Supporting Students with Worked Examples

by Mandi Olson

Supporting Students with Worked Examples

Supporting Students, Teacher Tip, Classroom Resources, Kids Discover

Researcher, John Hattie, examined and synthesized more than 1,000 meta-analyses which comprised more than 50,000 individual studies, to determine factors that affect student learning and achievement.  In his book, Visible Learning, Hattie ranked 138 effects that influence learning outcomes and he continues to add to his research as his original list has grown to 195 (Hattie, 2017). This research is helpful to educators because if almost any change in education will have a positive effect, why not focus on those that will have the greatest effect on student learning?  A year’s growth, calculated by Hattie, is 0.40.  So from his rankings of 195 effects on learning, educators can examine those influences that have a greater chance of increasing student learning and begin to use them in their teaching practice. 

Worked examples, with an effect size of 0.39 has the potential to have a positive influence on student achievement, and when tied to specific success criteria they can have a greater impact on student learning.  Success criteria, with an effect size of 0.88, have the potential to considerably accelerate student learning.  Worked examples, if focused on the specific success criteria of a lesson, can be a powerful tool to support students in understanding and solving complex problems. The best worked examples are effective in demonstrating what success looks like to students and how they can achieve success.  

Worked examples are an effective instructional strategy that provides novice learners with an example of an expert’s solution to a problem.  Often, a solution is presented as a step-by-step process showing how a problem is solved.  This solution can be applied to other similar problems.  Worked examples can include the formulation of a problem, the steps to a solution, and the final solution or answer to the problem.  

Worked examples help reduce the cognitive load for students.  Cognitive load theory explains that people have a limited capacity to process real-time information.  So, instructional strategies should help students to focus their attention to avoid overburdening them with unnecessary information.  Worked examples reduce cognitive load by making complex problem-solving activities more accessible to students as they are learning new content.  Worked examples are especially helpful when helping students to solve complex problem-solving activities that can be broken down into steps. 

Teachers can examine the standards they teach to determine how worked examples could be used to support students as they understand and solve complex problems.  Worked examples can be used in a variety of ways and with different types of content.  An example of a worked example for math could include the formula and steps for solving the formula.  A completed problem might be shown first so students can see how the problem might be solved.  Then additional steps of the problem might be omitted so students can begin to solve similar math problems.  Examples of essays could also be shown to students so they can see writing examples to understand the steps to take to improve their writing skills.  Transition words and sentence stems could also be included to help students begin to create their own essays. 

There are many ways teachers can use worked examples in their classrooms. Worked examples can be a powerful tool to support students as they are learning new content and provide a way to support and scaffold students while also reducing their cognitive load.  Supporting students with worked examples can lead to greater learning gains for all students. 


Hattie, J. (2017, May). How to Empower Student Learning with Teacher Clarity. Corwin. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from 

Hattie, J. (2022). Visible Learning Metax website: Worked Examples.  Retrieved March 29, 2003, from

Hattie, J. (2022). Visible Learning Metax website: Success Criteria.  Retrieved March 29, 2003, from

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Mandi Olson

Mandi Olson Mandi Olson, Ed.D, is an elementary educator who currently works as an instructional coach in Utah. She utilizes her fourteen years of knowledge and experience to support others as they further develop their educational expertise. She will provide practical insight to help teachers navigate the complex roles and responsibilities of an educator.