Teach Outside the Box – A Series

Take English Lessons Outdoors – I



Students just need context to use English naturally. So how about teaching English outside the box of the classroom?

I read a lot of things today: random news articles, work emails, personal messages, social media posts, lesson plans, textbooks and so on. If you were to ask me to recall everything I read today, I would vaguely remember parts of it. I could definitely not restate it word by word for you, and if I summarized, I would be sure to miss lots of things. However, if you asked me what I did today, I could give you vivid details so accurately that you would be able to make a real-time movie of my day. What’s the point? The point is that learning by doing is the most practical and effective method.

As schools, teachers and parents all know, all Indian students must step across the door called “English” to walk towards a bright future and job security. In a shocking report published by the ASER – one in two Indian students can’t read books meant for 3 classes below . I’m deeply saddened, but not surprised. I have always seen this coming. You absolutely cannot learn a language without using it personally. Our students never get to use English for real, personal communication. At home and with friends, they naturally speak in their mother tongue. In many English medium schools – English just serves as a barrier … the alien code in which textbooks and assessments are written.

In India, I often find English being labelled a tough subject. English is not tough, and definitely not any tougher than your mother tongue. Anything that you don’t know and haven’t done can appear complex. Even walking was complex when you crawled on all fours, but now you can run and leap! Practice makes perfect; and that indeed applies to English. Students just need context to use English naturally. So how about teaching English outside the box of the classroom?

I have been conducting English learning sessions for students of all ages since over fifteen years and have trained more than 2000 teachers till date. In all my experience, I have always found that a lesson has to be engaging to stick. A lesson which does not personally involve the learner will be forgotten in no time. Only reading out of the textbook and painstakingly memorizing and writing down answers is plain boring and barely useful. I hardly ever use textbooks to teach and steer clear of rote-learning.

I use goal driven methods and activities to teach; and I use the world around me – it’s the best textbook and workbook ever.

Taking English sessions outside the classroom opens up endless opportunities to make lessons realistic, practical and engaging. Everything that you spot outside is a talking point – and talking is the first, largest and most crucial part of learning any language. Besides, children are delighted to be outdoors. Happy students are deeply motivated and learn faster. The change from the routine set-up of the classroom unleashes creativity and imagination. This can be observed from the very first session you take outdoors, give it a try.

The outdoor environment is a ready stage for seamless play and learning. You would almost feel guilty you tricked your students into studying while they thought they were playing! There are plenty of games you could play with your English learners outdoors that are stimulating and highly effective. We all like to win at games, and it’s rather hard to distract students trying their best to win the game.

Research shows that outdoor study sessions, especially with nature, can be extremely effective at preventing and curing learning disabilities such as ADHD and behavioural issues like hyperactivity. The closed classroom environment fails to provide enough stimulus to use English as an end to a means. Also, outdoors is obviously the right ‘lab’ to try out ‘practical’ English when you note that the real world – the outside world, is where these students would need to use English effectively throughout their life.

Teaching professionals all across history know that we have a role with great responsibility and we must make sure that we empower our students with effective knowledge. Language teachers shoulder the extra responsibility (and pride) of providing learners with the tool with which they would unlock so many more learning resources. Through these articles, I wish to share with all of you some time-tested methods of packing English lessons with fun while making sure your objectives are met.

In the next part of this article, I will share with you some of my all-time favourite outdoor learning activities and games. Stay tuned!


~  Fathima Rafiulla

Director Academics, Triway

Instruction Design makes all the Difference

Across millennia of our astounding technological progress, we haven’t been able to design any super computer that can replace or barely challenge the human mind. We can design computers that can compute faster than all of us, but we cannot design a self-aware, self-augmenting, self-regulating machine, not yet in any case. Let’s look at the human brain in a new light – it is mighty capable in multiple ways, but we ask you to look at it in just one of its functions. The human brain is the most powerful pattern-recognition machine we know of.

As many of you might know, the core of computing is binary logic – differentiating one from zero or yes from no. The minor miracle that makes it possible for you to read this article, wherever you are now, is powered by the machine’s ability to make a steady distinction between just those two patterns over several variables.  Now, let’s ponder over the most basic model of a human – an infant. The infant’s brain is computing the two polarities of every aspect of reality and the countless variations in between the poles for every new concept it encounters, right from birth. From material hard facts like light-dark, hot-cold, near-far, sound-silence to abstract emotions like safe-unsafe, pleasure-pain, happy-unhappy, infinite ideas are grasped at astounding speeds by a mere baby. In just 3 years from birth, a child accumulates more information about the universe than can fit in our largest libraries. The child automatically learns more about relations, language, other life forms, weather, objects, physical laws, colours, sounds, shapes, smells, weights any many more concepts, than we can programme a robot to identify. The human brain comes with an inbuilt learning mechanism that is monumentally more powerful than every other machine we know combined.

