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Learning Away From the Classroom

Maureen St. George

One of my favorite things to do with adult students is to get out of the classroom, or at least turn the classroom into something that doesn’t resemble one. Some schools offer outside activities that students can sign up for, like cooking classes, hikes and movie nights. Other schools or head teachers may need some convincing to get students out of the traditional classroom setting, but there are so many positives to practicing English outside of the students’ “safe” environment that it’s worth it to put in the work to start this kind of program.

empty class

Teaching the Language Through Food
If the teacher is unable to physically leave the classroom with the students, it’s easy enough to transform the classroom. For a year, I ran a bi-monthly cooking workshop in my classroom that was a big hit with the students. In addition to learning new vocabulary for food and food-related actions, students were responsible for the whole thing. This helped develop their teamwork skills and ability to work under time constraints, and they loved the sense of accomplishment when it all came together, especially since most of them admitted they didn’t know how to cook. Celebrating holidays around the world is a great excuse to whip up some international dishes and learn about different cultures and the words for their food that were never Anglicized.

If the school doesn’t have a kitchen or large kitchen related items, cooking is still possible. Salads, hummus and no-bake desserts are all examples of foods that don’t need heat. Other examples of ways to repurpose the classroom are movie night, pub quiz, chocolate tasting, craft workshops, and anything else that fits the criteria of fun, educational and cultural.

Stepping Outside of The Classroom
The possibilities multiply if teachers can take their students outside. Simply having class outside opens the senses to the hustle and bustle around them, and having students describe what they see is an easy warm-up. Hosting talk time in a café or dinner in a restaurant will force students to sit in a different formation, next to people they may not know, and practice small talk.

There are so many positives to practicing English outside of the students’ “safe” environment that it’s worth it to put in the work to start this kind of program.

If time and budget allow, longer excursions allow the conversation to flourish in unexpected ways. The list of possibilities is endless: hikes, museum trips, paintball, art classes, local historic sites, and workshops are just some excellent ways to support the local community and ease the students out of their comfort zones. Teachers should be prepared with games or tasks, like a treasure hunt or simply a list of questions for students to consider and use to strike up a conversation with each other.

Leaving it Up to The Students
Of course, the biggest sign of improvement is when students willingly use English outside the classroom on their own. The teacher could consider turning this into a contest, and have students keep a diary of when and how often they used English when going about their own lives. Another idea is to put the power in the students’ hands while practicing writing skills. Have them write up an idea for a so-called English Club. Where would they go, what would they do, how would it improve their English? The more they see how easy it is to plan and execute an idea involving English, the more likely they’ll act on it. Students can give feedback on others’ ideas and say which ones they’d join.

I had several groups of students who often went on hikes and whatnot together, and it was heartening to see how fast their English improved. The more students who join together to practice, the more (positive) pressure there is to show off their English, which usually helps the students gain confidence and a bigger vocabulary. When other students see how much fun these groups are having they’ll likely start something of their own, too.

What about you? What are some of the ways you get out of the traditional classroom setting?

About the author

Maureen is a US-born, Hong Kong-based freelance editor and writer who has taught ESL all over the world. Traveling is her main hobby, and there's nothing she enjoys more than having a carefully planned trip go completely awry.