• Introduction
  • The basics of the spectrum of teaching styles
  • The command style (a)
  • The practice style (b)
  • The reciprocal style (c)
  • The self-check style (d)
  • The inclusion style (e)
  • The guided discovery style (f)
  • The convergent discovery style (g)
  • The divergent discovery style (h)
  • The learner-designed individual program (i)
  • The learner-initiated style (j)
  • The self-teaching style (k)
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources
  • Pre-impact set: a set of educational decisions that define the intent of the lesson. Includes planning, preparation, organizing, etc.
  • Impact set: a set of actions made during the lesson and one-on-one feedback. The implementation of the pre-impact decisions in the actual lesson.
  • Post-impact set: the assessment made after the lesson. Evaluating the goal and the outcome.
  • Pedagogy: the method and practice of teaching.


The spectrum of teaching styles was created by an Israeli sports scientist Muska Mosston in 1966. Originally, the spectrum of teaching styles was designed as a guideline for physical education teachers to ensure all students learn the basic processes, skills, and concepts ingrained in physical education. Mosston himself described it as ”a framework of options in the relationships between teacher and learner”.

The spectrum itself consists of a variety of different teaching methods ranging from teacher-led methods to more student-oriented learning. As a result, it gives physical education teachers a vast resource for planning and conducting PE lessons in ever-changing classroom situations. 

This post explains the basics of the entire spectrum of teaching styles, and summarizes each teaching style individually. 

The basics of the spectrum of teaching styles

The spectrum of teaching styles is a combination of eleven distinct teaching methods. All of which are aimed to provide a different learning experience in physical education.

The spectrum was created under the assumption that teaching is driven by decision-making. Thus, every act of teaching is a direct result of prior decisions, which also further influences the way lessons are organized and planned. These decisions include:

  • What is the intent and objective of the lesson?
  • How is the plan implemented in the lesson?
  • What is the subject matter the lesson?
  • How is feedback given to the students?
  • How is the lesson assessed?

By examining the effects of switching these decisions from the teacher to the learner, Mosston was able to come up with a variety of different teaching styles that offers something for every learner.

However, it is important to note that none of these teaching styles are inherently better than others. In fact, they all have their time and place. After all, students need to learn the basic skills before being able to create their own training programs.

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The Spectrum of Teaching Styles

Consists of eleven different teaching stylesShifts decision-making between the teacher and the learnerTeaching styles range from teacher-driven to student-led methodsEnsures that learners learn the necessary skills in physical education

The command style (a)

In the command style, the students immediately respond to the stimulus provided by the instructor. For example, at the start of the lesson, the teacher may demonstrate how to throw a basketball while the students follow the instructions. Once the skill has been demonstrated, the teacher instructs the learners to perform the task at the same time according to a certain stimulus (blowing a whistle, raising your hand, certain musical cue, etc.) 

Due to its highly structured nature, the command style works well when organization and synchronized performance are of the essence. For example, working with large groups, areas with safety hazards (swimming pool, etc.) or when learning choreographies, can all benefit from the command style. In short, the command style develops precision performance by recreating a specific response at a certain pace or rhythm. 

The practice style (b)

In the practice style, the teacher starts the lesson by demonstrating a specific skill or task. Then, they let the students practice the same skill at their own pace. For example, the teacher shows how to do a cartwheel before letting the students practice it on their own. Thus, it is up to the learner to individually practice a specific memory/reproduction task.

The teacher is responsible for making all of the pre-impact decisions (subject matter, logistical decisions) as well as providing personal feedback after the exercise (post-impact decisions). However, the learner has the ability to decide how they practice the task given by the teacher. These include decisions such as the time and order of the task, location, pace, intervals, etc. 

Giving more autonomy over the way the exercise is performed also initiates the learner’s independence. Thus, deliberately shifting the decision-making more to the learner.

The reciprocal style (c)

The reciprocal style is characterized by letting the learners work in pairs and give each other feedback according to the teacher’s criteria. The style relies heavily on social interaction, reciprocation, and constructive feedback. 

In the reciprocal style, the students alternate between the roles of a doer and an observer. The doer’s role is to perform the task as best they can, whereas the observer is in charge of providing the doer with constructive feedback. This is done according to the performance criteria set by the teacher.

