Active English - an exciting new teaching medium !

 “Active English” is a phrase I have coined referring to the teaching of English communication skills through the mediums of  sport, outdoor education and the arts.  Its not meant to replace the standard classroom lesson but to be a valuable supplement to it.  For me, its sort of coming full circle because I spent many years as Head of PE and Outdoor Education in a high school in the UK and the last 14 years teaching and building an English school business in Japan.  This skill set makes it logical for me to to try and take this exciting new medium of Active English ( AE ) to the next level. 

Actually, its not an entirely new medium, as teachers have been involved in AE from many years gone by.  Confucius said in his Chinese proverb :- "Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.”  We have known for many years that for many students, the incorporation of hands-on experiences leads to higher levels of engagement and learning. In 1915, John Dewey discussed "learning by doing," later termed "experiential learning.” Nowadays,  several initiatives including the maker movement and project-based learning (PBL) incorporate the fundamentals of hands-on learning for all students. The idea is to include and involve learners in experiences that will help them to learn the content and skills being taught. This includes using physical objects that can be manipulated, and can be extended in education to include physical movement by the student in the classroom. And of course TPR is very much in vogue today. Today in our industry, creative educators have been producing some great new music and videos in addition to interactive online learning, all forms of AE.

In partners, teams or small groups, collaboration and communication are also involved. Communication is also included when students write or speak about the activity.  This team work and the need for verbal and body language communication lends itself nicely the the subjects of sport, outdoor education and the arts.

In this, part 1 of my AE Blog, I will keep it general, and in part 2 I will talk more about the science behind Active English.

One important point I have noticed in my many years of teaching in the classroom is something I have termed  SLL ( Spacial Learning Limitation ).  I have noticed that students when learning for example, a new set of phrases, associate these phrases with the environment in which they are learned. If you then meet these students in the local park or supermarket and talk to them using the same phrases, they look at you like you are an alien !! To counter this we now train teachers to mix up the location for learning by moving kids around the inside and outside of the school while doing certain activities and to have the students engage more with other teachers and foreigners who are in or visit the school.

This year, we conducted an experiment whereby we ran two, 2 day “Active English” camps for kids, one in the mountains/river environment and one on the beach. We teamed up with our Active English partners, a school called Kids PE. Half the students were at the camp to study English through outdoor education and the other half from Kids PE were only there for the outdoor education  experience. What was interesting was that by the lunchtime of the first day, many of the Kids PE students were instinctively trying to speak English to the native English speaking teachers, while doing sporting activities. They were not prompted to, or under any pressure to do so. This to me was very interesting !  If you had told them to do this, especially in a classroom situation, I am convinced many would not have done it.  

I believe that we are all creatures of habit, and that by breaking the habits of learning and the physiological effects of exercise we can promote creative thinking, enhanced learning and break down the shyness barrier.  I intend to talk more about all of this in part 2 of this article entitled - “ Active English - the science behind it “

If you would like to learn more about AE and get involved in what we do, please visit our  website - , all content is free.


Ian Simpson

Ian Simpson