How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone

The art and science of teacher explanation

By: Andy Tharby


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Products specifications
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Size: 222 x 182mm
Pages : 184
ISBN : 9781785833670
Format: Paperback
Published: November 2018

In How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone: The art and science of teacher explanation, Andy Tharby talks teachers through a set of remarkably simple techniques that will help revolutionise the precision and clarity of their message.

Explanation is an art form, albeit a slightly mysterious one. We know a great explanation when we see or hear one, yet nevertheless we struggle to pin down the intricacies of the craft.

Just how exactly is it done?

In How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone, Andy Tharby eloquently explores the art and science of this undervalued skill and illustrates how improving the quality of explanation can improve the quality of learning. Delving into the wonder of metaphor, the brilliance of repetition and the timeless benefits of storytelling, Andy sets out an evidence-informed approach that will enable teachers to explain tricky concepts so well that their students will not only understand them perfectly, but remember them forever too.

By bringing together evidence and ideas from a wide range of sources – including cognitive science, educational research and the study of linguistics – the book examines how the most effective writers and speakers manage to transform even the most messy, complicated idea into a thing of wondrous, crystalline clarity. Then, by provoking greater thought and contemplation around language choices in the classroom, Andy spells out how the practical tools and techniques discussed can be put into practice.

Andy also puts the important role of learner autonomy in context, recognising that there is a time for teachers to talk and a time for pupils to lead their own learning – and contends that, in most cases, teachers should first lay out the premise before opening the space for interrogation. Ultimately, How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone argues that good teaching is not about talking more or less, but about talking better.

Brimming with sensible advice applicable to a range of settings and subjects, this book is suitable for teachers and educators of learners aged 7–16.

Contents include:

Chapter 1: Subject knowledge

Chapter 2: Credibility and clarity

Chapter 3: Explanation design

Chapter 4: Concepts, examples and misconceptions

Chapter 5: Metaphor and analogy

Chapter 6: Storytelling

Chapter 7: Elaboration

Picture for author Andy Tharby

Andy Tharby

Andy Tharby is a practising English teacher with over a decade's classroom experience at a secondary school in West Sussex. He is co-author of the award winning Making Every Lesson Count and the author of Making Every English Lesson Count. Andy is also interested in helping fellow teachers enhance their practice through engagement with research evidence.

Click here to read Andy Tharby’s blog.


  1. This book is one which I will signpost to my teacher trainees, and will share with staff for their CPD. Tharby provides a range of effective classroom strategies to enhance practitioner clarity and make an impact when implementing the curriculum. His work is clear, evidence informed and accessible for teachers at any level. For me, the practical guidance is the highlight and I have taken the opportunity to share this where possible with my teacher trainees. Highly recommended.

  2. Covering a wide age range, this book is packed with ideas for those teaching ages 7 to 16, as well as providing useful and reassuring guidance for aspiring teachers. We would all love to be clear explainers and it's easy to think that it is a gift rather than something that can be learnt, but this book proves the error of thinking that way. The author explores a range of techniques, starting with the importance of strong subject knowledge and including metaphor, repetition and storytelling. Backed by research into cognitive science and the study of linguistics, readers will learn how to express ideas in a way suited to their audience. The author looks at the practicalities of using the right language for the age of students as well as encouraging autonomous learning. the book examines how the most effective writers and speakers manage to transform even the most messy, complicated idea into a thing of wondrous, crystalline clarity. Then, by provoking greater thought and contemplation around language choices in the classroom, Andy spells out how the practical tools and techniques discussed can be put into practice. The ideas are surprisingly simple but extremely effective and confidence building, with a fresh new approach.

    Read the review on Parents in Touch website here.
  3. Evidence shows that one of the most difficult tasks facing teachers at all levels is how to get their -˜message' across and generate engagement and participation in the learning process. Andy Tharby explores the key aspects of explanation that promote learning, understanding and the motivation of learners to extend their knowledge to improve performance levels.  

    It is evident that the quality of teacher explanation performs a crucial role in learning and encouraging learners to be active listeners and participants.  Readers will only need to reflect on their personal experiences in schools and further education on the range of abilities of their teachers / lecturers to -˜get the message' across and the impact on participation.

    This is a well-structured text, which encourages the reader to explore seven key principles for effective explanation. I particularly gained from the sections on -˜credibility and clarity', with the students perceiving the teacher as competent, caring and trustworthy, with the ability to organise and explain subject material with added texture and -˜life examples'. In addition, the section on -˜explanation design' contained relevant discussion on cognitive load theory and the limited capacity of working memory. 