To make this possible, the teacher must first create a framework of criteria for the task at hand. This criteria should provide the observer with the correct answers, or a process of arriving at the answers (clues, feedback statements, etc.). Not only does this improve the quality of the feedback, it also helps maintain a safe and respectful learning environment.

After practicing the task for a predetermined amount of time, the students switch roles. This is also where the reciprocal style gets its name from. Not only does this style help in practicing a new skill, it also pushes learners to constantly participate in social interaction. Thus, improving their ability to both give and receive feedback.

The spectrum of teaching styles was originally created in 1966.

The self-check style (d)

In the self-check style, the learner participates in both performing the task and self-assessment according to the teacher’s criteria. When compared to the practice style (b), where the students learn to perform a task, or the reciprocal style (c), where they learn to use criteria and give feedback to each other, the self-check style teaches the student to assess their own performance. Thus, the style focuses on two dimensions of behavior; individual practice and self-assessment.

To have this effect, the teacher must have a thorough plan before the lesson. This includes organizational factors such as choosing the subject matter and criteria, as well as designing the organizational structure used during class. First and foremost, the learner should always have the opportunity to work independently and at their own pace. 

The self-check style is guided by the learner’s intrinsic motivation and self-feedback. In order to be successful in a task, the learner must have sufficient knowledge of the correct technique, and make technical adjustments (body positioning, timing, etc.) when needed.

For example, when shooting a basketball, the trick goes through the hoop or not. If it does, the task is successful. If not, the learner must analyze why it was not successful and make adjustments for better performance. Thus, improving the student’s ability to assess their own performance and take responsibility of their own learning process.

The inclusion style (e)

In the inclusion style, learners of varying skill levels get to participate in the same task. Each task is designed with multiple levels of difficulty, allowing each learner to select an adequately challenging task for themselves. Thus, the learners have the opportunity to start from a level they are comfortable with.

After practicing the skill, the learners compare their performance against the criteria set by the teacher. Once they are proficient enough with the skill, the learners can slowly move on to more challenging tasks. 

Before the lesson, the teacher must create a clear plan for the subject matter, assessment criteria, level of difficulty, as well as logistics. Most importantly, the teacher has to make sure that everyone has a valid starting point to for each exercise. This means that the task must be easy enough for effective practice, but not too easy that it becomes boring. 

In the inclusion style, all students are included in the learning process. To make this possible, each learner has an opportunity for continuous participation regardless of their current skill level. To put it simply, the inclusion style answers the question of ”how can the same content be differentiated so that all learners benefit from it?”. 

The guided discovery style (f)

In the guided discovery style, the teacher creates a logical sequence of questions which lead the learners to discover a predetermined response. In more simple terms, the teacher guides the learners towards a specific solution through various questions. Thus, the teacher generates interest while the students actively participate in discovering knowledge.

Before the lesson, the teacher has to decide the target concept that needs to be discovered and choose the questions for the learner. This ensures that the learners have a logical path for discovering the concept, rule, principle, or relationship that supports to overall goal of the lesson. On the other hand, the learner’s objective is to discover the correct answers set by the teacher. 

The teacher may start the lesson by asking “what is the best way to score points in volleyball?”. For every answer that gets the learner closer to the target concept, the teacher may ask an additional question. Once the learner has discovered the target principle, the lesson has reached its goal. Not only does the student learn something new, but they will also feel that they are responsible for uncovering this new information. Thus, providing an important “Eureka!” moment for the learner.

The spectrum of teaching styles consists of eleven distinct teaching styles.

The convergent discovery style (g)

In the convergent discovery style, the teacher selects a new and unfamiliar task for the learners. The learner’s role is to use their reasoning and problem-solving skills to discover a single correct response to a specific question or problem. One example of this is when the teacher asks: “why should you always stay between the striker and your goalie when playing as a defender?”. Finding a single correct answer to the teacher’s question can provide the students with important “Eureka!” moments, similar to the guided discovery style. 

The convergent discovery style works well with different games, riddles, complex mathematical or word problems. Sometimes, situational games can also be used to combine old experiences with new information in an unfamiliar fashion.

The divergent discovery style (h)

In the divergent discovery style, the teacher chooses a broad subject and comes up with a specific problem or situation. Unlike in the convergent discovery style, which only has one correct answer, the divergent discovery style offers situations with multiple correct answers. For example, the teacher comes up with a single question such as: ”how can go from 78 points to zero in darts most efficiently?”. Thus, shifting the decision-making and problem-solving process to the learner.

