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How to make the most of modelling in your classroom

Modelling, it is a term we hear a lot in teaching, but there is a lot more to it than simply showing children how to do something. When not used well it can confuse, or trigger
frustration when children can not do the thing that the teacher made look so easy. But, if used properly, you have a tool that can build a bridge between your teaching and their understanding.

What is modelling?
Modelling, or modelled instruction, is when someone shows another person how to complete a task, or shows them what a finished task should look like. Rather than simply explaining how to use a skill - modelling seeks to give the learner time to observe the skill in action before they have a go themselves.


But there is more to modelling than this as the teaching tool can be broken up into two key types: mastery and coping.

Mastery modelling
Mastery modelling describes a type of modelled instruction where the person teaching the skill demonstrates how it should be used perfectly - without any errors. This type of modelling should be aimed at higher-achieving children who are confident in picking up new things quickly. In theory, these children should be able to simply replicate what they have been shown in the most optimal manner as this is the only way they will know.


Coping modelling
Coping modelling (or empathetic modelling) is where an instructor demonstrates how to complete a task but empathises with the learner’s struggle, by making mistakes (and then overcoming them) and by thinking out loud about the difficult aspects of the skill. This type of modelling is used to develop the perseverance skills of lower-attaining learners, by assuring them that their struggle in acquiring new skills is entirely normal.


However, this type of modelling should only be used a short-term strategy as used in the long-term it can normalise this struggle, and lower aspirations to overcome difficulties in acquiring new skills.

Traditional vs Interactive
As well as being broken down into the two key types, modelling can also be subdivided into two broad approaches: traditional and interactive.


Traditional modelling
Traditional modelling sees the teacher as an active agent in the learning process who passes information to the learner, whose role is that of a passive recipient of information.


In this approach, the learner is told what they should notice and is told what aspects of the skill will be the most difficult to master. Traditional modelling will generally begin with an explanation of the skill which will be followed by the modelling itself and then finally all of the learners will attempt it themselves.

This type of modelling approach certainly has its uses, especially if the skill you are demonstrating is fairly straightforward or when you need to model something quickly.

Interactive Modelling
Interactive modelling differs from traditional modelling in the way that it views the role of the learner. Rather than seeing the learner as a passive agent, they are seen as an active one and the role of the teacher is to provide instant feedback.


In interactive modelling, a teacher will begin by explaining why a skill is important in order to invest the learners in the skill they are about to be taught. The teacher will then model the skill before an extra step is added in: another learner will then model the skill they have just been taught. This gives the teacher to demonstrate difficult aspects of learning the skill and how they can be overcome. Finally, all of the learners attempt the skill and are given immediate feedback.


This is similar to the way we learn to drive - not from being told how to do it, but from attempting the skill in the presence of an instructor who gives instant feedback.

Throughout the modelling, instead of being told what to notice, the learners are asked to observe as generate their own questions and opinions about the skill - which sees them being active participants in the modelling.

When modelling is at its best
When it is broken down into steps - If we simply show a finished piece of work to children we miss an opportunity to break a task down into digestible steps which are easier for the learner to comprehend. After all, we wouldn’t show someone a completed quadratic equation and then ask them to have a go at solving one themselves. We would break the task into manageable steps taking them one at a time.

When it encourages meta-cognition
Meta-cognition is thinking about thinking, and in education, it is an effective mechanism for encouraging learners to consider where they are in their learning journey. Seeing a skill modelled live can enable a learner to observe all of the individual barriers that they will have
to overcome themselves to succeed. If they are aware of these points along their learning journey they can begin to contemplate if they have overcome them and how far they have left to go. If a skill is not modelled live, and a child is simply shown a finished piece then their understanding of their own learning will be worse off.

When it accounts for innate skills
When we model, we should take care not to overlook those parts of a skill which may be second-nature to us. For example, if we are teaching an art lesson on shading we might normally model different techniques or types of shading - however, we should ask ourselves, do the children need me to model how to hold the pencil correctly? Or do they need to be shown how to sharpen their pencil correctly?


Whatever method or approach you use to model skills to your class, this teaching technique can be a very powerful tool in guiding children from your explanations to their understanding. Seeing someone perform the skill that they are about to learn, with clear and concise explanations as they go, can ultimately give children the confidence they need to have a go themselves and succeed.

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