How to promote independent learning in the primary classroom

It’s every teacher’s dream to have a class full of learners who are motivated, confident and, most importantly, independent. Learning, as we know, never stops, and goes well beyond the classroom. As a teacher, my aim was always to build life-long learners.

Independence is a powerful tool that can help to enhance skills, develop a growth mindset and encourage pupils to want to learn without the constant need for validation.

When children explore and develop a sense of inquisitiveness without adult intervention, their learning becomes much more meaningful; therefore, it’s more likely to stay in their long term memory. So, fostering independence can be a key driver in achieving great outcomes!

In this blog, jump to:

What is independent learning?

What are the benefits of independent learning?

How to encourage independent learning

What is independent learning?

There can sometimes be a misconception that independent learning is working in isolation, with no guidance or support. This isn’t the case at all!

In fact, as teachers, we want to promote discussion and collaboration in order to solve a problem or clarify thinking.

Therefore, being an independent learner is about taking responsibility for your learning, being self-motivated and being self-driven.

Here at Doodle, we understand the value of building independence. Therefore, our programmes are specifically designed to encourage independent learning and build motivation.

What are the benefits of independent learning?

Being able to work independently is a life skill that children continue to use and carry with them through to secondary school, higher education and beyond.

As children develop their sense of independence, they also develop many other skills, including:

  • Improved levels of organisation
  • Building a resilient attitude, leading to perseverance and determination
  • Increased levels of motivation
  • A boost in confidence as they become self-sufficient
  • Ability to think critically and solve problems

Think of those children in your class who you know are independent. You can see that these children have many of the skills listed above. They take pride in their learning and experience joy in their outcomes when they know they’ve worked independently.

The key is that children enjoy their learning. When they do, it results not only in improved academic performance, but also creates a life-long love of learning.

Independence is a skill that can be taught. Take a look at our top ten tips on how to develop this skill with your class.

How to encourage independent learning: our top 10 tips

1. Guide, don’t direct

As teachers, we can sometimes be scared to loosen the reins and let the children guide their learning. However, taking a step back from directing pupils will allow them to problem solve and look for solutions elsewhere other than you as the teacher.

Facilitating learning will build a thought-provoking environment within your classroom where children have the confidence to share ideas, think outside the box and engage on a deeper level with their learning. Give them the tools and resources they may need, but let them decide how to use them.

2. The 3B’s: Brain, Book, Buddy

It can be easy to answer a child’s question so they can move on to the next activity or complete the task in a timely manner. However, this won’t lead to them building their independence.

The next time a child asks for help, remind them of the 3B’s before they come to you.

Brain: Have you thought about this and attempted to solve your problem without instantly asking for help? Reflect, think, solve.

Book: Look around the room. Are there any resources to help you find your answer? Look back in your own exercise book to see how you solved a similar problem in the past.

Buddy: Ask a friend if you still need help or a suggestion.

3. Create challenge cards

Having a bank of challenge cards for topics can be a great motivational driver. These challenges should be open-ended tasks/problems/questions that children can go away and address independently, either in pairs or in small groups.

You’ll soon find that children are motivated to complete their main activity in order to get onto the challenge. This will show the level of independence children are striving towards.

4. On-going project work

Setting a group project can build and develop countless skills. By collaborating and problem solving collectively, each student has an opportunity to identify their core strengths and, in turn, will motivate and drive their confidence.

5. Taking the time to reflect

It’s hard to know how to improve on something if you aren’t given the time to reflect on what you’ve done. Give your pupils time to reflect on their learning using the following prompts:


With younger children, even having a simple traffic light system will enable you to see how each individual is feeling about their work. Plus, it’s also great for them to see how they feel over time.

In KS2, pupils can reflect, identify and write ‘what went well’ (‘WWW’) during a task and ‘even better if’s’ (‘EBI’) for next time.

By giving children the opportunity to stop and think they are able to think about the gaps in their own learning and how to move forward, you’ll help them to develop their critical thinking.


At times, use peer reflection as a guiding tool. By assessing someone else’s work, you naturally think about your own outcomes and start to reflect on what you’ve achieved, hence developing independent learning skills.

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6. Set your own goals

Goal setting can be a powerful tool if used effectively. Get your children to set themselves a goal/target that isn’t academic, but based on skill. For example, ‘My goal is to contribute more in group discussions and share my ideas’.

Create a goals display board where skills are celebrated and rewarded rather than an outcome of a task. By celebrating these skills, you’ll be setting up your students for success!

7. Model Independence

It’s hard for children to build independence if they don’t know what it looks like. When asked a question or presented with a problem, think out loud so children can see and hear your thought processes.

Use resources around you, such as books or the internet, to show children how to be resourceful. Call on another member of staff, preferably your TA, to ask for support, discuss your problem and how you go about solving it.

8. The classroom environment

Children spend at least five hours of their day within their classroom. Therefore, their setting and environment play an important role in building their independence.

Try not to give pupils everything they need to complete a task, but allow them to go and choose resources. You can facilitate this by clearly labelling resources, making sure word mats/banks are easily accessible and encouraging the use of working walls to share ideas.

Setting clear rules and expectations at the beginning of the year is also important in creating a collaborative and independent learning environment, so be sure to go over this with your new class cohort.

9. Question, question, question

Higher-order open-ended questions are a fantastic way to promote deeper thinking. These can lead to thought-provoking ideas and conclusions, whereby children are keen to go away research, find out more and come back with a resolution or suggestion.

It’s important to encourage students to question each other, as well as the teacher. Children may find this difficult at first, but by modelling and guiding the discussion, children will soon begin to feel comfortable independently questioning and sharing their thoughts.

10. Use Doodle every day

Doodle is specifically designed to encourage and promote independent thinking. Its four programmes — DoodleMaths, DoodleEnglish, DoodleTables and DoodleSpell — have in-built help features that use the ‘three before me’ concept, where children can seek assistance before asking an adult for support.

Best of all, Proxima™, Doodle’s clever algorithm, creates each child a personalised work programme tailored to their needs. By setting work at just the right level, it lets them work independently and experience ongoing success, helping to boost their confidence a little every day!

Why not chat to our team today to find out more and discover how Doodle could benefit your school?

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