You are here:

Last updated on 10 October 2018
Ref: 1895
School types: All · School phases: Nursery, Primary

Understand what you should look for when observing teaching in the EYFS with guidance on what effective teaching looks like, and examples of prompts to help you when carrying out lesson observations.

What effective teaching looks like

When observing teaching in the EYFS, you should expect to see:

  • Teacher-pupil interactions that help to identify learning
  • Use of knowledge of the EYFS to provide rich sensory experiences, stimulating curiosity and investigation
  • A range of activities that engage children's interests. Children should choose and be guided towards activities that help them learn across the different areas of development
  • Ongoing assessment by adults through observation, questioning and looking at individual outcomes
  • The use of knowledge of the EYFS to provide rich sensory experiences, stimulating curiosity and investigation
  • Children being supported to feel confident and secure in dealing with challenges in their learning, starting from what they already know
  • Children being supported to understand their learning experiences by providing a commentary on what they do and are achieving
  • Provision being evaluated to ensure all children are stimulated in their learning and making good progress

These characteristics were suggested by Tracey Rees, an associate education expert, and outlined on page 4 of archived guidance published by a predecessor to the DfE.


You should not expect to see learning taking place within specific subject areas. Rather, children should be engaged in a range of activities and opportunities covering all the areas for learning and development.

Use the following questions suggested by Tracey when observing practitioners. They are based on the 4 overarching principles of the EYFS set out in the EYFS framework

Unique child

  • Are all children being respected and acknowledged as individuals?

Positive relationships

  • Are children being helped to build on prior learning by provision of activities, such as a play or a story, at a level that is demanding but still within the children's reach?
  • Is the learning that is happening that day/week communicated to parents and carers?

Enabling environments

  • Is the environment appropriate for the age group being taught?
  • Is the environment stimulating and does it reflect the learning that is taking place?
  • Are there resources available to children to self-select the learning through play?
  • Is there a rich environment of continuous provision that the children can self-select and use to move learning forward? Is there differentiation to use at own level?
  • Has the teacher ascertained what the children already know? Has the teacher built on this?
  • Does the planning reflect the children’s interests in order to keep them interested and motivated?

Learning and development

  • Are all areas, including the outdoor area, being used? For example, does the outdoor environment have activities/resources to stimulate numeracy?
  • Does the practitioner use different learning styles so that the children can interact with the staff and each other? (For example, visual aids, touch, sounds and movements)
  • Are staff modelling key vocabulary to the children? Is it displayed so that adults, children and parents can see it in the room?

Download our observation form template

Read further guidance on how to carry out lesson observations, and use our template to help you record your findings during an observation.


Tracey Rees is a local authority EYFS specialist. Her expertise includes children’s centres, day care, special educational needs (SEN) and extended services for the primary phase.

More from The Key

Anxiety (2).jpg

Pupil mental health: deepening understanding

Are you looking to deepen your staff's understanding of mental health, including anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation? Safeguarding Training Centre has the resources you need.


Evidence-led training courses that make it easy to upskill staff, anytime, anywhere.

CPD Toolkit is the most effective way to virtually deliver evidence-led training and support the professional development of your staff. Downloadable courses and online 5-minute summaries provide flexibility for training, whether staff are participating as skeleton staff in-school, via video call or individually at their own pace.

The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.