The Hands Up Project Conference: Safe Classroom Environments

Efi Tzouri

Efi Tzouri studied English Language in Greece, specialised in theatre education and production, and has taught English for over 16 years. She is a board member at TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Association and loves working with refugee learners.

Nowadays more and more people are forced to be displaced and seek shelter in other countries. Living in this turbulent world, it is vital to reform the way we teach by turning our classrooms into safe spaces that are ready to welcome multicultural voices and cater for the diverse needs of our learners.

My talk at The Hands Up Project Conference is based on my experience working with primary age refugee learners in Greece. It is mainly focused on methodologies and teaching techniques that could be used in a refugee or migrant education programme, in order to give children the opportunity to express their feelings in the context of safe classroom environments.

First and foremost what is essential is to design a lesson with sensitivity and consideration. We should always give the opportunity to learners to use the language they have been learning through interaction and group work and value learners’ experiences in classroom. It is effective to design tasks that follow simple staging; introducing one thing at a time and involving a lot of practice – either through repetition (especially for the younger learners) or through role play and communicative activities. It is also very important to provide help and support when it is needed. Make sure that everyone is engaged in the activities and can participate easily and naturally in communication.

Creative writing activities aim to foster self-expression and self-awareness by providing the opportunity to the young refugee learners to introduce themselves to the classroom, to talk about their preferences and to create space for feelings and openness. Additionally, a bridge between personal and school life can be built by establishing safe classroom environments for teaching.

With this in mind, I developed a series of lessons around poetry. I introduced my students to sonnets, haikus, and circular poetry. I discovered that poems work as a great vehicle to promote understanding about identity and to help children develop a strong sense of self. Poetry has also been an engaging ‘entry point’ when crafting lessons which catered to their needs and interests, as I learned so much about their families, feelings and diverse backgrounds.

My learners particularly enjoyed entering Nick Bilbrough’s poetry competition for the IATEFL Voices magazine. This really helped me to motivate the children to use English beyond the classroom by offering a real world outcome.

Identifying the current situation of refugee young learners it is of great importance to address their needs and to explore ways of helping them become engaged and feel motivated during the learning process. Designing creative activities for children in a multicultural classroom not only “encourages them to connect new information and skills to their background knowledge” (Cummins & Early, p.4) but also “affirms students’ identities as intelligent, imaginative and linguistically talented” (Cummins & Early, p.4)

Find out more about The Hands Up Project Conference and how you can register to attend.


Cummins, J.,& Early, M. (2011). Identity Texts- The collaborative creation of power. Stroke-on-Trend: Trendham Book Publishers

  • Veronica

    Hello! Any news about the results of the Story Competition?:)

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