What is Interactive Modeling?

What is Interactive Modeling?

Interactive Modeling is a straightforward, quickly paced process that’s effective for teaching children any academic or social skill, routine, or procedure that you want them to do in a specific way (whether for safety, efficiency, or other reasons). One of the essential practices of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching elementary school children, Interactive Modeling can be used by any adult anywhere in school at any time of year.

How Interactive Modeling Differs from Traditional Modeling

In traditional modeling, the teacher shows children how to do a skill, routine, or procedure, tells them what to notice, and expects that they will learn it immediately. Interactive Modeling also shows children how to do skills, routines, or procedures, but it goes well beyond that basic step. Students also:

  • Learn exactly why the skill, routine, or procedure is important to their learning and the respectful, smooth functioning of the classroom.
  • Are asked what they noticed about the teacher’s modeling (rather than told by their teacher what to notice).
  • See a few classmates additionally model the routine or procedure after the teacher’s initial modeling.
  • Practice the routine or procedure right away.
  • Receive immediate feedback and coaching from their teacher while they practice.

Why Interactive Modeling Is More Effective than Traditional Modeling

The distinctive steps of Interactive Modeling incorporate key elements of effective teaching: modeling positive behaviors, engaging students in active learning, and immediately assessing their understanding. Research shows that when we teach in this way, children achieve greater, faster, and longer-lasting success in meeting expectations and mastering skills.

With Interactive Modeling, children create clear, positive mental images of what is expected of them. They do the noticing themselves, which builds up their powers of observation and their analysis and communication skills. In addition, because they get immediate practice, they gain quicker expertise and stronger mastery of the procedure or skill being taught.

Interactive Modeling Steps for Elementary School

  1. Briefly state what you will model, and why.
  2. Model the behavior exactly as you expect students to do it (the right way, not the wrong way, and without describing what you’re doing unless you need to “show” a thinking process).
  3. Ask students what they noticed. (You may need to do some prompting, but children soon notice every little detail, especially as they gain expertise with this practice.)
  4. Invite one or more students to model the same way you did.
  5. Again, ask students what they noticed the modelers doing.
  6. Have all students model while you observe and coach them.
  7. Provide feedback, naming specific, positive actions you notice and redirecting respectfully but clearly when students go off track.

Interactive Modeling Steps for Middle School

  1. Describe what you will model and why.
  2. Model while students notice.
  3. Give students the opportunity to collaborate and practice.
  4. Reinforce their practice with immediate feedback.

What You Can Teach Using Interactive Modeling

Here are just a few examples:

Academic & Social Skills

  • Listening and responding to questions
  • Working with a partner or small group
  • Using technology and other resources
  • Taking part in a whole-group discussion
  • Test-prep procedures

Procedures & Routines

  • Arrival and dismissal routines
  • Cleaning up
  • Lunch, recess, and bathroom routines
  • Schoolwide assembly procedures
  • Transitions from one classroom/activity to another

How Long Interactive Modeling Takes

An Interactive Modeling lesson to demonstrate lining up, for example, may take only three or four minutes. A more involved lesson, such as teaching children how to partner chat, might take twenty minutes.

This modest investment saves you time in the long run. That’s because children gain mastery more quickly and are thus able to spend much more time on task. You’ll have less confusion in the classroom and fewer interruptions because children will not need to ask you or peers over and over what to do. As a result, you’ll have more time for teaching—and children will have more time to complete their work and to learn.

How Much Time You Gain

A little time spent on teaching students exactly how you want them to do things will pay big dividends throughout the year. Say you lose a few minutes every hour to repeating instructions and dealing with interruptions. That can add up to twenty or thirty minutes of lost instructional and work time each day—2½ hours each week. That’s 100 lost hours every school year! Think of what you could do with that time. Think of what your students could do.

What It Looks and Sounds like in Action

In a fifth grade classroom, Mrs. K wants the students to understand how to work productively during independent work time. She teaches this Interactive Modeling lesson:

  1. Say what you will model and why.
    Mrs. K: “Our goal is for everyone to do high-quality work during independent work time. Watch how Carlos and I work hard on our assignment and let others do the same.”
  2. Model the behavior.
    Mrs. K and Carlos (coached in advance) demonstrate how to work on a research assignment at the same table. They work quietly, but to show that it’s okay to talk, they each exchange one fact from their research, briefly and in low voices. Then they get right back to work.
  3. Ask students what they noticed.
    Mrs. K: “What did you notice?” Her students note the key elements of the demonstration, such as how Carlos and Mrs. K stayed in their seats, worked quietly, and talked in low voices for only a short time. Mrs. K prompts students to name any key behaviors they missed. For example: “What did we do with our papers and other materials?”
  4. Invite one or more students to model.
    Mrs. K chooses four more students, who demonstrate how to work independently at the same table just as she and Carlos did.
  5. Again, ask students what they noticed.
    Mrs. K: “What did you notice this time?” Her students point out the key elements, just as they did in Step 3, helping to reinforce these behaviors for themselves. Again, she prompts them if they miss any key behaviors.
  6. Have all students practice.
    Mrs. K gives all her students a short survey to work on so she can observe and coach them.
  7. Provide feedback.
    Mrs. K: “I see everyone focused on the survey, working quietly. That kind of focus will help you and your classmates complete your assignments and learn a lot this year.”

Popular Articles about Interactive Modeling

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Further Resources

For a deeper dive into Interactive Modeling, we have a variety of books available, including:

We also offer free elementary school and middle school Interactive Modeling Planning Guides.