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The Teaching Moves of a Strategic Teacher

Corwin Press
Research demonstrates the effectiveness of the 12 strategic teaching moves described in this article. On any given day in any given classroom, the strategic teacher employs all of these moves — whether with the whole class, a small group, or just one student.


The term teaching moves captures the essence of what strategic teachers do. They are constantly on the move — physically, emotionally, and intellectually (both cognitively and metacognitively) — making adjustments to meet the challenges of teaching cognitive processes that are situational in nature to students who are often looking for easy and immediate answers.

There are seven moves essential to the effectiveness of strategic reading instruction (SRI): (1) direct instructing and explaining, (2) modeling, (3) giving directions, (4) scaffolding, (5) coaching, (6) attributing, and (7) constructing meaning. The effectiveness of these moves as shown by scientific research is impressive, and they range in style and philosophy from direct instructing and explaining on one end of the instructional methodology continuum to jointly constructing meaning with students on the other. On any given day in any given classroom, the strategic teacher employs all of these moves — whether with the whole class, a small group, or just one student. Five complementary teaching moves enhance and support the major teaching moves: (l) motivating-connecting, (2) recapping, (3) annotating, (4) assessing-evaluating, and (5) facilitating.

All 12 moves are defined below, and you will no doubt add some of your own moves to this list. When working with cognitive novices, always begin with direct instructing and explaining for the best results. The ultimate goal is to jointly extract and construct meaning with your students.

Strategic Teaching Moves

The brief quotations introducing each of the following teaching-moves sections are drawn from a list of frequently observed instructional approaches in classrooms of strategic teachers (Pressley, El-Dinary, Gaskins, et al., 1992, p.528).

Direct instructing and explaining: Verbal input about what will happen in a lesson, what the goals are, why it’s being done, how it will help students, and what the roles of teachers and students will be during the lesson

Modeling: The act of thinking aloud regarding cognitive processing as well as engaging in observable behaviors, such as note taking, producing a graphic organizer, writing a summary, or looking up something in a book or on the Internet

Giving directions: Unambiguous and concise verbal input that seeks to give students a way to get from where they are at the beginning of a lesson, task, or unit to the achievement of a specific task or outcome; provides wait time for students to process directions, time for students to respond, and opportunities to ask clarifying questions

Scaffolding: A process that enables students to solve problems, carry out tasks, or achieve goals that would otherwise be impossible without teacher modeling, prompting, and support

Coaching: Asking students to think aloud, cueing them to choose a strategy that has been taught thus far to solve a reading problem, delivering mini-lessons where needed, and giving feedback to students

Attributing: Communicating to students that their accomplishments are the result of their strategic approach to reading rather than their intelligence or ability

Constructing meaning: Working collaboratively with students to extract and construct multiple meanings from text

Motivating-Connecting: The component of instruction that seeks to generate interest, activate prior knowledge, and connect instruction to the real world or the solution of real problems

Recapping: The act of summarizing what has been concluded, learned, or constructed during a given discussion or class period as well as a statement of why it is important and where it can be applied or connected in the future

Annotating: The act of adding additional information during the course of reading or discussion — information that students do not have but need in order to make sense of the text

Assessing-Evaluating: Determining what students have learned and where instruction needs to be adjusted and adapted by assessing, both formally and informally

Facilitating: Thinking along with students and helping them develop their own ideas, rather than managing their thinking, explaining ideas, and telling them what and how to do something

McEwan, E.K. (2004). Seven strategies of highly effective readers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.