After the learner is presented with a problem, they must use their cognitive abilities to discover the alternative possibilities that might work in this specific situation. Thus, expanding what is possible within the subject matter.

In simple terms, the teacher sets the scene and observes the situation as it unfolds. This can be anything from throwing darts, creating a dance routine, or a running route in American football.

The learner-designed individual program (i)

The learner-designed individual program provides the learner with more independence to discover a new skill, subject matter, etc. Thus, the learner makes all decisions regarding the subject matter (what needs to be learned, creating the success criteria, coming up with questions that guide the learner towards the goal, and discovering the solutions or movements needed for success). Once the predetermined skill, response, or behavior has been reached, the program is considered successful. 

The teacher’s responsibility is to observe and guide the learner towards their goal with questions or clues, while making sure the learner’s overall program is well-designed and offers enough challenge. This role can be roughly divided into two categories. First, they have to explain the expectations they have for the learner. This is because the new degree of freedom requires more responsibility from the learner. Second, the teacher has to create a broad framework for the learners to work in. For example, the subject matter of the lesson is volleyball (chosen by the teacher), and the learner chooses jump serves as their goal.

It is important to remember that the learner cannot master the goal in the course of a single lesson. Thus, the learner-designed program should have a long-term goal that supports their own needs and goals. This will improve the learner’s ability to design, sequence, and connect different parts of the program together. 

The spectrum of teaching styles form a foundation for physical education.

The learner-initiated style (j)

In the learner-initiated style, the learner must take responsibility to initiate their own learning experience. This is done by deciding the learning intent, objectives, the logistics, procedures, and assessment criteria for a specific subject. In this process, the learner keeps the teacher informed on what decisions are made and why.

The teacher’s responsibility is to ask clarifying questions about the learner’s intentions and plan. This leads the learner to examine and reinforce the decisions that they have made. After the learner has gone through this thought-process, the teacher accepts the learner’s plan and lets them practice at their own pace. This has two major benefits. First, it shows that the teacher trusts the learner’s independence. Second, it also highlights that the teacher is ready to support in the learning process and even participate in it if needed.

One example of the learner-initiated style is when a student comes up to the teacher and asks how to create a training plan for improving their maximum speed. Then, the teacher asks clarifying questions regarding the learner’s initial plan. This helps to either reinforce their thought process or notice what needs to be improved. After the learner has come to the conclusion, the teacher accepts the plan, and lets them practice.

The self-teaching style (k)

The self-teaching style is characterized by the learner’s personal desire, motivation, and ability to construct their own learning experience. Thus, the learner becomes both teacher and the learner. This also means that the content, process, and success criteria of the subject is determined by the learner.

The self-teaching style can fit anyone with the willingness and perseverance to understand the subject they are interested in. For example, exploring a previously unknown area, trying to understand the ins-and-outs of a new hobby, or even trying to uncover new scientific find are all be considered self-teaching to some extent. This style is also not tied to a skill or experience level. In fact, it is up to the learner to push their boundaries and find new things to learn.

Since the self-teaching style relies on intrinsic motivation, it cannot be initiated or assigned by another person. This is also the reason it does not exist in a classroom setting. Furthermore, the self-teaching style is often a better fit for curious and determined individuals than academically proficient students that prefer more structure.

Final thoughts

It is important to note that none of these methods are preferred over one another, nor are lessons taught in only one teaching style. Instead of constantly aiming for a more student-centered style, teachers should aim to use a variety of styles that best suit the group’s goals and skill level. For example, in the early phases of learning a skill, the teacher may want to opt for the practice style. On the other hand, if the goal is to improve social interaction within a group, the teacher may want to opt for guided or convergent discovery. 

Because student-centered learning requires more independence, problem-solving skills, and responsibility, some have suggested that they have more learning benefits when compared to teacher-centered teaching styles. However, without knowing the basic skills and concepts of the subject, it would be impossible for the learners to make meaningful progress in their physical education. The spectrum of teaching styles takes all of these factors into consideration. Thus it is an essential pedagogical tool in a PE teacher’s arsenal.

Did you learn anything new about the spectrum of teaching styles? Let us know in the comments. 


  • Mosston, M. & Ashworth, S. (2008) Teaching Physical Education. 1st Online Edition.

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