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Worked Examples

Have you ever done a few examples of a skill, released students to do some on their own, and realized that many students have no clue what they’re doing?  Try “Worked Examples.” These allow students to make sense of work for themselves and allows YOU to write questions that focus each student’s attention on what’s most important.

A worked example has two components.

  • A clearly worked out solution to a given problem.

  • Targeted questions that force students to think about the most important part(s) of the content.

The work should be clearly laid out. The questions are vital - what do students need to focus on in this type of problem? Why do various steps make conceptual sense? The questions allow the focus to be procedural and conceptual.

Look at questions 4 and 5 above - do those questions put students’ attention on the tricky, important ideas within finding surface area of a cylinder? You bet! Plus, the teacher now has more information about what her students understand and where they are confused or not fully understanding yet.

While these examples are from math classrooms, this strategy can be used in any content. For example, in an ELA or history classroom students can comment on a response to a prompt.  

Some of you might be thinking -- if I provide the answer and the strategy, won’t kids think less? Research generally says no: worked examples with good questions force students to examine the important part of the concepts, as well as the procedure. Research in the learning sciences says that worked examples are a powerful tool for all students.

From this structure, the teacher has an idea of what the student understands! And, each student had to answer the key questions!

The teacher uses a student's exit ticket from the previous day and cites the student.

Suggestions for use:

  • Teach this as a routine: This sort of learning might be new for students. How do you look at an example effectively? You might try having students model this, and/or posting an anchor chart of effective ways to read someone else’s work.

  • Know your objective: What are you using this worked example for? What concept or misconception do you want to highlight?

  • Write good questions: The power in worked examples lies in focusing student attention on important content or procedures. Try showing two methods and have students compare. Or, you can have students correct errors. Error correction is particularly helpful for students who have lower skills.

  • Collaborate with colleagues: Try planning your questions with a colleague. Have another teacher “test-drive” your worked example and give you feedback.

  • Get feedback from students:(see above) This will likely be a new way for students to learn. Get feedback from them and respond - do they need more help reading the examples? Spend more time teaching! Are they enjoying it - great!

Thank you to Amanda Aparicio