How to Teach Anything

We learn by observing and practicing. When we want to teach a skill, behavior, or concept, we teach it by showing it, practicing it, and then trying it on our own. Educators have developed the catchy phrase, “I do, We do, You do,” to explain this process.

However, most of the time it’s not that simple. It can be hard to figure out how to show the “I do,” or how to practice the, “we do.” Other times we show the skill over and over and over, and it seems as though out child/student/trainee will never learn it! However, returning to the basics will decrease these struggles.

I do

“I do” is where the skill is shown. If it’s addition: you walk through the process. If you are teaching reading comprehension: you talk your students through the thinking process. If you are training an adult, they watch you complete the task. If you are teaching your child to use the toilet: you show them how it’s done (not necessarily yourself using it… but you get the idea right?).

I have sat through many hours of goal setting instruction, target learning, goal oriented learning, and targeted skills. These are typically awesome. But focusing your lesson on a specific skill, and then checking to see if your students have mastered it, is useless if you are not teaching the material well.

Teachers who have been in the education world have probably heard the term “explicit teaching” before. Teaching explicitly means to not just show the steps, but to explain your thought process during each step.

This is related to the “thinking skills movement.” So and so said from such and such text, “The most basic premise in the current thinking skills movement is the notion that students CAN learn to think better if schools concentrate on teaching them HOW to do so.” Explicit teaching allows students to learn how to think. It gives students the appropriate language to think better.

Non-explicit rhetoric for reading comprehension would be: “We make questions while reading to help us find important information. A good question from the text is______________________. Another example is ____________________.”

Some explicit rhetoric for reading comprehension would be: “Let me show you how to use questioning to remember our story today. First I look at the titles and headings. (Read them.) I realize that I do not understand the word __________. I write this down in my notes and look for the answer in the paragraph. (Then you show the students how you read the paragraph and answer the question.)”

Notice the the non-explicit example is still reviewing and teaching questioning while reading text, but it lacks the thought process behind the skill. Non-explicit teaching loses an entire layer of depth. When teachers use explicit teaching methods, they literally show their students how to complete the skill.

Small side note here: It’s easy to just talk AT your students during this phase. Keep them engaged by copying your notes, tracking in their stories, writing down their own questions, tracking how many times they hear a specific word, physically moving during the instruction, etc. Bonwell and Eison states, “Active learning is anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2). Continue active learning during this phase.

Using explicit teaching is the heart of the “I do” step. This is where the unknown becomes known. This critical step allows students to move forward in their learning.

We do

“Teachers design and sequence lessons with an eye toward providing opportunities for student inquiry and discovery and include opportunities for students to practice and master foundational concepts and skills before moving on to more advanced ones.”

The “we do” is where the real learning begins. The learner has the opportunity here to complete “perfect practice.” When using applied behavior analysis, students are not given the opportunity to practice independently until they are likely to be successful. While teaching in the classroom, this can feel very daunting. How can one teacher have the time to practice until every student can complete the skill independently? Short answer: It’s difficult. The long answer  can not be done justice  in just one article. However, if the skill is a critical skill (one that will carry on for years), it has to be practiced until mastered.

Another name for the “we do” step is guided practice. Guided practice has many different levels. When and how much you should allow independence depends on your learners. Some groups will need you to help them practice many times. A slow release is best when you are not sure.

Initially “we do” should look just like the “I do.” Use the exact same language and thought process. Ask some questions and have the entire group work through the skill together. As you back off, allow students the opportunity to practice small parts of the skill being taught. Do not forget to check if everyone is engaged here.

You will know when it’s time to pull back with your guidance through formative assessments. Formative assessments can be quick, but allow you to see if the students are able to move on.

Using the same reading comprehension skill to question, here are some basic steps for pulling back:

  1. Move to a new text and move through the text as a class. Ask several students questions about the text titles and paragraph. Write them on the board. Read the text together, ask several students to show where they would underline their text for the answer. Do it as a group and check to see if it is correct. Repeat as necessary.
  2. Then have students do this same skill at their seat first, then post the answer(s) on the board.
  3. The third time you practice the skill, have students practice the skill at their seat, but check their work before posting the answer. If most students have underlined them correctly, have students break out into partners and practice. I would have the several students who are still missing the skill to come to the front in a small group to practice again. These students may need to continue practicing with the teacher for several days.
  4. Finally, after you have checked the partner work, you can decide if students are ready for the “you do” step.

You do

While this last step should be the easiest (the student just does it, right?), it often becomes very mixed up. The most common mistake is allowing learners to be independent too soon. Luckily this is an easy fix, but if left alone, the concept will remain unmastered. Another mistake is when this step becomes a test. Teachers begin grading this work without the necessary practice of independence. Another mistake that happens here is giving students the most challenging implementation of the skill. I have observed this with math practice sheets. The easiest problem is taught first, and then somehow, students are expected to know how to break down the most difficult problem.

Here are some ways to avoid these mistakes:

  • Check and give feedback on the guided practice until mastered.
  • Do not grade the independent practice until the skill has actually be practice independently. Real understanding is shown in independent practice, and students need that time to practice.
  • Practice the most difficult problems during guided practice. If the skill is so difficult that you need to practice easy steps first, do the easy steps in one lesson, and then add the more difficult steps in a different lesson. This does not mean there is never room for students to try difficult problems without teacher instruction. However, it does mean that for most students, new skills need to be taught explicitly.
  • If the independent work is homework and not done at school, but sure to review the work again in class. Check the work as quickly as possible so that you know what needs to be reviewed.

Hopefully this helps you get started on implementing the I Do, We Do, You Do teaching process in your own classroom! Leave questions on the I do, You do, We do, teaching process below!


  1. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.
  2. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.
  3. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016
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