    This is an excellent resource for all teachers keen to promote that extra -˜buzz' to their explanations.  It will be a particularly good read for those teachers who are experiencing difficulty in engaging and motivating learners to raise performance levels  
  4. Explanations are our stock in trade and we tend to think we are pretty good at them.

    Just a few pages into Andy Tharby's How To Explain Absolutely Anything To Absolutely Anyone, however, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to it than you may have imagined. And if you've ever thought you've had everything covered after a careful explanation of a tricky concept, only to be greeted by a chorus of, “Miss, I don't get it!” then maybe - like me - you are already looking for a helping hand.

    An English teacher, Tharby is the co-author of the award-winning Making Every Lesson Count and anyone who has read that book will know his evidence-informed approach.

    Mixing a wealth of experience and empirical evidence, How To Explain Absolutely Anything To Absolutely Anyone not only serves as food for thought about the science behind successful explanation, but also offers practical advice and guidance about classroom practice.

    It is divided into seven key principles, each of which has its own chapter. These include concepts such as using our pre-wired ability to learn from storytelling and explanation design, which Tharby suggests should largely be built around the idea that “slow but steady wins the race”. Backed up with relevant scholarly research, of course.

    Delving into the first chapter, I found myself nodding along in recognition with a lament that students' subject knowledge has been reduced to such a point that it is now indistinguishable from the exam. Tharby's sound advice is that each teacher must answer two questions: what is the value of the subject I teach? And how can I help my students appreciate and value that subject? He then gives practical prompts and strategies to not only fill students with enthusiasm, but also to avoid death by subject knowledge overload.

    This struck home as I am very familiar with the groans of despair that can often greet an introduction to Macbeth: “But, Miss, why do we have to study it anyway? When will I ever need this in my life?” New thinking and strategies about how to explain Shakespearean language and the bard's relevance today are always welcome.

    The exploration of examples in the concepts, examples and misconceptions chapter also struck a chord. We all use examples in our teaching every day, but Tharby's examination of just how we present them and how we expect students to respond to them has definitely had an impact on me.

    He welcomes the shift away from child-centred learning to teacher instruction, saying: “It is essential that teachers feel confident enough to stand up at the front and teach such world-changing content [as Einstein or Shakespeare] without the accusation of being didactic or overly dominating.” Student exploration should happen, he says, “towards the end of a sequence of learning, not at the beginning. In most cases, teachers should first provide answers and then open the space for interrogation.”

    This book is easy to read and incudes a balanced mix of anecdote, research and persuasion. Having read it all over a few nights, I found that not only did it make me examine my own explanation practice but, while planning, I have already returned to earmarked pages for simple techniques and clear guidance.

    Click here to read the review on Schools Week's website.
  5. In just seven chapters Andy Tharby has written a stunningly helpful and clear guide to explanation. I suppose given the title of the book it would be horribly ironic if he was not able to explain things clearly - but this is clearly a man who can put his theory into practice.

    This is a book packed with helpful ideas, some to challenge the reader to think, some to inspire the reader to improve their practice and some to help remind us about our core beliefs about teaching. I'm just old enough to have been taught to teach with a heavy focus on explanation - as the author says in his introduction “It is near impossible to conceive of effective teaching without explanation.” - but I've watched younger teachers attempt the near impossible, with a fear of teacher-talk and a self-denigrating approach to their own knowledge and expertise.

    And although we are told that explanation is “an art form, albeit a slightly mysterious one” we are thankfully reassured that the tools need to become a confident explainer is such that anyone can master them with some patience and practice. The book takes us through seven chapters, each with a clear and simple message for the author to unpack and develop (and, unsurprisingly-¦ to explain!).

    Chapter 1 talks about the advantages and drawbacks of our subject knowledge. Although strong subject knowledge is needed, if it isn't packaged with enthusiasm and clear explanations then our students are often left bewildered. With much to think about and frequent questions, the reader is drawn happily and comfortably through the author's thought process. Chapter 2 talks about credibility and clarity. Two aspects we've often noticed more in their absence than their presence. Again we're challenged to pause and reflect and once more the author liberally scatters lots of helpful gems to inspire us and help us improve. Chapter 3 helps us see the difficult process of designing our explanations. Working out how much we need to tell our classes, and how much they should work out for themselves. This chapter also features some helpful details about long-term and working memory, cognitive load theory (including six approaches to utilising it in the classroom). The chapter finishes with ten top tips for the perfect slideshow. In short, this chapter is packed full of practical advice. Chapter 4 deals with concepts, examples and misconceptions. For my school, we're probably a little behind others in making the best use of knowledge organisers and similar strategies - and this chapter is very helpful and will enable us to make huge progress very quickly. As we grapple with discussions about curriculum, the explanations about different types of knowledge are very clear and useful. And then chapter 5 takes the reader through metaphor and analogy to prepare the way for storytelling to be exemplified in chapter 6. Chapter 7 rounds the book off with reminding us of the need for students to be helped to think through our explanations, and beautifully justifies and details a range of strategies to help us elaborate on our explanations.

