You go into a fast food restaurant. It’s painted red and is incredibly noisy. You eat quickly and leave. Just what the restaurant wants – a quick turnover so that it can serve more clients in less space (1).
What the students see. A cold classroom …
Think of any crime investigation series that you’ve seen on TV recently – and think of their interrogation room. Bare walls, bad lighting, an unattractive table and a couple of hard, uncomfortable chairs surrounded by intimidating empty space. The message is clear – we don’t want you to enjoy this.
The way a room is furnished and decorated sends out a psychological message that can affect both the mood and the behaviour of the people in it. Which means that if we want our students to feel comfortable, relaxed, valued and unthreatened, we need to provide physical surroundings which create those feelings. Unfortunately, the cold, sterile decor and shabby furniture found in many classrooms often does quite the opposite.
Here are a few ideas for making the room feel “warmer” and less inhibiting. (You may also be able to think of other ideas - use the comments section to tell us!) You don’t need to (and probably won’t want to) adopt them all. They won’t all be suitable for every teaching situation and you may sometimes be blocked by external factors. How much you can do will depend on whether the room is on your territory (eg in the school you work for) or on the client’s (eg in-company), and on whether the room is “yours”, whether you are only in there once a week, and so on. But often even one small change can make a difference.
- Get rid of the bare walls – stick up calendars, posters and other pictures. Make collage posters – cut pictures out of magazines showing vocabulary items which you want your students to remember, and add the names.
- Put up a notice board with sections such as Cartoon of the week, Quote of the week, This week’s learning tip, or Idiom of the week to give students something to look at as they come in. Mix humorous items with serious ones.
- Add some soft furnishings – cushions on the chairs, or a pretty tablecloth to cover the teacher’s desk. Think about the colours you are using and their likely psychological effect. For example, colour consultants suggest choosing orange to increase energy and enthusiasm, but blue to aid concentration (2).
- Keep a vase in the classroom and ask students to contribute cut flowers from their gardens. Or add some plants to the room – cuttings taken from your own or students’ houseplants will soon grow into good-sized plants.
- If you have a small group in a large room, arrange the seating pattern so that the students are at the front of the room with the intimidating empty space behind them.
- Use background music while students are coming into the room, or during breaks, to provide a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
- Use opportunities like Christmas to put up decorations. Or just let the students arrive one day to find balloons tied around the room.
...can be warmed up considerably by the simple addition of a few plants.