A- A A+

Strategic Instruction Model: How to Teach, How to Learn

Teaching Practices-Teaching Effective Almost 25 years ago, a group of researchers at the University of Kansas set out to change “business as usual” in terms of instruction for students with learning disabilities (LD). They recognized that adolescents were especially vulnerable to school failure, especially in the area of literacy (reading, writing, comprehension), and that these students were likely to continue to fall further behind unless they were helped to be more “strategic” in their approach to learning. Decades of classroom research and thousands of professional development hours later, we are fortunate to have an approach to teaching students (and training educators) that can help students build essential skills and learn complex subject matter as well as assist teachers imbed effective strategies into classroom instruction. And most recently, we have gained an understanding of how whole schools can adopt and support strategic approaches to teaching and learning across content areas.

Literacy First

The SIM model was developed for students who already have basic decoding and word recognition skills. That said, even students who struggle with these early reading skills need to “learn how to learn” and could benefit from classroom routines and strategies that help teachers ensure that students are learning critical content (the course material students need to meet standards) in ways that prepare them for class promotion, high school graduation, and a success after school.

In other words, the focus of SIM is to promote effective teaching and learning of critical content in schools. SIM strives to help teachers make decisions about what is of greatest importance, what strategies can be taught to students to help them to learn, and what classroom-based strategies are effective in helping them learn well, carrying over these skills to post-secondary settings including college and the workplace.

Some SIM Assumptions

The effectiveness of the Strategic Instruction Model is based on the following assumptions:

  • Most adolescents (even older students who are low achievers) can learn to function successfully and independently in mainstream settings
  • The role of the SIM-trained teacher is to teach low-achieving adolescents strategies that will enable them to be independent learners
  • The role of the classroom content teacher is to encourage “strategic behavior” and to deliver subject-matter information in ways that are understood and remembered by students
  • Adolescents should have a major voice in deciding what strategies they are learning, how fast they need to master them, and how much (and what kinds of) support they need to make these strategies their own.

Two Kinds of Interventions: For Teachers and Students

Taken from the SIM Web site, the following is a description of the two kinds of interventions developed to address the gap between what students are expected to do and what students are able to do:

  • Teacher-focused interventions are directed at how teachers think about, adapt, and present their critical content in “learner-friendly” fashion. Content Enhancement Routines are sets of inclusive teaching practices that help teachers carefully organize and present critical information in such a way that students identify, organize, comprehend, and recall it.
  • Student-focused interventions are designed to provide the skills and strategies students need to learn the content. The Learning Strategies Curriculum encompasses strategies for acquiring information from the printed word, strategies for organizing and memorizing information, strategies for solving math problems, and strategies for expressing information in writing (including on tests).

A Closer Look at Strategies

Below is a listing of the topics included on the SIM Web site:


Word Identification, Self-Questioning, Visual Imagery, Paraphrasing Strategy

Studying & Remembering Information

Studying & Remembering Information FIRST-Letter Mnemonic, Paired Associates Learning, LINCS Vocabulary


Sentence Writing (Fundamentals), Sentence Writing, (Proficiency), Paragraph Writing, Theme Writing (Fundamentals), Error Monitoring, InSPECT Strategy (for word-processing spell checkers)

Improving Assignment & Test Performance

Assignment Completion, Tutoring, Test-Taking, Essay Test-Taking

Effectively Interacting with Others

SLANT - A Classroom Participation Strategy

Cooperative Thinking

THINK (Problem Solving), LEARN (Learning Critical Information), BUILD (Decision Making), SCORE Skills: Social Skills for Cooperative Groups, Teamwork

Community Building

Following Instructions Together, Organizing Together, Taking Notes Together, Talking Together

Strategies for motivation


Self-Advocacy Strategy, Possible Selves, Strategic Math Series

Teacher Teamwork and Decision-Making Framework



Not Just for School 

A quick glance at the topics above and it's clear to see how many, if not most, of these items apply not just to school but to time spent by students at home, in after-school activities and during recreational time as well. Parents of adolescents frequently serve as facilitators and instructional coaches for their children, and the same strategies that are so effective for teachers in school settings can work to support new learning and reinforce the mastery of curriculum content at home.

Additional Resources

  • Information on instructional practices that are relevant for teachers (and parents) of students with learning disabilities


Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D. is the Director of LD Resources & Essential Information at the National Center for Learning Disabilities