Teaching Vs Telling

Written by Dan

Last updated

Are you fed up with telling your students the same old thing daily? Nothing sucks the energy out of a teacher more than hearing themselves endlessly repeating information to an uninterested class.

Instead, try switching from ‘telling’ to ‘teaching’ – an important distinction that could be the difference between ho-hum learning sessions and genuinely engaging lessons!

Teaching encourages active student participation and provides students with a memorable experience they will carry on their educational journey.

Today we will dive into teaching vs telling and explore how adding new strategies can revolutionize your classroom!

Related: For more, check out our article on Teaching V Mentoring  here.

What Is The Difference Between Teaching And Telling?

The Difference Between Telling and Teaching

Definition and Characteristics of ‘Telling’

‘Telling’, in the context of education, typically refers to a one-way communication approach where the teacher imparts information without seeking active participation from students. It’s often associated with traditional lecture-based teaching methods. Here are some defining characteristics of ‘telling’:

  1. Unidirectional Communication: In telling, information flows primarily from the teacher to the student. There is little to no interaction or dialogue.
  2. Passive Learning: Students are expected to absorb information as it is presented, with minimal opportunity for questioning or exploration.
  3. Focus on Memorization: The emphasis is on rote learning and memorization of facts, rather than understanding concepts or developing critical thinking skills.
  4. Lack of Personalization: The ‘telling’ approach doesn’t cater to individual learning styles or pace, making it difficult for some students to keep up.
  5. Limited Engagement: Students who aren’t actively involved in the learning process may find lessons uninteresting, leading to low engagement and motivation.

While ‘telling’ can help deliver straightforward information quickly, it lacks the depth and interaction that promotes comprehensive understanding and long-term retention.

Related: For more, check out our article on Teaching V Counselling here.

Benefits of Teaching Over Telling

Increased Student Engagement

One of the most immediate benefits of teaching over telling is a notable increase in student engagement. Students are more likely to be interested and invested in the material when actively involved in learning. This can lead to greater participation, improved attendance, and a more vibrant, energetic classroom environment.

Active learning strategies like group discussions, hands-on experiments, and problem-solving activities make lessons more interactive and enjoyable, encouraging students to participate actively in their education.

Improved Long-term Retention of Information

Teaching, mainly involving active learning strategies, has significantly improved long-term information retention. When students engage with the material—whether by discussing it, applying it, or teaching it to others—they forge stronger cognitive connections and are better able to recall information later. Essentially, active involvement in learning makes the educational process more memorable, aiding long-term retention.

Development of Critical Thinking Skills

Perhaps one of the most profound benefits of teaching over telling is the development of critical thinking skills. Unlike telling, which often emphasizes rote memorization, teaching encourages students to think deeply about their learning.

They’re prompted to analyze information, ask questions, solve problems, and make connections between ideas. This deepens their understanding of the subject matter and equips them with valuable critical thinking skills essential for success in higher education and the workplace.


Strategies to Shift from Telling to Teaching

Using Interactive Methods

Interactive teaching methods are a powerful tool for shifting away from telling and towards teaching. These can include:

  1. Group Work: Divide students into small groups and assign tasks or problems to solve. This encourages collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills.
  2. Hands-on Activities: Instead of explaining a concept, let students discover it through experiments, simulations, or other hands-on activities.
  3. Technology Integration: Use educational tools like interactive whiteboards, online quizzes, and virtual reality to make lessons more engaging and interactive.

Incorporating Real-World Examples

Using real-world examples in your teaching can help make abstract concepts more concrete and relatable. For instance, you might use current events to illustrate concepts in social studies or everyday objects to explain principles in science. When students see the practical relevance of their learning, they’re more likely to understand and remember it.

Encouraging Student-Led Discussions

Student-led discussions are a great way to foster active learning and critical thinking. Instead of lecturing, pose open-ended questions and facilitate a class discussion where students share their thoughts and ideas. This helps students engage deeply with the material and gives them a sense of ownership over their learning. Create a safe and respectful environment where all students feel comfortable expressing their views.

Implementing Teaching Strategies in the Classroom

Practical Tips for Application

Implementing teaching strategies in the classroom involves more than just knowing the theory. Here are some practical tips:

  1. Start Small: If you’re new to interactive teaching methods, start small. Incorporate one or two strategies at a time and gradually build up as you gain confidence.
  2. Plan Ahead: Interactive lessons often require more planning than traditional lectures. Ensure you have a clear plan for each lesson, including any materials you’ll need for hands-on activities or group work.
  3. Set Clear Expectations: Let your students know what you expect from them regarding participation, behaviour, and work output. This can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  4. Provide Feedback: Regular feedback is essential in an interactive classroom. This can help students understand what they’re doing well and where to improve.

Handling Potential Challenges

Transitioning from telling to teaching can come with its own set of challenges. Here’s how to handle them:

  1. Managing Class Time: Interactive lessons can take longer than traditional lectures. Be prepared to manage your class time effectively to ensure that all key concepts are covered.
  2. Maintaining Order: Active learning can sometimes be noisy and chaotic. Establish clear rules for behavior and intervene promptly if students become disruptive.
  3. Addressing Varied Learning Styles: Not all students learn the same way. Be prepared to adapt your teaching strategies to accommodate different learning styles and abilities.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Shift

Evaluating the effectiveness of your shift from telling to teaching is crucial in understanding whether your efforts are paying off. This can be done through:

  1. Student Feedback: Ask your students for their feedback. Do they feel more engaged? Do they understand the material better?
  2. Assessments: Use assessments to measure student understanding and retention of information. Have scores improved since implementing teaching strategies?
  3. Self-reflection: Reflect on your own experiences. Do you find teaching more enjoyable? Do you feel like your students are more engaged?

Remember, the transition from telling to teaching is a process. It’s okay if things don’t go perfectly at first. With patience, practice, and continual refinement, you can create a more engaging and effective learning environment for your students.


Throughout this article, we’ve explored the significant differences between telling and teaching, emphasizing the numerous benefits of shifting towards a more interactive and engaging teaching approach.

Not only does this shift increase student engagement, but it also improves long-term retention of information and fosters the development of critical thinking skills.

Implementing teaching strategies may present challenges, but the resulting active learning environment is worth the effort. It provides students an enriching educational experience and prepares them for real-world problem-solving and decision-making.

As we conclude, I want to encourage all educators to consider these strategies and think about how they can make the shift from telling to teaching in their classrooms.

Remember, the goal isn’t just to transfer knowledge but to ignite curiosity, inspire inquiry, and cultivate a lifelong love of learning in your students. It’s a journey that requires effort, patience, and persistence, but the rewards—for both you and your students—are immeasurable.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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