentlemen, what are the key features of explicit teaching at Balgowlah Boys? And why is it so important to use explicit teaching with all students?

Paul Sheather:         

I suppose why it’s important is because it’s been very, very effective with a full range of students. Both the performance data and the value-added data emphatically support this. The full range of students of all abilities seem to perform better under explicit teaching. The school has, I suppose, experimented with a gamut of teaching strategies over the last 10 years, and explicit teaching has evolved to be the core, or the nucleus, of the way we deliver at Balgowlah Boys.

The key features of this mode is, firstly, teachers map out the learning outcomes, and generally this comes backwards from the HSC outcomes. So the concepts build accumulatively and systematically. These outcomes are very visible to the students. And secondly, most importantly, the teachers work to develop explicit models to deliver to the students. To enable this, teachers work collaboratively in teams to develop the very best model, answer or product they can. And in these teams, they also deconstruct the model so that when they’re in front of their class, they’re on song, confident and ensure that the best exemplified learning outcome is presented to the boys. And probably this is best exemplified in the English faculty, Ben?

Ben Sheldon:            

Yeah. Look, we noticed quite a few years ago after coming back from the HSC marking that the boys were lacking the specific language that was required to leave high outcomes in the HSC, particularly in advanced level English. So what we realised then is that we needed, as classroom instructors, to exclusively teach that language to the students.

So we created a sentence scaffold, which is beguilingly simple, but it allows students to create very, very complex sentence structures and to manipulate multi-clause sentences very, very confidently. And we introduced that in Stage 4, and it’s taught consistently through to Stage 6, where the boys develop it. And it gives them an enormous amount of confidence, and we’ve had an enormous amount of feedback from students who go on from leaving our school and say, “Thanks for teaching me how to write.” It's a fascinatingly simple tool. It’s a very interactive process.

Mark Scott:               

Do you find, Ben, this has been a key to student engagement? I mean, as you take them through this process, that kids are leaning more into learning?

Ben Sheldon:            

Absolutely. English is a very, very popular subject, and there is a mindset that students have that if they don’t know quite how the subject works or what they’re supposed to do, they get a feeling of disengagement. And what this does is it breaks it down. It makes it very, very simple. It’s like putting a Lego model together. And the boys, they become empowered. We’re able to say, “Those sentences that you put together in Year 8 replicate the kind of grammar that you use in Year 12,” and we can show them a Year 12 essay, show them what they’ve done, and the boys realise, “Wow, I’ve got this.” And that’s incredibly confidence-building for them.

It also, as Paul eluded to – it’s very empowering for the teachers. So they go into the classroom with that exemplar in the back of their mind and are able to speak from a position of confidence and clarity. They can give explicit feedback about what kind of language the boys are using. They can give explicit feedback about what’s working, what isn’t working, and how to tweak that, and they use the whiteboard to show the boys how to put those sentences together. And the boys in the class sit there and say, “I have confidence in this process because the teacher there is doing it. They’re showing me how to do it.” 

Mark Scott:               

Charlie, Sebastien, Luke, thanks for joining us. We want to talk about what it’s like to learn at Balgowlah Boys. Tell me, how do you know what you’re going to learn, and where you’re headed in your learning, and whether you’ve been successful? How do you know about the learning journey that you have in classes there?

Charlie Longmore:   

It’s honestly a really easy process when it comes to objectives in English. Going off of knowing when you’ve been successful, the scaffold provided creates a structure for us to build off. If what you’ve produced is similar to the standard set by the teacher, or even better, then you definitely know you’re on the right track, and the teachers pick up on it. It really helps to have a sort of bar to reach when in class or at home. And you know where you’re headed and what’s next, because as you progress through different units in English, you pick up new strategies and tips, and it’s very easy to see the improvement from when we first started in Year 7.

Mark Scott:               

So what are some of the practical ways that your teachers show you what to do, and to show you how to be successful in your learning?

Luke O’Donnell:       

In the classroom, in the lessons, going through scaffolded responses, and the teachers usually prepare pre-written texts – pre-written deconstructions of the texts – at a really high standard, so we know what we can achieve and what we can aim for. And it’s kind of like an, “I do, we do, and then you do” approach. She shows us exactly what she wants us to do and we do it together so we understand it, and then we have homework set so we can go and do it ourselves and put those skills into practice.

Mark Scott:               Brilliant, thanks everyone.

Mark Scott:               

We want to improve teaching practice, school planning and see improvement across NSW education. There’s a lot more information available for you about ‘What works best’ in the NSW Department of Education website.

Podcast with Balgowlah Boys Campus

Registered professional learning

Access the Explicit teaching course on MyPL

Other resources


  • Teaching and learning
  • Teaching and learning practices
  • What works best

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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