INTRODUCTION: Following directions is a hurdle even the best students often fail to negotiate. Everything from financial aid applications, scholarships, and syllabi, to research papers has directions to follow, including deadlines to meet.  Prior to implementing this activity, an average of seven to ten students a week missed workshops, campus visits, or informational sessions hosted by our program because they had failed to follow directions, even though all directions and deadlines for activities are published both in monthly newsletters and in postcards mailed to their residence. In addition, posters with directions are placed around our campus. Verbally reminding students to read all materials sent did nothing to change the number of students who failed to follow directions.

This activity can help in any situation where following directions is important for student success, such as taking a test or writing a report.


  • To help students become aware of the importance of following directions
  • To have students take responsibility for reading and following directions, including meeting deadlines
  • To have students learn to ask clarifying questions when they are confused about directions or deadlines


  • Printed materials for communicating directions (ie: newsletters, flyers, postcard mailings, posters, sign-up sheets—see sample of a sign-up sheet in the Resources section below)
  • Pens (Blue and Black)
  • Pizza and soda (or other rewards) for positive reinforcement


[Editor’s Note: These directions describe how the author used this activity with students in his TRIO program. To address your own circumstances, simply modify the directions. For example, in an academic course, you could modify the initial directions (Step 1) and publish them in your syllabus instead of in a newsletter. Once you read through the directions, you’ll see how to adapt the key concepts here to your own situation.]

1. Announce in a newsletter that the SSS program will be hosting an All Student Meeting for its participants. We used the headline “Student Grant Aid Discussion and Free Pizza” because free food and money are excellent ways to grab the attention of college students. In the Newsletter article, state that program staff will discuss details of SSS Grant Aid and that all eligible participants attending will receive free pizza and soda. Include that anyone planning to attend the meeting must sign a Signup Sheet located in the SSS program office by a designated date.

2. On the Signup Sheet, instruct students to sign their name in black ink if they will be attending. In parentheses, add that students wanting free pizza and soda should not sign their name in black ink, but instead print their names in blue ink. Next to this sign-up sheet leave a black pen and a blue pen. Also, pre-sign the sheet with staff’s names in black ink, indicating they did not wish to receive free pizza and soda.

3. One week prior to the meeting date, send a reminder postcard to students concerning the meeting. Meeting details should be noted again, but also note that there will be a change of the meetings starting time; it will begin 15 minutes earlier. Mention that only students arriving on time will be eligible for the free pizza and soda.

4. During the time between mailings and the meeting date, answer any questions any student may ask (Remember, one of your goals is to encourage students to ask clarifying questions about directions they don’t understand).

5. On the day of the meeting, begin promptly at the new, earlier time. Take roll, and praise students for arriving on time and being ready.

6. Begin the meeting by passing out information pertaining to the topic. Also inform students that pizza and soda will be arriving in about 15 minutes (arranged delivery time).

7. Notify students arriving late of their tardiness. Note any excuse for tardiness. Continue presentation until pizza is delivered.

8. Once the pizza is delivered, announce to students that eligible students can now have pizza and soda. Produce the sign-up sheet and give pizza to only those students who had printed their names in blue ink and arrived on time. Note how many students are eligible.

9. Lead a discussion about what the students learned from this experience. Guide them to discover the importance of following directions, including meeting deadlines. Be sure to discuss the following topics:

  • Reading and following directions completely
  • Consequences of not following directions
  • Understanding what you know and do not know (self-awareness)
  • Value of asking questions to clear up confusion (assertiveness and self-esteem)

10. As the discussion continues, relate this activity to other areas where following directions is critical to their success, such as financial aid applications, job applications, scholarships, research papers, etc.


This project worked very well. I had 23 students attend the meeting and their eligibility for receiving pizza and soda was as follows:

  • 10 students met all criteria of printing their names in blue ink, deadline requirement, and attending on time.
  • 13 students failed to meet eligibility because of the following:
  •       5 students were 15 minutes late
  •       8 students signed their name in black ink

After indicating to students the true nature of the meeting, we had a wonderful discussion about the topic of reading and following directions. Students who signed their names in black assumed that because staff signed in black ink, then it was fine for them as well. Students made comments such as, “That’s not fair, you signed in black!” and “Other people signed in black!” I answered these statements by noting the error of assuming others are following correct procedures and that it’s more important to know that you are doing it correctly.

Students arriving late simply failed to read the reminder post card. One student stated that she had looked at the title of the post card, assumed it was a reminder and tossed it into the garbage. Again, we discussed the penalties of assumptions. It was a common theme during the discussion.

Successful students all shared their stories of how they arrived on time and prepared. One commonality among all students successful in following the directions for the meeting was that they had asked questions concerning procedures. By far the most common question I received was, “Why do we have to print in blue ink if I want pizza and soda?” My answer was that I need to easily distinguish people requesting food. At the meeting I stressed the tendencies people have to assume directions by following others.

My first intention was to give pizza only to those eligible students during the meeting, but I decided to reinforce all students for their honesty and participation during the meeting. My choice could be debated, but it will have to be your call.


Overall the project worked very well, approximately halving the number of students who did not follow directions. As noted earlier, our program averaged seven to ten students a week missing activities because of not following directions and meeting deadlines, but after using this project that number dropped to three to five students.


By far, the significance of “assumptions” has been the lesson I learned most prominently. Assumptions were abundant during this project and determined many of the choices that students made. I even assumed that all my directions for this project were clear and correct, but that turned out not to be true. I have learned not to assume anything, and I question myself much more now.

–Chris Eplett, Coordinator, Student Support Services, Gogebic Community College, MI

Forum Image OptionDirections for Success Forum