Interactive Modeling for Academic Success

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Interactive Modeling is a simple, quickly paced way of teaching that can lead students to a stronger mastery of skills than traditional modeling. It’s effective for teaching any skill or procedure that students need to do in a specific way, such as filling out an answer sheet or talking with a partner about a reading selection. Interactive Modeling works because, in contrast to lecturing or traditional modeling, it creates a clear mental image of the expected behavior for students, fully engages them in noticing details about it, and immediately gives them a chance to practice and receive teacher feedback.

For All Grades and Subjects

Responsive Classroom Interactive Modeling works for younger and older students—and for all academic subjects. For example, with younger students, you could use the structure to teach skills ranging from how to sort objects and record the sorting, to how to sound out words. For older students, math skills such as how to interpret a graph and how to use a formula, science skills such as how to record observations or use a microscope, and language arts skills such as how to complete a story map or use editing marks are just a few things you could teach using Interactive Modeling.

Sample Lesson – Interactive Modeling in Action: Paraphrasing a Research Source (pdf)

In the sample lesson, Ms. Evans, a third grade teacher, uses Interactive Modeling to introduce an academic skill her students will need for an upcoming research project: paraphrasing when taking notes on a source text. As you read this example of Interactive Modeling in action, notice how the seven-step structure of Interactive Modeling helps Ms. Evans to create an optimal learning environment for her students, and consider the advantages this way of teaching had compared to other ways Ms. Evans might have taught this particular skill.

Tips for Success

  • Have a clear learning goal. Decide what you expect students to be able to do at the end of your lesson. For example, if you’re teaching how to use an index in a book, think through what you want students to do with the index. For example, “Children will be able to locate several topics in the index, go to the referenced pages, and discover basic information about those topics.” Think about the words you’ll use to state the learning goal to your students in Step 1 of the lesson.
  • Use “Think-Alouds.” Make your thinking visible. Be brief and focused, rather than giving a lengthy explanation.
  • Break complex processes into bite-sized chunks. For instance, in teaching students how to record a series of observations for a science workshop, you could model making one observation and recording it, ask students what they noticed, then make another observation and record it, and again ask students what they noticed, and so on—that is, repeat Steps 2 and 3 for each observation—before moving to Step 4, inviting a student to model.
  • Choose engaging tasks for Step 6. For example, when students are practicing how to use editing marks, let them do so on a funny or especially relevant piece of text.
  • Adapt the steps to fit students’ needs. For example, students who find a skill particularly challenging may need you to more actively coach them through their practice (Step 6). Or you may need to remodel for a small group or an individual.
  • Repeat Interactive Modeling lessons as needed. Many academic skills take time to master, and students may need to have a lesson repeated over the course of days or weeks. Vary the lesson to keep students engaged.
  • Decide if Interactive Modeling is the best way to teach the skill. Use Interactive Modeling to teach skills and procedures that students will need to do in a particular way. For instance, if your math curriculum calls upon students to develop their own strategies for double-digit addition before being taught a formal method, Interactive Modeling could be used to teach the formal method, but it would not be suitable for the part of the lesson where students develop their own strategies. Use your knowledge of the curriculum and students’ needs and abilities to decide how best to teach a given skill.
  • Remember to reinforce success often. As students practice in Step 6, point out exactly what they are doing well. Doing so will help cement their learning.

The Power of Interactive Modeling

Interactive Modeling incorporates key elements of effective teaching: modeling the skill or procedure, engaging students in active learning, and immediately assessing their understanding. When we teach in this way, children achieve greater, faster, and longer-lasting success in meeting expectations and mastering skills. Once you try this technique, you’ll find that it can set your students up for success across the curriculum, helping them build the academic skills that are essential to high achievement.


Margaret Berry Wilson, a veteran teacher, is a Responsive Classroom consultant. She is also the author of several books, including Interactive Modeling, three titles in the What Every Teacher Needs to Know series, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance, and More: Positive Approaches to 10 Common Classroom Behaviors.

Tags: Engaging Academics, Getting Started with RC

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