Liberating Structures and Instructor Roles

“By transforming learning into an engaging, interesting and enjoyable activity for both students and professors, [Liberating Structures] increase the learning capacity of all students and the teaching ability of all professors.”

Liberating Structures Website

Adult educators can often be faced with disengaged workers, dysfunctional groups and wasted ideas. They will perhaps unthinkingly adopt conventional structures to organize how the students they teach will work together. As an ESL teacher for over 10 years, my experience has been that often the classroom can get very teacher-centric, with the format of discussion being the teacher speaking and the classroom either listening passively or repeating verbatim what the teacher says. More adventurous teachers may choose to do pair work or task-based learning in groups or teams. These efforts often do serve a useful purpose in getting students to talk to each other and practice their English, but done unsystematically and without careful planning it can also lead to a stifling of inclusion and decreased engagement.

The problem is that teachers can use conventional structures that are either overly structured and thereby inhibiting (especially teacher-focused presentations or micro-managed discussions) or the other extreme which is disorganized and poorly structured groupings that fail to engage students in the learning at hand.

What I like about Liberating Structures is that it provides instructors with very specific ways of engaging students in learning, particularly discussion, problem solving, and a host of other activities. In fact it offers 33 liberating structures that are simple and easy to apply. Specifically they are “easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination” and “quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone” (from Introduction to Liberating Structures). The idea is for these liberating structures, once set up in the classroom, to spark creativity and out-of-the-box thinking through structuring the way students interact while at the same time liberating students to discuss content matter freely.

The potential I see for Liberating Structures in terms of the instructor’s role is that it transforms the instructor into not only a facilitator and a guide-by-the-side but truly an empowering force in enhancing classroom dynamics so that individual brilliance and the communal wisdom of the group is unleashed. By adopting and implementing liberating structures in the classroom, the teacher is essentially distributing control to the participants and allowing them to shape the direction of the learning as the lesson unfolds.

For more information on Liberating Structures and for some great resources and videos on how to apply LS in your classroom, visit Also click here for a list of Liberating Structures on .pdf 


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