NEW VOICE: Fresh ESOL Learning Opportunities Using the Thinking Environment Approach

PGCE student Sana Qudah reflects on the use and impact of the Thinking Environment in ESOL spaces

GIF illusrating the 10 components of the Thinking Environment with calming seaside photos behind

The 10 Components of a Thinking Environment: GIF created by Kathryn Pogson using slides created by Lou Mycroft

I was introduced to the thinking round on the first day of my teacher training course. According to Haselgrove (2021) ‘a thinking environment can help practitioners create a setting that is conducive to learning for learners of all types’ (p.33). On that day I went home feeling that I have connected with my peers and that although we had come from different levels of experience there were so many things in common between us as classmates and human beings trying to achieve things in our lives and to leave an impact on the learners we are privileged to teach and learn from in our journey as educators. As a teacher trainer, I started shadowing my mentor after a few weeks in the semester, and it was during my first observation when I noticed that the learners did not know each other’s names and hardly spoke to each other as a group.

Based on my personal experience, I initially decided to implement the thinking environment with my ESOL Entry 2 students, knowing the advantages it may have on them. This allowed me to check the well-being of my learners and for them to share anything on their mind with the whole group in a safe atmosphere that promotes mutual respect and inclusivity. More importantly, reflecting on this experience now, I realised it had many benefits especially that it was done at the beginning of each session. Furthermore, it encouraged learners to connect on multiple levels as it provided a chance for them to find common interests, which helped build their relationships increasing their sense of belonging to the group. This sense of belonging had a positive impact on learners’ attendance.

Surprisingly, I have learnt that the Thinking Environment that was founded by Nancy Kline was a great learning opportunity, it improved learners’ speaking skills as the questions asked were general daily life questions. Learners practiced speaking about their feelings as well as giving their thoughts about the question asked. It allowed ‘thinking time’ because learners were not interrupted or rushed to speak faster, this meant that the speaker could organize his/her thoughts and translate what they wanted to say from their own language to English without feeling pressured. This was a good practice for the other learners to remember to allow ‘thinking time’ for their classmates when answering a question during the session.

The idea of the thinking round is for a volunteer to begin, which meant that the person who felt ready and confident to start the round would go first, this showed the learners respect as they were not put on the spot and at the same time gave them a chance to think of their responses or build on and make connections to what they hear from their peers. Listening is a fundamental skill when learning a language and the thinking round was the perfect chance for learners to listen mindfully to people’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The safe atmosphere also promoted care and respect in the time dedicated to each speaker, by being mindful of the time they spend speaking making sure that they do not take the time allocated to their peers. Some of the feedback that I got after the first thinking round was from a student that asked me if we were going to do it every session and continued to say that he enjoyed it because he felt he could speak freely without thinking if he was saying the correct answer or being judged by his peers for not knowing the answer.

After understanding the benefits of using the thinking round in classrooms, and practically implementing this in my own classrooms and listening to students’ perceptions of using it, I have decided to embed this activity into my teaching in the future and find creative and innovative questions to discuss with students to establish better communication channels, give students the freedom to discuss their ideas, and build relationships, which consequently fosters a better learning environment.


Haselgrove, K. (2021). Pause for thought. InTuition, 45(Autumn), 33.

Kline, N. (1999). Time to think: Listening to ignite the human mind. Ward Lock.

Sana Qudah

Sana is an ESOL teacher with previous extensive teaching experience in primary schools. Sana strives to achieve inclusivity and engagement with her students, value their differences and contributions, and develop their learning potential.