A Note to the Teacher: Teaching in the Margins

What does it mean to teach in the margins?

Teaching in the margins is taking (or following) your class into the unknown. GASP! You must be thinking, “Why would I ever venture to the margins if I do not know what will happen there?” Well, not knowing what will happen is half the magic – the other half is what we learn while we are there. We all learn in the margins!

Let’s travel here!

While in the margins you may see

  • Authentic Learning – students are able to discuss topics that genuinely spark curiosity in them
  • Diversity – students are able to discover numerous topics that may not have been written in your original lesson plan
  • Innovative Ideas – students are able to think more critically about different ideas and applications

“Based on the characteristics of margins, we would expect the margins of the classroom to be places where diversity of thought is promoted, risks are taken, dreams are fostered, and enjoyment of the material is experienced.”

-Ann E. Haley-Oliphant

What is the difference between margins and “teachable” moments?

In this video, we see Elsa’s father, Carlos, discover that his everyday knowledge as a mechanic directly relates to the schoolwork he is helping her complete. From this moment on, Carlos utilizes different “teachable” moments as Elsa learns from real-life experiences.

When a student experiences the margins it is typically for an extended period of time. It is sometimes random and other times teacher-led. While in the margins, we see students’ question and investigate a number of things. Learning occurs within the margins. When a student experiences a “teachable” moment it is typically a brief period of excitement followed by picking up exactly where they left off in their class. It often occurs like this, class…class…class…class…”TEACHABLE” MOMENT…class…class…class…and so on. A “teachable” moment is also experienced with minimal students at once – your entire class will rarely ever experience a “teachable” moment together. Learning is the “teachable” moment.

How do you get to the margins?

Just follow these few tips: ASK open-ended questions to get your students’ minds turning. ALLOW class discussions that are student-led – as a teacher, you must trust your students because not all discussions need to be teacher-led. ENCOURAGE conversations and debates to get students to speak up about what they are passionate about and truly interested in. PROMOTE new ideas – these ideas can stem from your lesson plan or elsewhere. My last tip on how to get to the margins is what I believe to be the most important and will follow every day I am in the classroom – DON’T BE AFRAID! The margins can be scary and it may take you into uncharted waters, but this is where we need to be flexible and understanding. We all learn in the margins and that’s why it is an important component of exemplary science teaching.


  1. Brooklyn,
    I really enjoyed readying your blog post as you had lots of creative ways to explain what teaching in the margins means and looks like. I really like how you brought in the image of margins on a piece of paper. This is quite the metaphor because that is the place where people will write their own thoughts and make connections with what they are reading. The margins on a word document like the one in your image, is sort of like heading out to the margins on an individual journey within our own head space (when we utilize that extra space). The margins is where learning authentically takes place, like you mentioned in your post. I really like that you used the word “trust” when describing student-led discussions taking place. I think that makes all the difference so the whole class can take a leap of faith into the margins. If we don’t trust our students then I think we’ll struggle to get authentic engagement. What is one way you will show trust with your students when the class is heading out the margins?

    • Hi Riley! Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read and reflect on my post. I am glad you enjoyed it! I believe trust is essential between teacher and student all the time, but especially when traveling to the margins. One way I will show trust with my students when to class is heading into the margins is by taking a step back and allowing the students to control where the conversation goes. Say I ask an open-ended question about spontaneous reactions and one student poses a response about Gibbs energy and the next student poses a response about a real-world application – I would allow our class to continue this great discussion even if it gears a little off-topic. As long as my students are learning, applying knowledge, and discussing, there is no need for me to intervene!

  2. Hi Brooklyn!
    Thanks for sharing these great insights on what it means to teach in the margins. What an AMAZING graphic from Microsoft Word…this could be a really powerful metaphor to “define custom margins” in the classroom. Students and teachers can work together to draw these lines and distinctions and should embrace what it is like to go outside these lines. Your final sentence of your post reads “We all learn in the margins” and this is so significant to recognize and acknowledge with your students. Teachers still have a lot of room to learn and it is an ongoing, lifelong journey.

    • Hi Emilia! Thank you for reading my post! Your words are so uplifting and thoughtful. I am glad the last line stuck with you – it has definitely stuck with me! I will take the information I shared in this post and apply it to my classroom one day. 🙂

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