Turning your whole school into your classroom: a practical guide

Shakespeare once said that the whole world can be a stage. Well, I think your whole school can be a classroom. Unfortunately, in most of the schools I visit, learning (and teaching) seems to be anchored in the classroom. So why should teachers take classes out of the classroom and use the rest of the school for learning?

Why get out of the classroom?

It can be challenging to get learners to move in class, especially if:

  • you teach in a small space.
  • your classroom has furniture which can’t be moved (like desks bolted to the floor).
  • you have more than twenty or thirty learners per class.

If that sounds like your classroom, a corridor or hall in your school could be an alternative venue for mingles, surveys and other communicative activities. As well as giving students room to move around, taking lessons out of the classroom and into the school can:

  • make lessons more memorable. Changing the location of learning helps students remember more.
  • create an opportunity to present language. Realia in the school can be used to teach new language instead of using flashcards or pictures in a coursebook.
  • be motivating and enjoyable. It’s fun to break with routine occasionally.
  • it encourages good behavior. I find students are usually well behaved when doing something novel and interesting.

In this article we’ll look at ways of moving learning out of the classroom and into the rest of the school. I’ll share activities which work well in different locations and we’ll also go over practical steps you should take before doing any of these activities.

Around the school

Let’s start by considering how we can use different areas in your school building to turn your whole school into your classroom. Later, we’ll look at using corridors and open spaces as a venue for more conventional classroom activities (like mingles, information gap activities, etc.)

The whole building

If students are learning about directions, they could make maps or give directions to places in the school. Students could write directions to a location and swap these with another group. The students could then follow the directions written by their classmates to see where they lead. Afterwards, those who followed the directions talk to the authors to check if they arrived at the intended destination.

Scavenger hunts

In a scavenger hunt, the teacher asks the students to search the school (or classroom) to find an object. After finding what they’re looking for, students can either write where it is, draw a picture of it or (if they have mobile phones) take a photo of it.

Tell older students to search the school in groups and come back to your classroom after a set period of time. For younger students, take them on a guided walk through the school. Ask learners to put up their hands when they find something they want to share with the rest of the class.

Students could be asked to find:

  • Colours (“Find something blue in our classroom.”)
  • Rooms (“Find the names of at least four different rooms in our school. Take a photo of each room.”)
  • Animals (“Find a picture of seven different animals in the school.”)
  • Clothes (“Find someone in the school who is wearing beautiful clothes. Write what they are wearing.”)
  • Objects matching adjectives (“Find something in the school which you think is interesting / funny / dangerous / new.”)

Other classrooms

Some schools might have spare rooms available where you can send half of your class. This is ideal for information gap and jigsaw activities. Send half of the students to the second classroom and keep the remainder of the students in the ‘home’ classroom. Show students in each room different information. Students could watch two halves of the same cartoon. After listening and taking notes, students return to the ‘home’ classroom to compare notes and try to answer questions about what they saw.

Playing fields and sports areas

If learning about sports, the class could take a trip to the playing fields and describe the sporting equipment there. Practice comparatives by asking groups of students to compete in track and field. Groups then report back to the rest of the class on who was faster (and slower) than whom, or who threw something further. A long (and empty) corridor could also host timed races.

Music rooms

Learning the names of musical instruments might be more memorable with a trip to the music department. Students could (attempt to) play an instrument, while the others guess what instrument they’re hearing (without looking).

Front desk

Some areas of the school can add context to role plays. For example, you could negotiate for your students to take over the front desk of the school to give information to school visitors. If you have a lunch hall, your students might be able to practice ordering food with each other in English.

People around the school

Practicing English with classmates is great, but it’s also useful for learners to speak to people older, younger and different to them. Depending on your school, you could for example arrange for your students to:

  • survey learners from another class. Your students could interview learners a grade level above them, asking for language learning advice. This might generate more interesting information than asking peers in the same class.
  • interview staff within the school. These could be teachers, administrative staff, front desk staff, cleaners, etc. These people might have different interests and opinions from the students. Depending on your context, these staff may not be able to speak English. If so, this is a great opportunity for your students to translate results from the interviews into English.
  • survey parents. Some schools might have a waiting area for parents, who might be willing to be interviewed by students. Check with them first, or make sure your students ask politely for permission.

Beyond the school

You may even find opportunities for language input and practice beyond your school. If your school is in a shopping mall, you’ll have stores nearby. Learning the names of shops by walking through a mall will probably be more memorable than learning these from pictures in a coursebook. Make sure you get permission to take your students outside the school beforehand.

Ask students to write directions (from memory) from your classroom to the nearest bank, shop, subway station and bus stop. After students have written these, take the whole class to visit these places, while learners check the accuracy of each other’s directions.

