The official website of educator Jack C Richards

Improvisation in Teaching


Submitted by Carlos, Tanzania

What are your views on improvisation in teaching?

Dr. Richards responds:

When one observes experienced teachers in their classrooms, one is struck by their apparent effortless management of the different dimensions of lessons. They may not need to refer to a lesson plan, because they are able to create effective lessons through monitoring their learners’ response to teaching activities and can create learning opportunities around important teaching moments. Their teaching can be viewed as a kind of skilled improvisation. Over time, experience leads to the development of routines that enable classroom activities to be performed fluently, automatically and with little conscious thought and attention, enabling the teacher to focus on other dimensions of the lesson . Experienced teachers engage in sophisticated processes of observation, reflection and assessment, and make ‘online’ decisions about which course of action to take from a range of alternatives that are available. These interactive decisions often prompt teachers to change course during a lesson, based on critical incidents and other unanticipated aspects of the lesson. For example, the principles which prompt teachers’ improvisations could includes:

  1.  Serving the common good: Change focus to a problem that many learners experienced in the class.
  2. Teach to the moment: React to immediate opportunities that arise during lessons.
  3. Furthering the lesson: Move the lesson on when possibilities are exhausted.
  4. Accommodating different individual learning styles: Improvise with different teaching strategies.
  5. Promoting student involvement: Allow space for students to participate.
  6. Distribute the wealth: Stop particular students from dominating the class, and 
encourage other students to take turns.

As teachers accumulate experience and knowledge, there is, therefore, a move towards a degree of flexibility in teaching and the development of the ability to improvise.