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Elementary Ed Activities to Learn to Follow Directions

By Laurie Patsalides

In these activities, students will play a traditional game in a new way as well as a movement "board game" to develop the skills of listening and following directions.

Practice Makes Perfect

What better way to teach children to follow directions than to give them directions to follow? When we learned to drive, we did not learn “the rules of the road” on our own. It was partly from studying and partly from practicing.

Teaching Point:

Discuss with the students why it is important for us to learn to follow directions. Tell them that following directions is a listening skill. Discuss the way we drive a car. What might happen if people did not follow directions? Discuss other forms of travel, such as air traffic control and railway directions. If we did not have or follow directions, people would not be safe, or would not know where they were going!

Prior Knowledge:

Tell the students that today they will have an opportunity to practice what we have learned about following directions and left and right (this has been covered in earlier articles in this series, so please refer to them). This can also be a review of cardinal directions.

Quick Review:

Ask the students to hold up their left hand, then the right. If desired, review the other songs that the students have done in this series before starting the activity. This will give you a quick assessment before the game begins of how many students are confident in knowing left and right and may give those who are still struggling to master it, to get a little more practice before the game begins.

For older students, give them a compass rose to follow the cardinal directions with or tell have them point in the proper direction of North, South, East and West in the school (which they should know as this is a review).

These activities to follow directions are interactive, encourage physical movement and get the kids following directions while being enjoyable too. Let the games begin!

Activity One- Cardinal Directions or Right/Left

Ahead of time, move the desks toward the walls, or preferably, play the game outside or in the gymnasium if possible. The students will line up as in a regular game of follow the leader.

Only during this game, the leader will have the job of listening to the “teacher” call out directions (this can be done with any responsible adult or student). If the teacher says, "turn left", then the leader has to lead the line to the left. If the student does not follow the command then he or she is "out" and the next student in line becomes the leader. Continue in this manner until all students have had a chance to be the leader. You may decide to model the game once or twice before actually beginning. If playing the game with older students, one student can be selected to be the director and make the calls as to where the class should go.

Activity Two- Directional Cards

In small groups of four play the following game with students.

Use the square tiles on the floor as the game board. Mark off at least 20 tiles to use. Just like a game board, have the students draw a card to "move." Using masking tape, mark the "finish" tile with an X. The activity can be modified from a physical activity to a quiet activity just by using grid paper.

Make the Cards:

Move ahead one space

Move back one space

Move right one space

Move left one space

Draw another card

Lose a turn

Optional- include a few blacked out squares that students cannot step on. This is done by covering a couple of the tiles with black construction paper.

For younger students use arrows to represent forward, backward, left and right. Use a smiley face to draw another card and a sad face to lose a turn.


1) If a student is against the border of the grid and draws a card to move over the border, he or she loses a turn. For example, if the student was on the left hand side of the grid and he or she drew a left card, then he or she would lose a turn.

2) Only one student per square.

3) Students are allowed to "bump". If he or she "lands" on a square where a student is standing, he or she can bump him or her to the beginning of the game.

To Start:

You can roll a die to see who goes first. Place cards face down. Students draw one card to move and the follow direction on the card to move. (You can have the teacher or one designated student draw the cards, if desired, so students do not lose their "place" on the grid.) Start in the opposite corner of the grid than the "finish" X. Whoever gets to the X first, wins the game.

To make the game even harder, have one student or the teacher be the "caller" and draw a card without the others seeing it. The caller verbally gives the directions to follow.

These following-direction activities are great to play at the beginning of the year when the Elementary students are learning the sound of your voice or at those times of the year when the students are forgetting about following directions and need a refresher. They are also great for down-time.

These activities are written by teacher creativity and experience. If you try them, let me know how the students do!