Engaging with your community: teaching resources

By the Engaging Places team | 19 August 2009

Every town, whether rural or urban, has buildings and places that exist for the benefit of the community. Libraries, parks, places of worship, hospitals, town halls, sports centres, theatres… all offer potential for exciting learning that helps students engage with where they live.

Photo of Barking Central Learning Centre

Barking Central public Learning Centre © Ashley Bingham and Mark Ellis, A&M Photography

Think creatively about how you could make the most of the public buildings and spaces around your school. Many offer fantastic opportunities for cross-curricular learning and most will be happy to get children involved.

We have collated a list of activities, organisations and resources that you can use to give your students opportunities to engage with community buildings and places.

Subjects: English, art and design, religious education, design and technology, citizenship.

Cross-curriculum dimensions: community participation.

Initiatives: Learning Outside the Classroom, Every Child Matters (enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution), PLTS (creative thinkers, independent enquirers, team workers, effective participants).

Teaching activities
Healing art

Get in touch with hospitals and doctors’ surgeries in your area to find out if they have a space where they would welcome children’s art. Visit the building with the students and survey the site. What type of artwork would be most appropriate? Perhaps a mosaic to brighten an outside wall? A painting or collage to cheer a dark corridor? A sculpture for a garden area? Arrange for the students to interview staff and/or the local community to collect their views on what would be most appropriate.

Help the students to collaborate as a class to create the final artwork and oversee its installation.

Looking for an original idea for public art? The article, Take a second look details how students created a plasticine garden for the Chelsea Flower Show.

Photo of Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral © David Cowlard

Sacred spaces
Visiting places of worship contributes to students’ spiritual development and makes them more aware of the place of religion in their community.

Arrange for the class to visit two different sacred spaces – for example, a synagogue and a church – on the same day. Give them an opportunity to examine the interior and exterior of the buildings, explore religious practice, listen to music and talk to people from the community. Encourage them to take digital photographs that show different aspects of the building (ask for permission first).

Back at school, work together on PowerPoint presentations illustrating each building. Which images best capture the atmosphere and features of the space? How can you use words to reinforce the images?

For more ideas on engaging with places of worship in your community, read Reflecting on your sacred space.

Play time
Is the play area at your local park a bright and exciting environment? Or could it do with a facelift?

Visit a local playground near the school to carry out some market research. Ask the students to investigate the play equipment, seats and any shelter and to report back on what they like and dislike.

Have the students to compile a questionnaire that they can use to find out the views of their family. What would make the play area better for parents? For younger and older children?

Based on their research ask the students to sketch ideas for ways to improve the site. Help them make models of their designs for play equipment, seating and shelter. Why not invite someone from the parks and recreation team at your local borough council to come and see your class’ ideas?

The article, Exploring play space design describes how students investigated the potential for play spaces and a nature trail on a former industrial site.

Photo of Auditorium of the Bridge Arts Centre

Auditorium of the Bridge Arts Centre in Glasgow © Andrew Lee

Take your seats!
Being shown around a theatre auditorium and exploring backstage can be an exciting and inspiring experience for students.

Find out whether a theatre or arts centre near you offers guided tours for schools. Before the visit, talk with the students about their experiences of going to a theatre or performance centre and their impressions of the building, inside and out.

During the visit, encourage the students to notice the layout of the theatre. Why is the seating arranged as it is? How is the space organised backstage? What is the stage or performance area like? Where do performers get changed and keep their costumes? What health and safety issues did the building designers have to think about?

Talk with the students about how they could use what they have learnt from the theatre visit to improve your school hall as a performance space.

The article, Theatres: an inspiring place to learn offers more ideas on how your students can learn from visiting a theatre.

Council offices
All local authorities have a statutory duty to involve the public in decision making. Why not let your class have their say on a topical issue?

Identify proposed changes to public spaces that are currently causing debate in your neighbourhood, such as the redevelopment of a town centre or plans to build a wind farm. Your local council’s website will have some helpful information.

Ask the students to research the issue and use questionnaires to collect the views of people from the community. Contact the local council to see if a planning officer can come in to explain the different considerations.

Divide the class into two groups: one in favour of the proposed development and one against. Ask each side to make a list of reasons to convince the other side of the class that they are right. Find out if you could hold the debate in your local council chamber to add real excitement.

Read about how taking part in a debate in the formal setting of the council chambers inspired a class from Leigh Sacred Heart School to tackle controversial issues.

Photo of Exchange Square in Manchester

© Joe Miles, CABE

Helpful organisations and venues
Local councils

Get in touch with your local council to find out how you might contribute to consultations about public buildings and spaces in your area or to see whether you can arrange a visit to the council chambers. The Directgov website includes a listing of principal local councils throughout the UK.

Beam architecture centre
Beam is dedicated to the imaginative understanding and improvement of public buildings and spaces. Visit their website to find out about projects you could get involved in or get in touch to see how its education service might be able to help you.

Play England
aims for all children to have regular access and opportunity for free, inclusive local play provision and play space. If your students are looking at play areas, visit the site for case studies of playground design and a host of innovative play ideas.

The Theatres Trust
The Theatres Trust provides advice and information on theatres and promotes the value of theatre buildings. Find your nearest theatre using its database or introduce your students to theatre design using its extensive image library and fantastic free educational resources.

Shakespeare’s Globe
The Globe Theatre hosts an extensive exhibition about Shakespeare and the theatre of his day. Book a theatre tour for your students which brings the space to life with stories of the 1599 Globe, the reconstruction process in the 1990s and how the ‘wooden O’ works today as a theatrical space.

Photo of Art installation called the seed in Liverpool

Art decorative public regeneration sculpture © Joe D Miles

Teaching resources
Public art online

A public art information website that provides guidance and examples of public art practice from around the UK and internationally. If your class is producing a piece of art for a hospital or doctors’ surgeries, there are several inspiring case studies online from the health sector.

The Big Art Project
The Channel 4 Big Art project is designed to inspire and create unique works of public art across the UK. The site features a wide range of images of innovative artwork to spark students’ imagination and get them thinking in new ways.

Sacred space website
An invaluable source of ideas and information if you’re planning a visit to a place of worship in your community. The Sacred space website includes resources for teachers, students and case studies from both primary and secondary schools.

Learning Outside the Classroom: sacred spaces
The official website for the Learning Outside the Classroom initiative includes a sacred spaces section which details a range of ideas and resources to help you plan visits to places of worship.

Exploring Theatres
Exploring Theatres is an online resource produced by The Theatres Trust. If you’re a key stage 2 teacher, visit the site for resource sheets along with a wide range of theatre-related information.

Go back to the Thamesview Vocational Centre and Riverview Junior School case study.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share