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Thinking Outside the Box

I am sure I am not the only one who loves the start of a new topic or theme. The thing I love most about it is the excitement of the immersion lesson, getting the children hooked and begging to find out more!

Some of my more creative ways of doing this in the past have been transforming my classroom into a tropical rainforest with sounds, plants, and stuffed animals hanging off the ceiling or throwing a Mexican fiesta party on the first day back at school for the new term with nachos, pinatas and a Mariachi band. I know that some may not agree with such unconventional methods and see it all as a bit ‘out there’ but I love to see the look on their faces when they enter the room, beaming! (more like ‘what’s he gone and done now?!’) My most recent one was a mystery trail around the school grounds during an inspection for our extreme sports topic which even involved a bit of rock climbing.  I’m pleased to say this went down a treat and the inspectors could see how engaged learners were at the very beginning of the topic and even joined in! In fact, that’s the whole idea around it, getting everyone engaged and enthusiastic about learning no matter the topic. I like to mix things up, interact with nature and be creative!

Immersion lessons are nothing new of course as I remember when I was in school we learned about Celts. The first thing we did as a class was go on a trip to a Celtic hillfort in West Wales. It was amazing and I can still remember it to this day. I remember thinking how real it all was walking across the magical bridge to go back in time and I instantly wanted to know more about the Celts and how they lived. Those memories have lasted with me and also sparked a slight interest in history. In that sense, it all worked as I developed a love for learning. I was inspired and still am to this day about history and how people lived. I was not just inspired about the way Celts lived but about the way my teachers engaged us as learners with new topics.  I believe my teachers saw learning through the eyes of children and this is exactly what I do to this day in my class. I think to myself and discuss it with colleagues, asking the question, ‘would I want to learn this way?’ Ask yourself next time you plan something, it could change the way you teach forever!

As educators we have a choice. We can either choose to get the textbook out and start on page one (of course there is a time and place for this) or we can think outside the box and really go to town on it. I’d prefer to go with the latter. I love planning it all out, sneaking props in, setting it all up ready for the big reveal. How exciting! The next part is just as exciting too. That’s when I listen to the opinion of learners and find out what they know and want to know, again nothing new about a topic but the way we do it at my school is by a menu of learning. They influence the planning of a new topic once it has been introduced. I love the way they come up with ideas and lessons that I could never think of. I feel that involving children in this way keeps me on my toes and helps to keep the flame alive! I read a quote once which has stuck with me, ‘Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude’ Dave Burgess.

Reading that quote to myself again has made me think of an even more important reason for providing exciting and engaging experiences for learners and not just as part of immersion lessons. The part of the quote that says, ‘Provide an uncommon experience’. We don’t just impart knowledge and wisdom or provide the tools for learning at school. We also provide children with opportunities to try new things and perhaps things that they would not get elsewhere.  Many of my immersion lessons could be classed as ‘uncommon experiences’ such as walking into a tropical rainforest or being marched into class by Roman soldiers to see the Emperor (me) but for some children, many of the experiences and activities some of us may class as ‘common’ are unfortunately uncommon to them. As part of one immersion lesson a few years back we went to the beach to look at rock pools. For a small handful of children, it was the first time they had ever visited the seaside and played in sand. It’s such a rewarding thought that we have the power to provide children with these exciting learning experiences and also memories which last forever.

The last part of the quote by Dave Burgess has made me think about my classes over the years, ‘…and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude.’ If I am totally honest, I have been very lucky to have students who have given 100% effort and attitude to learning and the challenges they faced at all times.
Here are my top tips for immersion lessons:

  • Plan ahead, think carefully about what you want to do and how you are going to do it, is it going to be in the classroom, outside or maybe a field trip?
  • Use a variety of props, visuals and music to set the scene.
  • Stay in character if you are dressing up or playing a part (children love it).
  • Ask colleagues and parents to help.
  • Enjoy, let yourself go and have fun!

I hope this has inspired you in some way to either keep doing what you do so well, sparking fun in learning and keeping the flame burning. Perhaps others will reflect on the words of Dave Burgess and provide more uncommon experiences for learners and see learning through the eyes of children. I would also love to think that any of my students past or present who are lucky enough to become teachers remember the learning experiences they were provided with and take them forward in their own teaching.

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The author

Adam started his career after graduating from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David where he studied Primary Education. He has taught in Wales and overseas including Dubai and Malaysia where he taught in large private schools across primary and secondary. Adam returned to Wales a few years ago with his wife to start a family and is continuing his career as a Primary teacher and Learning Coach. He is an author and contributor to the Times Education Supplement and enjoys spending time travelling with his family and playing tennis. He is also passionate about curriculum development and innovative learning.

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