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Snail-Based Learning

Want to educate confident, proactive knowledge producers?

A model for structuring learning activities and projects that fosters sustainable learning by integrating different 'ways of knowing' in each activity or project.

HundrED 2018


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2018

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Target group
September 2017
The students do not only equate learning with the classroom, but deploy curiosity wherever they are.

About the innovation

What is Snail-Based Learning?

How can learners be equipped to be at the cutting edge of knowledge production? How can education promote life-long deliberatelearning? How can young people develop the tools to unlearn and discard obsolete knowledge? How can learners be taught that knowledge is not monolithic and distant, attainable only through teachers, books or screens?

The goal of Den Grønne Friskole (The Green Free School) in Denmark is to foster a confident, creative and proactive approach to learning. In doing so, the school hopes to educate children who will participate actively in meeting environmental, political and social challenges and transitioning to a more sustainable global society.

Den Grønne Friskole aims to frame traditional content in such a way that the act of learning positions young people in different roles, demonstrating that there are different kinds of knowledge.Students learnto interact with the world, information and one another in such a way that they become knowledge producers.

Learners work only on projects, focusing on various themes. The school gives the same importance and time to arts and crafts as they do to academic disciplines. One day each week is spent in the school gardens. Students get out of the classroom every day, learning in the park or working in the school yard. They go on field trips every week, to museums, nature spotsor local businesses.

There is little focus on organised sport, yet movement is central to the school day. Long breaks between lessons give an opportunity for learners to have their physical, social and emotional needs met through activities like yoga, dancing or climbing trees. Learning activities that require lots of movement are integrated into lessons.

The school’s most important innovation is Snail-Based Learning, a structure created by Beverly Derewiankabased on her observations of how children naturally learn. This form of learning teaches children an alternative model of knowledge to that which is commonly practiced in classrooms around the world.It positions young people as knowers of different kinds and engages them in a knowledge practice that is both creative and reflective.

Snail-Based Learning is free, easy to implement in a short lesson, a one-day field trip or a longer project. It is a sophisticated tool that lets teachers planlearning experiences in order to educate children to be confident, proactive knowledge producers.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Using the frame (rather than the content) of the learning activities, children are engaged in the business of producing knowledge, instead of passively receiving and regurgitating it.


Young people gain a greater sense of themselves as learners and producers of knowledge, as well as a lot of confidence. They don't only equate learning with a classroom setting, but learn to look at the world with curiosity wherever they are.


Snail-Based Learning is eminently scalable. It could be replicated in any school. The most important ingredient is imagination!


Implementation steps

Find out more
There are 5 phases within Snail-Based Learning, based on Beverly Derewianka's model of learning.

Educators interested in Snail-Based Learning are encouraged to read more about Beverly's work, linked below. The 5 phases, shown on the snail, are detailed in the following steps. The English translations of the phases are:1.Sense and experience, 2.Record and retain, 3.Manipulate and experiment, 4.Frame academically or technically, 5.Synthesize and produce.

Sense and experience
Pick a topic and then choose a learning activity that immerses students in a new environment.

The chosen subject can be small enough to cover in one lessonor large enough to spend three weeks working on. It’s good to start small.Lessons about science and nature are a great place to begin. Take a look at the Case Story for inspiration!

The related learning activity could be anything that breaks from students' usual learning patterns, such as visiting a museum, watching a film or going to a park. Learners are typically trained to be receptive to receiving information in certain settings, through certain kinds of interactions.This activity needs to position the students so that they can use all their senses and their whole bodies to learn,disrupting their usual role as receivers of knowledge.The teacher’s role is to guide the learners and to experience and explore along with them.

Record and retain
Reflect on the experience, through discussing, writing and drawing, for example.

Encourage learners to talk amongst themselves about what they saw, heard, smelled and thought.Previous knowledge the students may have about the topiccanbe included in the discussions.Teachers mayprompt learners to link what they already knewwith what just happened. This can be doneoutside the classroom setting, perhaps on the way back from a field trip. The teacher'srole is to ask questions, listen carefully and help students to articulate and reflect.

Manipulate and experiment
Create an experiment for the learners to run - this could be planned in advance or could grow out of the students' engagement with the earlier activity.

It is important for students toexplorethe materials they are working with in their own way.The teacher's role is to observe, to be ready to ask questions to nudge a process along andto challenge facile assumptions. Sometimes it is enough to ask the students to explain why they have done one thing over another.Crucially, teachers should notask withan answer in mind, but to be ready to hear the students’ thoughts.

Frame academically or technically
Now, students can deepen their knowledge of the subject through listening to or reading more technical academic texts.

This phase exposes students to relevant vocabulary andthe systematic organisation of the topic to build upon their exsiting knowledge. Here, a teacher canact as a demonstrator,expertor researcher. In this phase, it is appropriate to offer knowledge or expertise, but it maybooststudents’ learningif the teacherreflects their questions back to them.

Synthesise and produce
All the previous learning experiences and knowledge gained are combined into a product with a clear recipient.

Students are encouraged to create products that engage the senses, such asoral or written presentations. Finish the learning activityby sharing the students’ products - this could be donewithin the class, with students from other classesor with the students'parents. Encouragelearnersto choose a wide variety of products, allowingthem to shine in the areas that particularly interest them or where they feel especially competent. Sharinghelps to retain the knowledge gainedand acts asa dynamic form of evaluation. In this stage, the teacher is a consultant and guide, supporting the students in creating their productsand encouraging reflection by asking questions or challenging assumptions.

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