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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Teaching for Home Learning: Primary Science. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds CHRIS HARRISON: If you do send out work is not to leave things too vague. There’s been quite a few cases like the other day, one of my biology pre-service teachers, the work that had been sent out by their department was to just go and look at the SAPS, The Science and Plants– the Science and Plants in Schools websites. And they were just told to go and look at that and to write something about something they found interesting. Gearing them to particular parts of the website and look at particular things and asking them questions on it is far more productive. Otherwise, they just flick through all sorts of things.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds And you don’t know what– while it’s good to sometimes let them make choices when they’re doing this sort of thing, sometimes their choices can not fit in with what you wanted them to do with their learning. So what they actually come back to and present to you maybe can be a bit superficial or not in keeping with what they’re trying to do. So I think sort of thinking carefully about any websites they use and how you want them to use it and where you want them to go on that website to use the information in a particular way is important.

Clear instructions

One of the challenges for pupils learning remotely is that they have no immediate means for clarifying instructions with the teacher. Similarly, the teacher doesn’t have any visual cues or immediate way to check that pupils have understood what’s expected of them.

In this video, Chris Harrison, Professor of Education at King’s College London, talks about the importance of providing clear instructions for work that you set for independent learning at home.

Depending on the age of the pupils you are teaching, you may need to provide instructions for parents/carers as well as instructions that could be passed onto their children.

As a guide for what to include, the following elements aim to keep instruction separate from description and additional information. This provides pupils with a clear ‘hook’ at the start, followed by step-by-step instructions to complete, and then a clear process for sharing that work to either the teacher or other pupils.

  • One-line summary.
  • The aim of the task and how it links to other learning.
  • Any background resources, links or information required.
  • Information for parents
  • Numbered list of steps to complete, each step starting with a verb.
  • How to submit outputs from the task, where, by when, and in what format.

Following up on the activity

To encourage pupil engagement with a learning task, use it as part of a sequence, where the outcome of one activity feeds into the next stage of teaching. For example, this might be allocating terminology to individuals or groups to provide a short summary for a class glossary, used throughout the rest of the topic. Or, if pupils are asked to create something such as a poster, how posters from the whole class build a bigger picture of a topic or issue. In Week 2, we’ll be looking at some of the follow-up approaches you could use.


Think about an activity which you have set pupils to complete independently. This could either be when you were teaching in school, or work that you have sent as homework, or more recently as home learning.

Look at how you presented the instructions for the task. What are your initial thoughts on how this might have been improved?

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching for Home Learning: Primary Science

National STEM Learning Centre