    Each chapter concludes with a simple summary and some suggested first steps to help the reader start to progress and develop and improve.

    In summary, this is an outstanding book. I wish I'd had this to share with staff in the past few years, especially with new staff whose own school experience was not full of good explanations and whose expectation and training has not led them to believe explanation is not the best way for students to learn. Not only does the author give a clear (and well referenced) explanation at every stage, but the explanations are grounded in practical classroom-focussed ideas, hints and tips.

    I wish I could afford to buy this for all our staff individually. In the meantime, I'm confident this book will be borrowed by many staff and hopefully worn out through constant reading.


    - Practical and reflective clearly written by a teacher.
    - Encouraging and Inspirational.
    - Skilful and eloquent.
    - Packed with good ideas.
    - Explanations are grounded in practical classroom-focussed ideas, hints and tips.

    Click here to read the review on UKEdChat's website.
  6. Andy Tharby's How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone tackles a fundamental aspect of teaching that has been taken for granted by far too many for far too long. The book not only enquires into explanation, but also ventures further and deeper - offering a wise and compelling exploration of curriculum, knowledge, memory, human psychology, and much more.

    In an age of superficial media and bombastic TED Talks, Tharby brings evidence and intelligence to bear in order to reveal, in intricate detail, what makes for powerful teacher explanations. I'd happily recommend this book to absolutely every teacher.
  7. In Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone, Andy Tharby skilfully explores the importance of high-quality explanation and offers teachers clear guidance on what they can do better in order to achieve it.

    By starting with the significance of subject knowledge and teacher credibility, Andy opens up various frameworks for consideration before going on to suggest effective classroom strategies to put into practice. He has filled this practical, evidence-informed book with a range of clear illustrations and examples, and does not shy away from difficult questions surrounding teaching and learning.

    Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone will be of great value to all teachers of all subjects.
  8. In this excellent and beautifully written book, Andy Tharby addresses the topic of how teachers across all subjects of the curriculum can develop their capacity to explain with clarity, precision, flair and agility.

    Rooted in research, Andy's captivating and persuasive arguments are bolstered by his practical experience and carefully considered reflections (as a learner as well as a teacher) as he explores the importance of subject knowledge and debates the key principles underpinning effective explanations. He then goes on to outline practical tips and guidance, helpfully punctuated with specific examples, for mastering the art yourself.

    Andy cleverly presents his ideas by using the very strategies he suggests, helping us to understand the significance of clear and compelling explanation. And he does so in such a clear and compelling way!
  9. How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone fills a considerable gap - as while the importance of explanation has long been recognised, nowhere has its role, application and impact been so clearly articulated as in this book.

    In his beautifully crafted prose, Andy Tharby hones in on the significance of a teacher conveying the purpose of their subject and shares important ideas which will inform current conversations around the curriculum.

    All great books provide new insights into old dilemmas, and How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone does exactly that. It is both scholarly and accessible, and should be essential reading for all involved in education. I shall be referring to it on a daily basis.
  10. If you're like me, you may already think you are pretty deft at explaining tricky concepts with clarity, and even with a bit of panache. Upon reading this wonderful book, however, you realise that you still have a great deal more to learn about the science and craft of explanation, as Andy Tharby shares all there is to know on the subject.

    Offering well-researched, practical guidance on how to plan and execute sharper explanations, How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone should be required reading for all teachers. A simply superb read.
  11. In How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone, Andy Tharby guides teachers to the point of peak performance: offering clear guidance on how they can boost the credibility of their subject knowledge in order to support pupils' long-term learning.

    When it's done well, a curriculum can unlock a world of opportunity - for both the pupils and the teacher - but only when delivered by those teachers who bring the content to life. Tharby delves into what lies beneath the surface of subject knowledge and reveals a set of complicated building blocks, such as the use of modelling and the application of concrete examples, which combine to form great classroom teaching.

    How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone arrives at the perfect time for the teaching profession and is full of super strategies to use in your own professional development.

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