Periodical in American Educator, Spring 2012

Access [free]: Rosenshine (2012) via

Scope of Paper

The article presents ten research-based principles of instruction. The principles are based on research in cognitive science, and are used by ‘master teachers’: teachers whose teaching consistently results in large attainment gains for the students of the classes.

Key Findings

  • Students learn best when taught material is frequently revisited. Teachers face a difficult problem: the need to cover a lot of material in a short period of time. This can lead to a lack of review of previously taught material, but research shows that material that is not adequately practiced and reviewed is quickly forgotten.
  • It’s important to break new information into small steps. Our working memory can only process so much new information at one time: The most effective teachers do not swamp their students by presenting too much new material at once.
  • Frequently and comprehensively checking for student understanding, and obtaining a high success rate, informs future teaching and prevents students developing misconceptions.

More Detail

  1. Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
  2. Present new material in small steps, with student practice after each step.
  3. Ask a large number of questions, and check the responses of all students.
  4. Provide models.
  5. Guide student practice.
  6. Check for student understanding.
  7. Obtain a high success rate.
  8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
  9. Require and monitor independent practice.
  10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review.

1. Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning

Daily review helps students strengthen the connections between pieces of recently acquired knowledge. Frequent review helps students recall words, concepts, and procedures quickly and effortlessly.

Daily review is particularly important when teaching material that will be used in subsequent learning. Effective teachers begin lessons with short reviews of previously taught material that is relevant to the day’s lesson. This reduces the burden on students’ working memory.

Activities appropriate to use during daily review include:

  • Correcting homework; asking students about problems with homework; reviewing concepts and skills pertinent to homework,
  • Reviewing material where students have had difficulties or made errors,
  • Reviewing material that needs overlearning, to take students beyond mastery and into automaticity.

2. Present new material in small steps, with student practice after each step.

Our working memory is small and limited. Presenting too much new information at once can overwhelm working memory and lead to cognitive overload. This confuses students as their working memory is unable to process new information.

The most effective teachers only present small amounts of new information at any time, and provide time for students to practice with this material. This procedure overcomes the limitations of our working memory and leads to higher conversion rates of information from working memory to long-term memory.

Teaching in small steps takes time. The most effective teachers spend double the amount of time when presenting new information, compared to the least effective teachers. This time includes lecturing, demonstrating, questioning, and working examples. This allows the teacher to ask lots of questions to check for understanding, and ensures students will be able to work independently without difficulty.

3. Ask a large number of questions, and check the responses of all students.

Teacher questions and student discussion are a major way for students to practice new material. Questioning allows a teacher to assess how well information has been learned, and to identify if there is a need for additional instruction.

It’s important to involve all students in questioning. Some techniques to include more students include:

  • Tell the answer to a neighbour,
  • Summarise the main idea in one to two sentences and write it down,
  • Write the answer on a card and hold it up,
  • Raise hands if they know the answer,
  • Raise hands if you agree with an answer.

The purpose of this questioning allows the teacher to see how many students are correct and confident in their understanding of new material. The teacher may then reteach some material where necessary.

In addition to asking questions, the most effective teachers facilitate student practice by providing more examples and explanations.

4. Provide models.

In particular, providing models refers to performing worked examples for students to follow. This allows students to focus on the specific steps needed to solve problems and reduces cognitive load. It also provides students with the cognitive support that they need to be able to successfully practice new skills (a form of social constructivism).

Providing models can evolve from demonstrating worked examples, to providing partially completed examples, and finally to providing a series of problems for students to complete as individual practice.

Many skills taught in the classroom can be conveyed using prompts, modelling the prompt, then guiding students to use the prompt themselves.

5. Guide student practice.

In order to remember taught material, students need to spend time rephrasing, elaborating, and summarising the content in order to store information in long-term memory (see, e.g. Weinstein et al. 2018).

Teachers can facilitate this process by asking questions. Good questions require the student to process and summarise recently learned material. The quality of the retention and retrieval strength of new information is dependent on the depth to which students engage with the material. It’s important for teachers to guide this process, to avoid students inadvertently storing incomplete information or misconceptions.

6. Check for student understanding.

The most effective teachers frequently check for student understanding, and check the understanding of all students. This process doubles up as guiding student practice to help long-term memory, and lets teachers know if students hold misconceptions.

Frequent checks for student understanding also inform future teaching and alerts teachers to material that needs to be retaught. Effective teachers check for understanding by asking questions, asking students to summarise key ideas from the lesson, and asking students if they agree or disagree with other student’s answers.

This process helps students build schema in long-term memory: allowing students to construct and reconstruct links between knowledge as the teacher prompts students to summarise or paraphrase. When left to themselves, students often make errors when digesting or recapping information. Frequently checking for understanding minimises the formation of misconceptions.

7. Obtain a high success rate.

A high success rate during guided practice translates into a high success rate during individual practice. The students of the most effective teachers answer oral questions correctly 82% of the time compared to 73% of the time in the classrooms of the least successful teachers.

The optimal success rate for oral questioning is around 80% – this is high enough that students are correctly learning the material, while still maintaining an appropriate level of challenge.

Achieving this success rate is helped by teaching new material in small steps and by providing student practice at each step. Practice makes perfect, but only when students are practicing the correct skills.

There is a need for obtaining a high success rate for all students, otherwise slower students will fall further behind when the next new material is taught.

8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.

Teachers should provide students with temporary supports and scaffolds to assist with learning difficult tasks. Providing scaffolds is a form of guided practice, and scaffolds can be gradually withdrawn as students become more competent.

Thinking aloud is a method of providing a scaffold. It models ‘expert thinking’ for students that they are not usually exposed to. It can also serve as a form of modelling for students, for example, demonstrating the use of a checklist item that requires a student to check that every sentence starts with a capital letter.

9. Require and monitor independent practice.

Students need extensive, successful, independent practice in order to master skills and knowledge. When material is over-learned, it can be recalled easily and doesn’t take up room in the working memory. This leaves students free to focus on comprehension and application. The need for mastery applies to skills and concepts that must be used in future learning.

Independent practice is an opportunity for teachers to use techniques from cognitive science to (see, e.g. Weinstein et al. 2018 aid learning in the form of elaboration and additional review.

The most effective teachers provide extensive opportunity for independent practice both during and after classes. Independent practice should contain the same material as presented earlier during guided practice.

10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review.

The most successful classrooms provide time for extensive and frequent review of taught material. This helps students develop larger, better-connected and more complex schema in their long-term memory. This in turn makes it easier for new knowledge to be added to long-term memory.

Teachers face a difficult problem: the need to cover a lot of material in a short period of time. This can lead to a lack of review of previously taught material, but research shows that material that is not adequately practiced and reviewed is quickly forgotten.

The best way for a student to become an expert is through practice. The more students can practice, the better their performance will be.


By understanding the three sources of information used to define these principles instruction, it is clear that they form a valid basis from which to design best-practice.

  • Cognitive science tells us how our brains acquire, store, and use information.
  • Research on cognitive structures tells us which instructional procedures help students most.
  • Research on master teachers tells us empirically what works best in the classroom.

Even though these principles come from three different sources, the instructional procedures that are taken from one source do not conflict with the instructional procedures that are taken from another source. Instead, that ideas from each of the sources overlap and add to each other. This overlap gives us faith that we are developing a valid and research-based understanding of the art of teaching.