Amanda Koonlaba | November 2018

ABCs to Shake-Up the Learning Environment

“Learning Environment” is a broad term that is defined around the internet as being the diverse contexts, physical spaces, and cultures where students learn. When I think of contexts for learning, I think of a wide array of ways that students receive their instruction and present their learning. So, with that in mind, I brainstormed a list of unconventional considerations for learning environments.

Let this list lead your imaginative teacher brains on the path to shaking up the learning environment where you teach.

A is for…Armchairs for independent reading.  Think: snuggling up with a good book…

B is for…Bosu Balls for strengthening motor skills while listening

C is for…Clutter-Free spaces.  Hide things in cabinets and behind curtains so the overall space appears visually organized).

D is for…Discussion to harness the social nature of human beings by building opportunities to talk into lessons.

E is for…Exercise by taking brain breaks with programs like Move-to-Learn.

F is for…Format Choices.  Let students decide how they want to present their learning. Some examples are vodcasts, written works, etc.

G is for…Goal-Setting to let students take ownership of their success.

H is for…Hangouts.   Use Google to bring in professionals who use the skills you are teaching in their careers. Hint: DreamWakers can make it happen FOR FREE!

I is for…Integration of the Arts to show students the connectivity of everything in life.

J is for…Juxtaposition.  Take two seemingly unrelated things and have students reason how they actually are related.

K is for…Kalimba.  Play during transitions to help students maintain a reasonable noise level.

L is for…Labels can support students language development especially when native languages and English are both used.

M is for…Music from different cultures in the background while students are working.  Think outside the box: bluegrass, didgeridoos, karaoke rap beats without the hooks, etc.

N is for…Natural Lighting.  Open the blinds and supplement with lamps if needed.

O is for…Open-Ended Projects that don’t have a right or wrong answer.

P is for…Promotion to teach students to become confident when they know how to positively portray themselves to others.  Think: Self-promotion on social media in a positive way.

Q is for…Quagmires, like Escape Rooms, where students are given a predicament they must reason their way through to a conclusion.

R is for…Read Aloud.  Read to the students and have them read to each other.  Think: variety, as in newspapers, picture books, chapter books, blog posts, magazine articles, quotes, etc.

S is for…STEAM takes everything from academic learning to social/emotional experiences to a much deeper level!

T is for…Team Challenges.

U is for…Umbrellas, tents, and canopies can make nooks to give students a sense of privacy.

V is for… Vocabulary.Encourage students to use academic vocabulary when they chat about their learning (See: D – Discussion).

W is for…Warmth.  Keep some little comforters in the room for students who get chilly.

X is for…Xenial, or having a friendly relationship with another party.  Let students move between classrooms of cooperating teachers to do their work when they need a change in environment. 

Y is for…Yoga Mats and clipboards for working comfort.

Z is for…Zones for identifying areas of the classroom.  Think about calling different zones of the classroom different names so students know where they should be focusing.

About the Author

Amanda Koonlaba, Ed. S. is an educator and educational consultant with over 12 years of experience teaching both visual art and regular education. Her career has been driven by the power of the arts to reach all learners. She is a published author and frequent speaker/presenter at education conferences. Amanda was named the Elementary Art Teacher of the Year for the state of Mississippi in 2016 and received the Arts Integration Service Award from the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative (Mississippi Arts Commission) in 2015. She holds an Elementary and Middle Childhood Art certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As a coach for The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, Amanda is on a mission to ensure every student in America has access to a high-quality arts-based education. She blogs at