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

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