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Professional development

Instructions and Demonstrations

When it comes to explaining and demonstrating to students how to complete a task on the computer (such as making poster using PowerPoint), our first thought might be to show them how to do it step by step, from the beginning to the end. Although this approach works, it comes with a number of challenges. For example, it forces students to remember a large quantity of information and they will likely require support (from you or from materials) along the way to recall the steps. It also requires students to remain focused during the possibly long demonstration. If they have their computer with them, they will likely want to get started before the end of the demonstration and miss some information.

In this article, we suggest three alternative approaches to explain and demonstrate to students how to complete a task on the computer. They all have their pros and cons, so choose and adapt based on what works best with your group and for the context. 

1. The Incremental Approach

The incremental approach consists in dividing the demonstration into its main components and spacing them out so that students can alternate between watching and doing. In our example, the task of making a poster using PowerPoint could be divided as follows: 1. Creating the document and adding text; 2. Adding images and shapes; 3. Editing text and colours; 4. Exporting.


  1. Explain the task in general and demonstrates the first set of instructions. 
  2. Students start working on the project and perform these actions.
  3. Once you notice many students have completed the first set, ask them to pause and close the lid of their laptop so that they can give you their attention.
  4. Demonstrate the second set of instructions, then let students work again.
  5. Follow this pattern until all the instructions have been demonstrated and students are engaged in their work.

*Depending on the complexity of the task, it might be a good idea to have a set of written, visual or video instructions that students can refer back to.


  • Students are not overwhelmed by the quantity of information and steps to recall. 
  • Students who are comfortable with technologies might work ahead, at their pace and independently.
  • Students get their hands on the computer faster, which is good to sustain their motivation and to learn by doing.


  • It might be difficult to get students’ attention back once they have started working. Make sure you establish consistent classroom norms regarding the use of computers while someone is talking. 
  • Students who work ahead of the instructions might diverge from your plan. Make sure to show a completed example at the beginning.
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