Rosenshine principles small steps


Welcome to this exciting journey of science of learning teaching, specifically focusing on the power of the Rosenshine principle of teaching in small steps.

As either a new grad or experienced classroom teacher, you will resonate with this concept of breaking down new learning material into smaller, manageable pieces. It's a highly effective approach that aids and addresses the limits of your students' working memory, enabling them to better grasp new information.

Barak Rosenshine, an esteemed educational psychologist, proposed a set of ten principles for instruction. One of these principles is to teach in small steps. The concept encapsulates a gradual, systematic approach to introducing new material that doesn’t overwhelm a student's working memory.

Rosenshine principles small steps - working memory limitations

Learning is akin to constructing a building, brick by brick. Similarly, when we teach in small steps, we are helping students to construct their understanding bit by bit. Learning for your students thus becomes far more manageable and ensures a stronger foundation is being laid for effective learning to take place.

After decades of cognitive research, we now know with certainty that working memory has specific limitations. It can only hold a certain amount of information for a short period. And this is where the importance of teaching in small steps shines - it respects the limits of working memory, knowingly minimizes cognitive load, and helps students to secure knowledge efficiently and leads to ultimate mastery of conceptual knowledge.


Imagine you are introducing a new complex concept to your students. If you were to teach this concept too quickly without the necessary scaffolding and repetition, your students may struggle to retain much of anything new.

Instead, if you adopt best practice teaching method of breaking down the complex concept into small parts and then teaching with direct instruction those parts one at a time, it not only ensures effective learning but also prevents students from feeling and being overwhelmed.

By you taking the time to carefully explain complex concepts, and providing enough can time for your students to practice, reduce the risk of your students forgetting much of what they have just learned.

This natural time delay between presenting new information and asking students to recall it bolsters the factual recall process.

Rosenshine principle small steps - practice and scaffolded support

Rosenshine's principles emphasize the significance of practice in the learning process. Practice allows the newfound knowledge to move from short-term, working memory to become established in long-term memory, making the learning process far more effective. This is especially true of your students who may have learning difficulties.

Practice and review, practice and review, again and again, teaching to mastery are essential components of the Rosenshine principles small steps method. Saying out loud, writing it down on small personal whiteboards or in workbooks, applying the concept in practical ways - these are all effective methods of drilling the newly acquired skills into students' minds and ultimately in long-term memory where it will stay.

Also, key to this learning strategy is the use of scaffolded supports. Teachers can use a variety of different scaffolded supports, such as provide cues visual cues, ask questions, check for understanding, etc. This sort of assistance aids in securing your students' knowledge, and helps students become more capable and independent learners.


Rosenshine emphasized the importance of teacher-led instruction, citing it as an essential part of teaching. It affords more control over the pace and sequence of the learning process, ensuring material is introduced according to the students' understanding.

When we think about a typical school classroom, it's a place buzzing with vibrancy, curiosity, and energy. The method of teaching in small steps integrates perfectly in a dynamic educational setting. It's a method that provokes thought, fosters understanding, and cultivates learning.

When introducing new information in small steps, instructors are encouraged to check student progress along the way. This aligns with Rosenshine's principle of checking for student understanding after each point is taught.

These simple, yet insightful steps provide not just potential for efficient learning, but certainty. Teaching in small steps can revolutionize your teaching method by making several relatively simple yet profound. The main idea or central ethos of teaching in small steps revolves around prompting your students to demonstrate their understanding of newly learnt material before moving on to more complex levels of a particular subject.

The approach of teaching in small steps can be used across all ages, subjects, and skill levels. It adheres to the natural time delay in the learning process, allowing students to absorb, understand, and apply knowledge more efficiently and effectively.

Rosenshine principles small steps - influences cognitive load

This approach aligns with cognitive theories of learning that emphasize and stress the limits of working memory. By understanding the critical balance of cognitive load, teachers can help students master new skills without them feeling overwhelmed and ultimately failing to learn key concepts.

In this vibrant sea of learning and teaching, it's crucial to remember that every child is unique. Hence, breaking down information into manageable, digestible parts can cater to the individual learning paces of different students.

By adhering to the practice of teaching in small steps, teachers can make the learning process less intimidating. The simple act of breaking down a complex concept into smaller units can transform a student's understanding of the task at hand.

Using the Rosenshine principles small steps approach, we can ensure that information is not simply regurgitated, but digested and understood. The knowledge doesn't dissipate after a topic area is completed, but rather, it becomes a part of the student's permanent understanding.


To engage students fully in the learning process, teaching in small steps allows for immediate feedback. It encourages regular interaction between teachers and students, building relationships, fostering communication, and furthering trust.

Testing, part and parcel of the Rosenshine principles, flows perfectly in this method. Testing isn't introduced as a threatening assessment tool; instead, it's a means to reinforce learning and help students to measure their progress.

Certain topics, such as literacy or mathematics, can seem daunting when seen as a whole. However, by breaking them down into manageable pieces, students are more likely to grasp complex material, gain confidence, and build proficiency in learning.

Rosenshine principles small steps - summary

In conclusion, the Rosenshine principles small steps approach acts as a catalyst for students to master new skills at their own pace, without feeling burdened. As a fundamental part of best practice teaching, it can positively influence the learning outcome for your students.

These principles champion the cause of simple, digestible bits of learning that overcome the limits of students' working memory. With each passing day, using these principles, students build a stronger grasp of previously learned material, which lays the foundation for them to confidently approach new material.

These ten principles developed by Barak Rosenshine emphasize the effectiveness of teaching in small steps. This systematic, gradual method ensures improved student outcomes and allows us to recognize the true art and joy in teaching. And the journey of teaching is indeed a rewarding one, a journey that can be navigated more effectively with the best practice principles of teaching in small steps.


Sherrington, T. (2019) Rosenshine's Principles in Action, John Catt Educational LTD