Tabula Rasa – Entering the Classroom With a Blank Mind

Have you ever felt as if you are a tabula rasa? Incidental learning and Inquiry-Based Learning are important because they give your students a certain amount of freedom, but what happens if you do not have a plan at all? Have you ever gone into the classroom without a clear plan of activities? Keep on reading to see how I managed to pull through a lesson like this.

I love reading research, and I enjoy learning about various teaching methods, so I always come up with ideas very fast when I plan my lessons. My colleagues always ask me where do I get my ideas. They are also always shocked when I say that my activity ideas come from theory. Knowing theory allows you to redefine it, and get creative, while also developing a learning environment around you.

How can we incorporate Inquiry-Based Learning in a high-structured curriculum?

A method that gives a lot of freedom to children is Inquiry-Based Learning. In this method, a teacher is a moderator, and the children are active learners. The teacher is there to lead the children through the discovery steps. Read this article on British Council Teaching English to read more about the Geo-Inquiry process. You will not actually act as tabula rasa here since you know the steps of the Inquiry-Based Learning, but I think it counts as no planning since you will not have a clear plan.

I used Geo-Inquiry with my preschoolers when I was too busy preparing for a big conference. The activity fit perfectly into our environmental curriculum since it dealt with environmental issues. I posted a question, and children were asked to detect an environmental problem around the preschool. They discovered that there is too much noise around the preschool, so we started researching where does this issue appear the most and why. Inquiry-Based Learning is amazing because it promotes multiple 21st-century skills, and you can explore any topic. The lesson turned into a successful project, and it all happened completely naturally.

Here are the steps of the Geo-Inquiry process:
  1. ASK – develop a Geo-Inquiry question;
  2. COLLECT – acquire geographic information;
  3. VISUALIZE – organize and analyze geographic information;
  4. CREATE – develop Geo-Inquiry stories;
  5. ACT – share Geo-Inquiry stories.
Even if you didn’t manage to plan a lesson, certain steps could help you. Here are the things you should know:

Know your classroom – If you know your classroom, it will be easy to plan a sudden lesson. You know what resources you have at hand, and what is already available in the room.

Know your curriculum – If you know the framework of your curriculum (and you must know since you made it), you know exactly on which topics and skills you should focus. By following your syllabus, you can see what should be the topic today, and the outcomes and tasks should become clear to you.

Know your students – Conducting a lesson without preparation should only be done with students we already know. By knowing the students, we already have information about their learning gaps, aptitudes, likes, and dislikes and their preferred learning style. This can help us brainstorm activities the students will like.

Know your methodology – Every time I learn something new, I write reflections that help me remember what I learned. The same goes for teaching methodology – I have created a teacher portfolio with my favorite teaching methods, and I use it often. It is crucial to know at least basic teaching methods to be able to plan an activity on the spot.

And a bit more things you should know:

Know your materials – I have a collection of books, a collection of pdf materials, and a big flashcard collection. Knowing that you have a lot of resources ready to be used instantly is crucial. Recycling old lesson plans is also a great idea. My pdf files are organized by subject and by topic, so I can use them anytime. Keeping a list of websites with educational materials in English is something every teacher should do as well.

Know warm-ups and activities by heart – After some time, you are bound to remember warm-ups and various activities by heart. Why not modify them to fit your theme and recycle some old activities?

Know your community – If you brainstorm an idea to take children outside, do some exploration, and follow the Inquiry-Based Learning approach, make sure to know your community. You need to know where all the important places are located, and you need to have a connection with people in the community if you want to take the children to a surprise visit in a bakery shop and see how is bread made behind the scenes. (Just an example.)

Know your limits – Knowing your limits is probably the most important thing when it comes to conducting a lesson without a plan. It can happen once in a while since we are all human, but it mustn’t become a regular thing.

To conclude

After seeing all the things you need to know to let yourself not have a lesson plan and enter the classroom as tabula rasa, you will see that your teaching is already structured, despite you having no clear ideas on what to do before you entered the classroom.

Teaching without a detailed plan is a regular part of low-structured curriculums, and some freedom and student autonomy should be included even in the high-structured curriculums. Know that you are doing the best you can every day and remind yourself that teaching an effective lesson without a detailed plan requires a lot of background knowledge and resource preparation you already did in the past!

Less can be more sometimes, but don’t let the ”less” in your classroom just stay ”less” without the ”more.”

Have you ever stepped into the classroom with a blank mind and no lesson plan? What did you do when you become a tabula rasa? What did you learn from this experience? Write in the comments, I would like to know!

Article originally published on British Council Teaching English.

Resources for further reading:

Alice Glass

About Alice Glass

Alice is a 27 years old preschool teacher (Pre-K) with a B.Ed. She is currently enrolled in her Master studies, with a double major, one of them being English teaching methodology. She is also an online ESL teacher and blog writer for British Council. Last but not least, she is a mother of a very energetic toddler.

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