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How to Facilitate an Interactive Session

Interaction and facilitation are two of the most important skills to conduct education and outreach sessions on environment and conservation. An interactive session when facilitated after a well made documentary will lead to a deep understanding in students on the importance of protecting our ecosystems. However, once is not enough. Repeated engagement through hands-on learning is needed during students growing up years for them remember, imbibe and actively take part as citizens enabling conservation action.

Students and a teacher taking part in an interactive session: Photo courtesy: The Gerry Martin Project

In the recent years, I ensure that every session I design, co-create and facilitate aligns with ‘Blooms Taxonomy’. It is a widely used educational framework (See below) that caters to learning outcomes in students at a knowledge-based, emotion-based and action-based level. Extensive studies have been done about Bloom’s taxonomy, which are available online and as books.

The ten activities in this article are the ones I often use to introduce students to environment and conservation. I choose them depending on the students’ grade level (Primary, middle, higher secondary), content, availability of time and support from co-facilitators.

Prepare quizzes

Quizzes are one of the simple ways to start an interaction, especially when followed after a film. You could tell students prior to showing the film that you will conduct a quiz on it and give them prizes. These prizes could be up-cycled products. For example, when showing the film ‘Save Our Sholas’ by filmmaker Shekar Dattatri, a quiz can be prepared based on the species and stories from the film. The answers are in the film itself. Such quizzes can be used anytime in the future, if you prepare them once with easy, medium and hard questions, and document them.

Engage inclusively

As facilitators, we must do our best to engage all students during interaction. Moving consciously around the room to make sure they are heard is pertinent to a successful session. Here is my interpretation on how a good facilitator's mind functions during interaction. The blue dot in the center is the facilitator.

"Whether we are in a classroom, a circle, or outdoors, let us move around from where we are to engage students inclusively."

Preempt student questions

Students have a lot of questions if the session involves a story that perks curiosity and holds their attention. It is up to us to facilitate in a way they feel comfortable to ask questions. When interacting with students using the visual medium, we can preempt probable questions they might ask by watching the film or listening to the story the previous day. We can implement this by putting ourselves in the shoes of a student to note down the questions they might ask. For example, when students watch the film ‘Save Our Sholas’, two invariable questions that have asked me was, why does a King Cobra open it jaws while feeding on a snake? How does one feel while walking inside a Shola forest? So,

“Making a list of questions that students might ask, and keeping a few ready to show photos will add a lot of value to the success of our session.”

Respond in a succinct way

Conveying Articulate answers to students questions is a skill in itself. One of the simple ways is,

“Respond to the question briefly. Support the answers with succinct information/experience. Summarise in the end”

Engage with arts

Art is a great world to connect students with nature.

“Every interactive session can be connected with arts. It should be guided well."

For example, students could be guided to sketch about the film they saw, the story they heard, the environment they see along their way to school and their earliest memory of nature. There is a lot to learn from such art work which can be used to improve our own programs in a particular locality.

Create a wall for news

Students can be encouraged to read news on environment and conservation. An activity for this could be introduced during an interactive session.

"An ‘Environment wall,’ could be initiated. It is a space where three charts are stuck together for students to paste newspaper articles they have read."

A collage of student read news articles pasted on the 'Environment Wall' in schools.

This works well in a town/village setting. While the efficacy of news is a question, this approach provides students avenues to stay updated on what’s happening to our environment.

Introduce environment-friendly practices

People who make the biggest difference are the ones who do the little things consistently. Environment-friendly practices like composting, recycling and reducing our consumption are those little things. These can be introduced to students during any session.

"A stark fact about how practising environment-friendly ways can reduce our impact on the planet when combined with an inspiring story of a person from the region practising them will connect very well with the students."

Connecting students with their families

"A great way to open students realm of thinking on nature during an interactive session is by introducing them the ways to find stories on changes in their environment."

This can be done by providing students with an activity to interact with their parents, grandparents, teachers and elders in the school. Through this, stories about ponds, seasonal changes, and ecosystems like wetlands and lakes can be documented from their own locality. Arts Educator Srivi Kalyan designed this activity called ‘Bridge The Gap’ which was received very well by the students. This can be introduced to students after a film screening on Chilika Lake or India’s Disappearing Beaches. Students could be divided into groups to find stories from teachers within their school.

An illustration by a middle school student who mapped changes in the environment around in his locality.

Conduct Role plays

"Students are excited with role plays. They create a synergy between them and their teachers."

Simulating a real life situation through a role play helps activate the learning outcomes of the session. Films like Mindless Mining, The Race to Save The Amur Falcon, and India's Disappearing Beaches, by Shekar Dattatri can be followed with a role play activity. Both Bridge The Gap and Role Play aligns very well 6-stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which are, remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate and create.

Include Board Game sessions

"There is nothing like including fun activities like board games to teach students about environment and conservation."

Recently, an interesting board game was designed by Games Designer Santhosh of 'The Elf School' for Karthavyam, a student diploma program developed at HLC International School. Through this game called 'Watch Out', students were introduced to observe public problems around their locality. Such a game can be conducted stand alone, or with many other sessions.

Allocate time for reflections

"Reflections are perfect closures for a session. At the same time, they provide starting points for many to begin their journey as environmentally conscious citizens."

Student reflections can be directed by asking them to write one-line feedback on a chart about one aspect of the session they liked, and one aspect that they wish was included (I wish…I like…) It could be a set of questions for students towards the end of the session to recollect their learnings too. Whatever the method is, refrain from asking them to write a page about your session!

Finally, we must keep in mind that, no two awareness sessions are the same, because, every school and every student group is unique. There are always surprises in every class. So, the planning, conducting and interacting phases will change accordingly. Therefore, we must consider these ‘How Tos’ as pointers and tools to create our own sessions to introduce students to environment and conservation in the best way possible. We must move away from considering these pointers as techniques and focus on creating a learning environment that honours and develops students capacities in learning the topic. Like the quote in Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach, “It is about time we remember that it’s the person within the teacher that matters most in education.”

Suggestions and open source activities to facilitate an interactive session are welcome! Please leave a comment below.