Skip to main content

5 'unplugged' lesson ideas

This teacher challenged himself to switch off his computer and give analogue teaching a go – and thinks you should, too

Lesson without computers

This teacher challenged himself to switch off his computer and give analogue teaching a go – and thinks you should, too

Answer this: when was the last time you went a whole day without using a computer in your lessons? 

If you teach a practical subject like art or PE, the answer might be "all the time". But if, like me, you teach a more "academic" subject, I bet you use a computer in almost every lesson.

Why do we use computers so much? Because they're great. They let us show pictures and videos at the touch of a button. They make it possible to play sounds, live-stream and to engage students with all kinds of whizzy tricks.

Digital technology has revolutionised our classrooms.

Yet not everyone wants the "perfect" digital product. Despite music now being readily available through apps in carefully mastered digital formats, sales of vinyl records are on the increase, with 4.1 million records being sold in the UK in 2017. Vinyl is bulky, inconvenient and unreliable, but it provides what some would call a more unique and authentic sound.

What's this got to do with teaching? Well, our students don’t get the option to buy the non-digital version of our product. But if they could, do you think they would?

'Shut down your computer for a day'

I challenge you to give analogue teaching a go. Shut down the computer for a day and try some of these unplugged teaching activities

These ideas are not new, but they are activities that sometimes get forgotten about when the interactive whiteboard is the focus of the classroom.

Tell your students that what they’re about to do will never be shared, copied or repeated, that this lesson is one-of-a-kind – and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it.

Get them talking

Good, old-fashioned discussion is a great way to get students engaged in the topic and takes very little time to set up. When introducing a new topic, I like to reveal the information slowly and get students to discuss each point as it gets revealed. I encourage them to change their minds and consider other viewpoints.

For example, when introducing An Inspector Calls, we talk about who is responsible for the sinking of the Titanic. Each person in a group takes on a role, from the ship's designer who used cheap rivets, to the captain who ignored iceberg warnings. It prepares them for the idea of responsibility, which they’ll need to consider in the play, and starts to lay the context for the pre-war setting.

Props and artefacts

It’s incredible how energetic students can get about a tangible object – so much more so than seeing a picture of the same object on a screen. In the English classroom, I find that this works really well for descriptive writing. Half the class have to close their eyes and their partners have to describe an object selected from a prop box, be it a costume crown or a bongo drum. This gets them to really think about how to bring things to life for the reader. Props are also great as writing prompts and can be used to help create backstories for characters. 

Extended investigation

Get students to work in teams to answer an open-ended question or solve a problem. The resources they have are up to you. I often use a pile of textbooks from the library, a couple of printed fact sheets, and let groups ask me one question. In order to complete the task, they not only need to know how to look something up (without simply typing it into Google!), but also how to work as a team and corroborate information.

Teaching through stories

A story is just information with a soul. Our students are used to listening to stories, they’ve done it for years – and I don’t think we do it enough. Next time you’re introducing a new topic or event, write down the key points and tell a story around it. Don't read from a sheet, but tell it in your own words, in the grand tradition of oral storytelling. Students will retain the information far better this way than if you just talk them through the key facts.

Roleplay, interviews and the hot seat

My students love this. Even in Year 11 they will talk for weeks after the exercise about that time they had to pretend to be…

Hotseating can be used in any subject, but in English it allows pupils to really get inside the skin of a character and tell us what they are thinking and feeling, while the rest of the class get the benefit of coming up with questions to ask.

Luke Richardson is an English teacher and blogger. He tweets @LukeRicha 

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you