Using your surroundings Ninja style

One aspect of Dogme teaching I particularly like is ‘using what’s in the room‘. From years of getting thrown into random classrooms with little notice or even when the class has started, the first thing I do is always LOOK. I check what’s there and then quickly adapt to exploit the available resources. Sadly, I don’t always dress up like a ninja, just sometimes as it’s a great stimulus for discussion.

Actually, one of my questions before I enter is “which room is it in?” to find out about internet access, projectors , desk arrangements, boards and the general space also to find out where the heck it is and if I have time for a cuppa.

The facilities in the room mean you have to adapt your lesson but also can open up new activities. The tip is to be positive even if you are going into a shoebox or a lecture room with 1000 seats but only 10 students. Ask yourself “what kinds of activities does this room lend itself to?”. To do this you must look at what is physically in the room.

I’ve come across a few rooms with 2 whiteboards which is great for competitive or group writing/drawing/dictation. A wheely flippable whiteboard is also brilliant for moving round and putting in the middle of a horseshoe layout then eat side can work on something or compete in a game. Many rooms have dictionaries or bookshelves so check out what there is and how you could use it. Then there’s the basic table/chair groupings. Move the desks to fit activities like having a circle of speakers and 1 notetaker at a table or moving all the tables away and just doing a whole class in a circle or 2/3/4.

One of my favourite activities for describing processes is to open up an old OHP and printer and ask pairs to explain how they work. Another for measurements is to have 1 student inspect the TV and explain the design with accurate measurements to the class who draw them. With lower levels I’ve even  asked them to create directions for their partner to leave their desk and go to a specific place in the school. They then go and see if they can follow them and to find if there is a mistake.

Check out the room  or as they say in the films ‘scope the place’, then see what you can adapt or invent to take advantage of what you have. Don’t moan that you can’t do group work because the desks are bolted down, figure out what you CAN do and do it NINJA style!


8 thoughts on “Using your surroundings Ninja style

  1. Being a student in your class must be incredibly exciting Phil!

    I haven’t asked myself which activities my rooms lend themsevles to you know. Ok, so my classroom is a typical high-school desks and chairs layout with a blackboard, no pictures on the wall and very little in the way of anything. What would you see, in the mind of the ninja, when you walked in?


    • I wish it was but I’m always tied down with admin. I really would love to work in a language school again for a week or even just a day because you have such freedom and motivated students, not to mention stuff you can move round.

      Could you post a photo of your classroom and then we (well, me and anyone else) can all add ideas? Would be a great EFL Experiments 2.

      You can also ‘think outside the classroom’ ie what can you move in/out (desks,chairs,students,people). Towards the end of my language school teaching in London I began to experiment with this and managed to get directors, DOS’s, admin staff and activities organisers involved in activities. Then I sent students off into the courtyard and selected shops/businesses. I did some team teaching projects and we even started some classes outside and only used the classrooms (any free and chosen by the students) as a base of operations. Some chose the canteen, others the student room but after a week or so most said they preferred a small classroom for group work. I think there were early signs of Dogme there maybe.

      Thanks Dale and I really would like to see a picture, mail me it or even post it on your blog.

  2. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for the ninjas!!

    I think we both have the same experience of teaching in lots of different (sometimes strange) rooms. In fact, sometimes not even rooms: canteens, foyers etc… I often teach in my students’ offices with all of their work around them. This gives me so many opportunities for developing useful language related to the very “here and now”. I had a great lesson once with a one-to-one student who wanted to know all the names for the items of stationery in her office. We made up a fun game which saw us both running around the room touching different items and shouting out the names. Not sure what her colleagues thought of all the crashing around, but she sure knew those words by the time we were finished!

    The classrooms I teach in are sometimes like Dale’s – not much there to work with. This week I did a lesson on describing things which turned into a kind of “Changing Rooms” (remember that interior decorating programme?) session where the students decided how they would improve the room. They had some great ideas and I wish I had taken them in to give to the boss!!

    Being aware of our surroundings in life can give us so much. It’s so easy to flit around from place to place without noticing what is there in front of us. Opening our eyes to the wonders of the world we inhabit can improve our understanding of where we are both physically and mentally, and our ability to deal with the ever changing landscape of life. And this can only be a good thing for our learners, as we will be more able to work with them in their “present” and therefore with their needs and interests.

    Thanks for this Phil! As ever, a thought provoking post.


    • Cheers Jem.

      I see you have reached EFL enlightenment as you have become one with your surroundings. Or rather, you use what there is. I do like variety in teaching and rooms are just one type. I’m also very nosy so I always look around and play with equipment and books that other people just say “I never noticed” about. I’ve found a working IWB, a mobile listening lab, whole class sets of books and even electronic dictionaries.

      I like your ‘changing rooms’ idea ie if the room has nothing then change it either physically or mentally.

      Perhaps the worst topic in a book I did in 2010 year was ‘plugs’.Yes, plugs. The main activity was comparing plugs. To save everyone’s sanity we redesigned the room with different plugs depending on each person’s nationality and made a blueprint to enable students to use laptops easily but also taking into consideration factors like electrical wiring and safety.

      I’ve also had ‘mid-lesson room changes’ more than once which certainly needs a lot of adapting to.

      • And after about 5 minutes of proper out-loud laughter, she stops.

        PLUGS???!! Truly amazing. Oh to be a fly on the wall when that idea was hatched!

        Sounds like you made the best of it though.

        I think I’ve had a couple of mid-lesson rooms changes too. In fact, yesterday, I started teaching the wrong class in the wrong room. Only realised when their teacher came in a few minutes late as I was sitting there in full conversational flow. Well done me.


        • That was the best chapter, honest! I even challenged them to debate me on why the British one was best (3 pins).

          Oh yes, wrong rooms. Had that many times. I even observed the wrong presentations once for about an hour. I do love it when students figure out they are in the wrong lecture though and get up and have to explain while others just stay to avoid the loss of face.

  3. I’m confident I’ll never dress up as a ninja, but I do like the title of your post very much. For some reason, ninjas and zombies always catch my eye.

    As for my rooms, there’s almost nothing ever in it but desks and a blackboard (or potentially two). I enjoy them though.

    Ok, so this was a pointless comment. I realise that. 😉

    • Never say never mate.

      Zombies? I keep meaning to do a TBL on those but never get round to it.

      Nothing? Could you takes stuff in? Like mini-whiteboards? Check out Chia’s ideas on her blog. You also change the dynamic with handouts, books, listening equipment even where you sit. I remember Steve A observed me and said I should start sitting or standing in different places. It definitely keep students on their toes. I used to have 2 whiteboards at either end of the class and used to work on one and then move to the other if it was needed it also made splitting in the class desks in half possible so there was an aisle from board to board or having groups work on each board. Different but fun and so something to get students out of the ‘sit down opposite board, book out, look blank’ idea.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s