In the corridors and halls

In this section we’ll look at ways of using corridors and open spaces as a venue for more conventional classroom activities (like mingles, information gap activities, etc.). This is useful if you teach large groups of students in classrooms without much open space.

Hiding information

You can hide information (for example as part of an information gap activity) outside your classroom in the corridor. This ensures the students inside the classroom can’t see the information, and creates a need for the other students in the class to move (to see the information).

Gallery walks

In a gallery walk, the teacher puts content on the walls, spaced apart along a corridor. Each set of materials is a station where students do a mini-activity. Students rotate through the different stations in pairs, groups or as a whole class. The materials could be

  • flashcards of new vocabulary. The teacher could take kindergarten students on a make-believe ‘tour’ of where you might find these things (such as a zoo for animals, a supermarket for food or a town for places).
  • poetry. After reading each poem, student could discuss which they liked most/least (and why).
  • examples of students’ writing. The students read these and leave comments using colour coded post-it notes.
  • photos or pictures which students have to react to. Students could brainstorm adjectives to describe each image. They could decide as a group which image they’d most like to be displayed in the school foyer.
  • a reading passage cut up into small chunks. Students could read each chunk or paragraph, then decide on the order these should be in.
  • short passages for the students to read and take notes on. Students could read about challenges other learners have had studying English, then discuss suggestions or solutions.

If students work through the stations in pairs or groups, you’ll need to think about when students will move from one station to the next. You could tell students to move to the next station when they’ve finished at a previous station. Alternatively, give students a sign for when to move (for example, when a song in the background finishes or when you blink the lights on and off).

Themed whiteboards

For brainstorming activities, create places for students to write along a corridor or around a hall. These could be

  • a large piece of paper stuck to the wall or on a table.
  • a whiteboard.
  • a cleanable surface which learners can write on with board pens (windows work well for this)

Give each whiteboard a theme or topic. Ask students to spend a few minutes at each whiteboard writing ideas on the topic. Students could:

  • use this for revision by writing all the vocabulary they remember on a given topic on each board. Students add to what the previous group wrote and correct any mistakes they notice.
  • fill out charts on likes and dislikes. One (quiet) learner in each group could be assigned to be the group scribe. They would then need to ask others what to write (or for younger learners, draw).
  • brainstorm ideas for writing about different topics.
  • contribute to mind maps on different topics. This could help students revise or plan a writing assignment.

Whatever you ask students to write, keep it brief. Writing on a wall isn’t easy nor particularly useful (unless you’re a teacher).


Activities like surveys can be done as mingles in corridors or halls. Students can stand up and talk to as many classmates as possible to ask questions and collect information. Mingles can be organized in different ways such as:

  • students speaking to whoever they choose. This gives students control over who they talk to and works well in large open hallways or with small groups of students.
  • a doughnut. This works well with large groups of students in open spaces, like an assembly hall. Ask students to form two circles with the same number of students in each: one on the inside facing out and one on the outside facing in. Tell students on the outside to move one (or two, or three) spaces each time to find a new partner.
  • Conveyer belts. Ask students to stand in two rows facing each other on either side of a corridor. To change partner, ask all students to take one step to their right (or left). Each student should now have a new partner (except for the student at the end of the line, who needs to move to the start of the line).
  • Using music. Play a song and get students to walk zig-zag or dance to the music. When the music stops, students freeze and talk to the person nearest them.

Before you start

Before starting your next lesson in a corridor or hall, check with your school administration. If they think it’s alright, the next step is to think about

  • safety. Minimize the chances of any students getting hurt and make sure no one will go missing.
  • noise. A conversation activity in a corridor might disturb students and teachers in classrooms nearby. Check in advance to see if the noise from your class won’t disrupt students learning in nearby classrooms.
  • logistics. If you teach large classes (say more than thirty or forty students), figure out how long it will take to get to your students outside. Sixty students filing through the classroom door one by one might eat up a lot of valuable learning time.
  • timing. If you plan to do any activities which need other teachers (or their students) to take part, arrange a time in advance.
About the Author

Ross Thorburn

Ross Thorburn is a teacher trainer, materials writer and consultant based in Shanghai. Ross started his career in language teaching in 2006. He holds a Trinity DipTESOL, a Trinity FTCL TESOL, an IDLTM from the University of Queensland and a Master’s Degree in Language Education from NILE. Ross is also a keen researcher and has published research articles on teacher training, teacher motivation, task-based learning and young learners. In 2020, Ross published his first book, Inside Online Language Teaching. He also is the host of the TEFL Training Institute podcast.

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