What it is and why it is important:

“From writing a poem to factoring an equation, from passing a rugby ball to designing a website, students in school are constantly in the process of creating products and performances. However, these do not reach a high standard by magic. They are always the result of combinations of procedures … As teachers, it is our responsibility to show students how to use and manipulate their knowledge to form these end products and, just as importantly, to ensure that they are of as high a standard as possible”. Allison and Tharby (2015)

Modelling is a vital aspect of teaching. To learn how to do something, students need to watch and listen to experts as they guide them through the process before they attempt it themselves. If we do not Model what we expect from students, they will not know what to aim for.

Eggen and Kauchak (2001)

Modelling is an instructional strategy in which the teacher demonstrates a new concept or approach to learning and students learn by observing.

Haston (2007)

Whenever a teacher demonstrates a concept for a student, that teacher is modelling.

Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) Compared guided models of teaching – such as direct instruction – with discovery learning methods – such as problem-based learning, inquiry learning, experiential learning, and constructivist learning.

They found that the latter methods didn’t work as well as the former. It didn’t matter, they argued, if students preferred less guided methods, they still learned less from them.

In Visible Learning, Professor John Hattie found that the average effect size for teaching strategies which involved the teacher as a “facilitator” was 0.17, whereas the average effect size for strategies where the teacher acted as an “activator” was 0.60. Direct instruction had an effect size of 0.59 compared to problem-based learning with an effect size of just 0.15.

So direct instruction – teacher explanations and modelling, telling and showing – is clearly more effective than discovery learning approaches. So, how do we do this effectively?


“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing”. Albert Schweitzer.

Advantages of modelling:

  • Modelling can often make the unclear clearer.
  • Some activities cannot be adequately expressed in words.
  • Using this type of instruction, teachers engage students in imitation of particular behaviours that encourage learning.
  • Modelling can promote inclusion.
  • Modelling can help teachers measure the difficulty or work load of their students.
  • Metacognitive modelling is particularly useful for exam groups.
  • Stops students wasting time because they “can’t think of anything.”

Disadvantages of modelling:

  • Possibility to offend students if teachers are not working with empathy and integrity.
  • Students may begin to “expect” models.
  • Less able students are more likely to accept what is being modelled and not challenge it.
  • Reduces students’ own thinking and creativity skills.

Agnes (2000)

Students are replicating teachers’ models in tasks which require imagination.

Haston (2007)

When used inappropriately it can inhibit learning.

Literature to Read:

  • Making Every Lesson Count – Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby – chapter 3 on ‘Modelling’
  • Slow Teaching – Jamie Thom – chapter 11 – ‘The Power of Modelling’
  • Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn – Hattie and Yates
  • The Confident Teacher – Alex Quigley – chapter 13 – ‘Successful modelling and metacognition’
  • Principles of Instructions – Rosenshine
  • Write Like This: Teaching Real-world Writing Through Modelling and Mentor Texts – Kelly Gallagher
  • Why Don’t Students Like School? ­– Daniel Willingham
  • The Secret of Literacy: Making the Implicit Explicit – David Didau
  • Mark. Plan. Teach – Ross Morrison McGill – chapter 2 ‘Modelling’
  • Technique 36 – ‘Show Call’ – Teach Like a Champion 2.0 – Doug Lemov

Videos to watch:

Strategies to try:

Live Modelling:

Live Modelling is scripting a text in front of the class and there are two key features working in tandem

            Modelling independently and students listen

            Students taking part in the process

By Live Modelling your students see you as the expert writer modelling the decision-making process that leads to a successful piece of writing.


Practice before hand so that you do not loose your way during the lesson.

Make it clear to the class why you are doing this and what you expect students to learn from the process.

Talk through your first few sentences with students explaining your decisions, pointing out your successes, and failures! By doing this you are modelling how to find solutions to obstacles, just as students have to.

Then invite the students to work on the next sentences with you.

Students copying down what is being written will help to keep them engaged.

Proof read the outcome with students, and get them to make improvements, identifying what makes the paragraphs successful, maybe using a checklist.

Then get the students to practise themselves on a similar question.

Admire Each Other

Modelling does not just need to be done by experts. Work produced by students and student demonstrations are useful. Students can relate to their peer’s work, and believe that if their contemporary has created it, then so can they. Keep the model achievable, if they are too challenging, then students will switch off.

Methods of Admiring Each Other:

Compare a student answer with one of your own – how does the student beat the teacher!

Regularly read out extracts from students’ work in the class as work is being created. Get other students to identify what has been done well.

