Break it down is a critically important teaching technique, but it can be challenging to use because it is primarily a reactive strategy. You can prepare explanations and examples beforehand if you anticipate your students having trouble understanding certain concepts or words, but it is difficult to prepare for every single situation. As soon as they recognize an error, guess or misunderstanding, champion teachers conceptualize the original material as a series of smaller, simpler pieces. There are countless ways you can break down difficult information to students, but here are a few ways:
Provide an example and have students provide you with an example for confirmation as well.
Provide rules or strategies. If students are having a hard time answering inference questions for example, provide them with a list of steps they can follow every time (identify the key word in the question, find the key word in the passage and read around it, use process of elimination on the answer choices to get rid of strong opinions, false facts, and information that is not supported by the passage).
Sometimes it’s sufficient to repeat a student’s answer back to her. Many of us recognize our errors when they’re played back to us, as if on tape.