Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Step Outside of the Classroom

Most literature-o-philes and educators would name Dead Poets Society as one of their top movie picks. What did Robin Williams do that was so brilliant?

He had his students step out of the classroom for their learning.

Although, this movie was made in the 1990s, many students rarely step outside of their classrooms—with the exception of going on field trips. However, with budget cuts, field trips are usually one of the first expenses eliminated. This is a tragedy when you consider students that spend a good portion of their lives in school.

Why is a change in environment a brilliant idea?

When students figure out that they can learn from a portrait in a school's hallway, then the teacher has given them the gift of knowing that people can learn anywhere! The teacher has sparked their curiosity so that the students see the objects around them as having learning potential. In this way, the teacher has just helped the student carry the learning beyond the walls of the classroom and potentially outside the walls of the school. Just a simple act has created students who learn continuously in any kind of setting.

Moreover, students and teachers both need fresh air or a change in scenery to boost their creative juices. Often student behavior can be managed by having students get out of their desks and physically move. Moving outside the classroom for educational purposes may also appeal to different learning styles. Students will have the ability to use their other senses to learn.

Some lesson ideas include...

  • Round robin discussions — Students sit in small groups on the ground or on picnic benches and discuss a topic; one student keeps a record of the discussion. The class will then come together, with each group reporting its findings.

  • Make videos—One of my high school student's favorite lessons was recreating television commercials. First, each student group chose a commercial and analyzed the stereotypes or misconceptions in the commercial. Then the students tried to recreate the same commercial without the stereotypes or misconceptions.

  • Go on a scavenger hunt — Students can look for objects of a certain color, texture, and so forth. If you want to add a digital aspect, have them record certain sounds, and then have other students hunt for these sounds. Have the students take close-up pictures of objects and have others hunt for the object.

  • Do a field study — I've had elementary students hunt for fossils with a paleontologist, collect and analyze weather data with a meteorologist, and explore the microbes in a nearby river with a water engineer. A majority of these activities required only a phone call, and we even walked to some of the events. In Germany, school groups walk to several places or take public transportation, which lowers the cost to make more field trips possible.

  • Journal — Students can simply listen to the sounds around them and describe the experience in a journal, or each one can pick a place to sit and compose a poem, create a comic, or draw.

When you step outside your classroom your students will....

  • Get more physical activity, which promotes physical and mental well-being
  • Look forward to your classes
  • Learn to think outside the box, which will definitely help them in their future careers
  • Continue with these ideas outside of school and choose outside activities instead of staying inside and watching television.
What are some interesting ways you have taught “outside your classroom”?


Special thanks to guest blogger, Shelly Terrell, for her contribution to the Prestwick Cafe Blog.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a technology teacher trainer, English language teacher, and consultant for various language institutes, online schools, and educational institutes in Nepal, the US, Germany, and Italy. Explore her Teacher Reboot Camp Blog for tips on professional development and integrating technology effectively into the classroom. She can be reached via Twitter, @shellterrell.


Steve J. Moore said...

Thanks for writing this. I've been thinking about going outside all semester, but haven't had the impetus I needed to just do it. Now I am going to plan on it!

Danielle M. said...

For my deaf and hard-of-hearing students, leaving the classroom is part of our regular learning. A couple examples:
-We made a Thanksgiving book by walking all over the school taking pictures of the students saying "thank you" to often-overlooked staff members (secretaries, librarian, occupational therapist).

-When we study verbs, we go to the gymnasium to demonstrate different ways "to get from here to there." This was also a fun activity for word choice after we banned the word "went" from our writing projects.

Johanna Stirling said...

Yes, this is a useful topic. I think it is especially (but not only of course) important when students are studying in a native-speaking country. There really is no point in people coming all the way to the UK for example and then sitting in the classroom doing FCE practice papers!

At the moment I am teaching some Catalan Primary CLIL teachers and I am just planning a 'culture' lesson for them: I think I'll start by introducing them to either Animoto or Voicethread Then they are to go out into Norwich (a city in the east of England)city centre with their cameras. I want them to come back with some photos that illustrate differences between Norwich and Barcelona. They should stand somewhere and look at all the things that tell them that they are not in their own country. It could be the way the windows open on a building or the clothes people wear or the way people are eating in the street. It may just be shop opening hours. I just want them to be explicit about these differences. When they come back we work on the Voicethread or Animoto and discuss their work and observations.

Obviously this is specific to this situation, but I'm hoping it'll work!

Shelly Terrell said...


What types of activities were you thinking of doing with your students?

Shelly Terrell said...


These are brilliant activities you have suggested that would work for my English language learners as well! I bet your students are very motivated to learn and enjoy your class!

Shelly Terrell said...


I think you make a valid argument. English language learners really need to step out, get to know their new environment, and reflect on the differences. This helps them assimilate. I realized quickly how often my English language learners who were new to America tended to want to stay in the rooms provided by the host families. I had to work to get them to get out of their shells and take risks as well as motivate them to explore their environment.

I really like your lesson. I cannot wait to see the Animoto videos and will keep an eye out on your blog!