Encourage Reading and Following Directions with a Square


Most biology classes will have at least one dissection in the year, though specimens can range from the commonly used frog, to the less expensive grasshopper.  No matter what you choose to dissect, the biggest challenge most teachers face is getting students to follow directions.  Based on the talk I hear in the teacher’s lounge, this challenge is not limited to science classes alone. 

The trick I’ve found to get kids to follow directions should work well in just about any class, and so simple that anyone can utilize it.    My amazing trick, is simply (drumroll) the SQUARE.   I first encountered this trick years ago at a workshop, and back then word processors and computers were still not widely used by teachers. 

The presenter suggested a series of characters that could be typed on a typewriter that would resemble a checkbox, like this:   |_|

In the following years, after we became more digitally advanced, I replaced that checkbox with actual boxes that are inserted into the document. Like this tiny square: square

I’m not sure of the exact psychology behind the technique, but it has worked for me.  You can even see that many of my labs and dissection guides have squares (now made with a word processor) for students to check as they complete each step.  

If you have a student that gets off task, and raises his hand to ask that common lab question “what do I do next”, you can then redirect his eyes to the paper and the checkboxes and ask him what step he is on.  After a few times doing this, students will get the idea that you want them to follow the directions.

Employing this technique from the very beginning of the year also goes a long way toward training students to read and follow directions rather than waiting on the teacher to personally walk them through each step.   Now, there are going to be times that you do need to give students individualized attention and guidance, but if you’re like me in a class of 30 students, the more of them you can get to self-direct, the better off you are.

You can see the SQUARE |_| in action on many of my dissection guides, check out the  crayfish dissection or the frog dissection.