Get students to read each-other’s work, not just to peer assess but to magpie ideas to improve their own work.

Allow students to browse through collections of past students’ work.

Photograph work and show it to the whole class whilst students are working, discuss strengths and weaknesses. Keep in mind the feelings of the people involved. A positive classroom environment is essential.

Model the metacognitive skills demonstrated: What do you think this student did when they got stuck? Can you see how they edited their work? How did their plan assist them?

Keep the work of students who have made great progress from first draft to final piece and use to model the journey to success.

Show them How to Speak

Make sure that you are modelling the language that you expect students to use in their work. If you don’t, students will write the way that they speak. Make sure that you are using subject specific language from the very beginning as regular repetition will ensure that they will become a part of the students’ working vocabulary. Don’t be afraid to correct students when they do not use the correct language, and when you set a task, include a list of words that you expect students to use within their work. If you can say it, you can write it.

Grow Expert Apprenticeships

As well as modelling work of students, you can also model the work of experts. But remember, you need to break the work down, discussing what makes it such a good piece of work, and that it is usually unrealistic for your students to match that standard! The point is to get students to aspire higher than they might have otherwise done, and achieve more than they thought they could.

Share Multiple Models

Sharing different models and allowing students to compare the outcomes, usually a high-quality answer and a low-quality answer, is a good way of getting students to focus on the difference in quality. However, students need to understand why one is stronger than the other, so encourage them to study the models closely. Once students have dissected the models, they should then produce their own for a similar question.

Sharing different models also shows different ways that students can be creative and that there is no single way to achieve an excellent outcome. Before embarking upon a piece of work, share different examples of excellent, yet very different, outcomes.


Students start each new topic with different levels of knowledge and understanding. To counter this, all parts of the learning journey, however small and insignificant they may seem, must be modelled. This includes note-taking, annotation, skim-reading, underlining the title and date, graph drawing, editing, proofreading, redrafting, asking questions, answering questions, reading a textbook, planning extended writing, holding a tennis racquet, peer assessment, mixing paints, drawing a timeline. The moment a student is asked to complete a task, show them how to do it, otherwise they may be challenged by the practicalities rather than by the subject content.

Where this becomes even more vital is when preparing students for their exams. Knowing how to answer the question is just as important as the content itself!

Design a Feedback Mirror

After completing a task, get students to compare their work to a model. This allows students to edit, redraft or set themselves targets for their next attempt. This works particularly well in practical subjects, but just as well for written subjects.

This approach potentially provides a richer, quicker and more detailed form of feedback than a written comment. It can also save you time!

Prepare in Advance

Write an example answer before the lesson.

Benefits: You can design it to match the needs of your class, model the whole product, or just a part of it. You can fine tune the model and prepare questions and explanations in advance. You can identify any potential misconceptions and plan for how you address these.

Drawbacks: Students will not witness the ‘real time’ construction.

Students must be made aware of the component parts and how they fit together.

Prepare a guide for students to follow so that they can identify the successful elements of the example. Once students have pulled this apart then they can create their own.

Archive Excellence

Before you throw away work, look to see if you can use it next year.

Ways to collect examples of students’ work includes:

Photograph work regularly and put in a Dropbox folder for all your department to access

Create yearly anthologies and collections of the best work across key stages and subject areas. Give to all staff.

Host regular events to celebrate excellent work, keep video and photo records.

Use displays to immerse students in excellence.

Ring-fence – 5-10 minutes of department time for sharing and comparing excellent work.

Team up with local schools to share and compare excellent work.

Create exemplar ‘banks’ to benchmark standards against grade boundaries. These are vital, they transform abstract grade descriptions into concrete products.

Student work should not just be considered as an end product. If you can work backwards from the best student examples it becomes easier to map the journey to excellence for future cohorts and to challenge them to go one step further than the excellence of their predecessors.

Model the bad as well as the good.

It is equally important to show students models of ineffective work, work that isn’t quite the best (or perhaps is very far from being the best) so that students can learn what not to do and how to avoid making the same mistakes themselves. Instead of showing students what they should be aiming for, you are showing them what not to do.

Be a Machine Gun Modeller

The most effective modelling goes hand in hand with quick fire questioning. Teachers physically show the students what to do whilst questioning the students about why they are doing what they are. Questions ensure that the students are listening, and any misconceptions are being addressed.

The two most important questions are:

            What am I doing?

            Why am I doing it?

If a student can complete the demonstration, you are freed up to ask the questions.