A close look at intentional teaching

Published on Tuesday, 20 August 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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Intentional teaching is a term used frequently in relation to early childhood education, but what is it exactly, and can any educators or carers incorporate it into their program?

In this article we learn what intentional teaching is about and the benefits for young children and offer some easy suggestions for incorporating intentional teaching in your service.

What is intentional teaching?

The Australian Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) defines intentional teaching as 'educators being deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and actions.' It also notes that 'intentional teaching is the opposite of teaching by rote or continuing with traditions simply because things have always been done this way.'

The NZ Ministry of Education adds that: "Kaiako are the key resource in any ECE service. Their primary responsibility is to facilitate children's learning and development through thoughtful and intentional pedagogy."

While Ann Epstein, who coined the phrase intentional teaching, says "To always be thinking about what we are doing and how it will foster children's development and produce real and lasting learning."

Essentially intentional teaching is when educators act with specific goals in mind for the children in their care and take an active role in their learning by setting up their environment and inviting children to share their interests and ideas.

Intentional teaching is also a way of relating to children that deepens their thinking and understanding. It embraces and builds on their strengths, interests, ideas and needs, and opens up more possibilities for growth and development.

How to practice intentional teaching

Every interaction with children is an opportunity to teach them something, even if it doesn't obviously present itself as a lesson. Being aware of this and looking for ways to expand their learning is the first step of intentional teaching.

Judy Radich, Director of Cooloon Children's Service in Tweed Heads on the NSW North coast, speaking at an ECA Australian conference in Adelaide, explained the basic principles of the teaching method by stating that intentional educators:

  • Create a learning environment that is rich in materials and interactions – with opportunities for children to practice choosing, thinking, negotiating, problem solving and taking risks.
  • Encourage children to explore materials, experiences, relationships, and ideas through a variety of open-ended materials.
  • Create opportunities for inquiry – where children can ask questions, investigate, gather information, consider possibilities, form tentative conclusions and test and justify them.
  • Actively 'join in' children's play, 'tune in' and respond to children's views and ideas
  • Model thinking and problem solving and challenge children's existing ideas about how things work – e.g. I'm wondering why the water keeps disappearing into the sand?

Other educator strategies for intentional teaching

For deeper insight into how to go about practicing intentional teaching in centre, the following strategies may be helpful.


Offering children opportunities to extend their knowledge and skills in the context of secure relationships. Teachers gauge when to offer challenges and opportunities through provocation and reflection that will extend children's thinking and learning.


Enabling children to take the lead in their learning while working with them to contribute to, rather than dominate, the direction of the experience. This can also include involving others, like family members and the community, who may have particular expertise or knowledge that can inform and support learning.


Encourage making comments that support, motivate, and encourage children to persist.


Making ideas and requests clear for children. This is useful when children want or need to understand a concept or idea.


Drawing children's attention to new ideas and topics. Pointing out things of interest may generate areas for exploration and investigation.


Creating an environment in which children are encouraged to use imagination and creativity to investigate, hypothesise, and express themselves. Teachers plan opportunities for children to have freedom to engage in experiences with no set expectations for outcomes, and where children can explore their own possibilities.


Using explicit teaching strategies when other strategies might not be safe or appropriate.


Encouraging children to lead conversations. Teachers create opportunities for shared, sustained conversations by listening deeply and thoughtfully to what children are saying and actively responding to their contributions.

Making connections

Helping children to see relationships and inconsistencies. Teachers contribute to and extend children's thinking by comparing their experiences and ideas.


Demonstrating a skill or routine. Teachers gradually release responsibility so children can practise and master the skill or routine.


Working with children to consider their own and others' perspectives and develop problem-solving strategies and solutions that cater to the different perspectives.

Providing choices and learning opportunities

Recognising children's agency by offering opportunities for children to make safe choices and experience the consequences of their actions. Provisions for choice need to be considered in the context of relationships and should not place children at risk or in danger. Supporting children to make choices encourages autonomy and independence.


Open-ended questioning can be used to extend children's thinking and problem-solving. Teachers emphasise reasoning and willingness to change thinking when gaining information from questioning.


Helping children to gather information to find solutions to problems. Researching involves asking questions and using a range of sources.


Guiding children to reflect on their day and their learning experiences, and to engage in thinking that helps them to build on prior learning. The process of reflection is strengthened by engaging in high-quality verbal interactions about current learning and what comes next for each child.


Providing children with a supportive framework for taking the next steps or moving to a higher level of thinking. Teachers use their knowledge of children's strengths, interests, ideas and needs to break down skills and routines to guide each child.

Thanks to QCAA and Imagine Education for their information on intentional teaching which helped write this article.

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