These are real, tested and proven facts. The human mind is made to learn and it loves to learn, period. Now if we are posed with problems phrased as: “he doesn’t learn”, “she can’t learn” and “they won’t learn”, then we must insist that this calls for a change in perspective. As we have just discussed, everything that is learnt before actual “teaching” occurs is effortless and infallible. The problem is not in the learner or the learning, but in the teaching. In the words of one the biggest geniuses of our times:

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” – Albert Einstein

As a self-regulating system, the mind rejects the chaos of incongruent information because survival and growth depends on forming steady concepts. In encountering larger, inter-connected and in effect more complex data, the mind seeks cohesiveness of information that extends to all its aspects. This can be translated to what is required of instruction design:

  • Information must be clear and have logical progression
  • Information must correspond to or broaden previously held knowledge
  • Information must have scope for application and utility
  • Information must be effective and create desired outcomes

At Triway, effective instruction design is the foundation that fortifies all our services and endeavors. Our primary objective is to validate our curriculum through visible results. We recently conducted a survey among schools that opted for EngCampus to gauge our effectiveness and the results speak for themselves:

What schools participating in EngCampus say:

  •  90% of the schools are of the opinion that the EngCampus curriculum is helpful to their students in gaining linguistic aptitude and triggering thinking as compared to the previous curriculum.
  • Most of the schools expressed an opinion that the EngCampus curriculum facilitates use of English language in daily life.
  • 95% of the schools are of opinion that the previous curriculum was only examination oriented whereas the EngCampus curriculum focuses on all-round development of the students.
  • 89% of the schools expressed the opinion that the EngCampus curriculum focuses more on reading not only the lesson but also other books; whereas the previous curriculum was focused just on rote learning.

A glimpse into our Instruction Design Process:

We are often asked, how we go about designing our curriculum. We are happy to share with you some of the key stages in our instruction design and hope that you can take away something of value from here.


The above diagram outlines the four step design process, which is continuous. To begin with, we ask ourselves:

  • What do we need to teach?
  • What outcome do we need to achieve after teaching this?
  • What are the various effective and engaging methods to deliver these lessons?
  • How can we assess that the lessons have been effectively imbibed?

Each of these questions leads us to manifold answers which then need to be narrowed down to precise and measurable targets. The subject matter needs to be segmented and stacked appropriately to ensure attainable results. This sort of structuring of content is something that journalists use, it is known as the “inverse pyramid”.


This streamlines the lesson being imparted, minimizing the effort of the learner as well as the teacher. It also makes the lesson immediately actionable and less time-consuming. The next step is to identify the strategies and methods for teaching and learning. Some lessons can be understood best by listening to a lecture, while others call for more innovative approaches like role-plays, hands-on activities, using learning accessories or group discussions. At times, there is no one best method and multiple methods must be combined and adapted. Moreover, lessons should take into account learner’s potential .

Once lessons are imparted they must be tested. Assessments which expect pupils to repeat exactly what was said by the teacher or the textbook, do not hold good in most scenarios. The test must check if students can apply their learning in new and unfamiliar territories, demonstrating true utility. The test should also be mindful of the students’ strengths and weaknesses and assess their individual as well as collective progress. Another point of note, tests should not be daunting or monotonous, but instead be exciting and encouraging.

Since the instruction design process is an ongoing one, every cycle of design should be connected to the previous and next cycles, learning and improving from them. In other words, the design process itself must reflect learning and development. Each challenge faced should eventually result in newer and better solutions. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

Design is a fluid and organic process, and despite all the models and methods at your disposal, you will find that each design destination calls for a new road. Your design method will always be subject to the time and place where it must be applied. It cannot be stressed enough that design must be flexible to adapt towards the needs of each learner, topic and method. We have shared the key-points of the instruction design process here and we can end with a summary highlighting the principles that will help you along your way.

Principles of Effective Instructional Design

First things first

Try to limit the concepts in each lesson and progress from basics to advanced. One clear concept is easier to imbibe and lots of unfamiliar data at a time creates confusion and stress. As an example, primary word meanings needs to be clear before heading into synonyms or addition needs to be totally understood before moving on to multiplication.

Smart Strategies

Not all methods are equally effective. Sometimes it takes just a simple showing and telling while at other times, doing is needed. Choose simpler methods over complex ones and engaging methods over passive ones. Do not shy away from multi-sensory activities, role-plays and games.

Interconnected and ongoing

Real knowledge requires repeated exposure and linking to other existing ideas. Students must be made aware of the various co-relations and apply what they are learning to develop true understanding and recall.

Maintain the pace

When simple concepts have been established, the higher-order concepts that link to it should follow in quick progression rather than changing topics. Without a coherent sequence, students forget and fret over previous lessons all over again.

Be Relevant

Make sure that you speak the language that your learners can understand and relate to. The learner should also be able to understand the relevance of what they are learning and be able to apply it in their life to gain value.

Involve the learner

Do not make life-decisions for your learners. Let the learners have a say in what they would like to learn and why. Build upon the capacities of your learners rather than misdirecting their energies towards pursuits that don’t hold value or interest to them.