How Different Areas in Your Classroom Can Help Getting Students to Follow Directions

It can be hard to know what to do when your students aren't listening to you. In this post I share the top 5 mistakes you might be making when students aren't listening to you.


Do you find yourself struggling to get your students to follow directions in the classroom? In part 2 of our series on effective classroom management, we’ll explore a powerful strategy to improve student behavior – using associative memory techniques and different classroom areas. Let’s dive in and discover how you can create an environment where following directions becomes second nature.

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What is the Associative Memory Technique?

Before we begin, one of the questions you might be asking yourself is “what is the associative memory technique?” The associative memory technique, according to google, is the ability to “connect new information you want to remember with existing information that you already know.” 

In other words, it’s the ability to pair your surroundings or memories with new information. It’s almost like a mental cue for your brain to remember how to act when you’re in that environment. An example of this would be your brain reminding you to be quiet because you are in the library. Or your brain reminds you that you can cheer loudly for your favorite team while you’re watching them play live at the stadium.

Another example would be to remember a student’s name, “Lacy,” because you have a cousin Lacy. Therefore, you can better remember and learn that student’s name. It’s your ability to pair your surroundings, experiences, or memory to take in new information.

Now you might be wondering “How does the associative memory technique help get students to follow directions?” We’re going to cover that in the next section.

Associative Memory in Action:

One thing you may not have realized is that you can actually use the associative memory technique to be better at getting your students to follow directions. 

For example, when I was growing up my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Lind, would play classical music and give us a piece of gum whenever we would study for a test in class. Later when we took the test, can you guess what he did?

That’s right! He mimicked our environment from when we were studying aka the associative memory strategy by giving us a piece of gum and playing the same playlist when we took the assessment. The crazy part is whenever he would use this technique, the class average performance on the assessment went up significantly. 

Different Classroom Areas:

One way to be better at getting your students to follow directions using the associative memory technique is to use different areas in your classroom. Consider this to be similar to the library versus the stadium example provided earlier.

Essentially try setting up different areas in your classroom where expectations are different. For example having a different area for your students to listen to whole group instruction versus working independently is going to significantly help your students to be more engaged during whole group instruction. 

When students are listening to a lecture or a lesson, they are sitting quietly, with their eyes on the teacher, and their hands are typically clear of all distractions. Whereas while working independently students are likely to be sitting at their seats, quietly using various materials and asking for feedback as they quietly work. Making different areas for both of these areas will increase focus and ensure your students are more likely to follow directions and expectations for whatever task they are doing. 

Consider dividing your classroom into different areas, each with its own set of rules and procedures. For example:

  • Whole Group Area: Where students listen attentively during lectures or discussions.
  • Small Group Area: Where collaborative work takes place.
  • Independent Work Area: Where students work on assignments individually.

How to be better at getting your students to follow directions:

In each area, establish distinct rules and cues. For instance, in the whole group area, students might sit criss-cross with hands in their laps and eyes on the speaker, raising their hands for permission to speak. In the small group area, different rules apply.

Take the time to explicitly teach your students about each classroom area and its associated rules. Use cues and memory techniques to help them remember what’s expected in each space.


By using the associative memory technique and creating distinct classroom areas with specific rules, you can significantly improve your students’ ability to follow directions. This strategy not only enhances behavior but also fosters a more organized and productive learning environment. If you found this helpful, be sure to check out part 3 of our classroom management series. To dive deeper into effective teaching strategies, consider joining our Classroom Management Challenge.