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Inspiring a Class into the 'Zone'

Athletes do it. Musicians do it. Good Skype teachers do it.

I’m referring to getting students ready and eager to absorb the day’s lesson. It’s what the late author/sportsman George Plimpton called the ‘Zone’; that moment of supreme concentration when the mind is clear, focused and prepared to function at a maximum level of excellence.

Watch Kobe Bryant shoot a three point “whistle blower” or Maria Sharapova hit a tennis serve and you’ll see athletes playing in the Zone.

Good teachers constantly make an effort to get their classes into the Zone. They may begin class with a few funny remarks. Some teachers will produce a pleasant surprise like a new visitor. Others might perform a dramatic antic like Robin Williams jumping up on his desk in the film, Dead Poet’s Society. These teachers understand the importance of having students who are not bored or resistant but anxious to learn.

Teachers using Skype are fortunate because they have several unique options for getting a class into the Zone. At TeachThe World Online for example, we like to get a discussion going about our students’ dreams for the future by playing Aladdin’s Magic Carpet on YouTube. There’s not a classroom in the world that won’t love watching this short musical which can then be followed by a discussion on the students’ own hopes and plans for the future. You can play this on your own screen and click on Share Screen so your students can watch it with you, or you can share the link via Skype’s instant messaging.

My own favorite way of getting students into the Zone is through the use of puppets. I used to entertain my own children with puppet shows so using it for a classroom is a natural extension of this wonderful teaching tool. One day, we also started a class in Cambodia by introducing them to our class in Nepal using Group Video. The students from both countries were thrilled with this surprise and their enthusiasm easily prevailed throughout the rest of that day’s class.

One of our teachers can play a guitar, so she opens her classes with a sing-a-long tied into the day’s lesson plans. She IM’s the lyrics in a chat with the students before starting the class and then encourages students to join her in singing. The students quickly learn the song and she then has them in the palms of her hands throughout the ensuing hour-long lesson.


A TWOL teacher gets his Haitian students into the Zone.

There are many other ways Skype makes it easy to get students ready for a great class. The only limitation is the teacher’s creativity and that, we hope, is without boundaries for inspiring a class into the all-important learning Zone.

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