The Play Spiral approach

The Play Spiral approach

This is the theory of learning introduced by Janet Moyles in 1989.
The concept of the theory is to let children play freely and explore first, then they play in a more structured way and then in a free way again.

  • The first free play allows children to “lead into” the game, explore it themselves, create their own game without the help of the teacher.
  • Then the teacher models processes, guides, directs the child’s play and explorations in a more structured way of playing; in other words, shows “how to”.
  • After that, the child plays freely again, the game becomes child-led, but with the new skills gained; as a result, children discover more and record learning easily. The material is reinforced and kids get more practice with the target language and become more confident in it.

In the picture below there’s a term “accretion”. It means a gradual accumulation of knowledge. As this play spiral can be repeated several times, the language skills are becoming automated. With each “spiral” or cycle learners become more and more familiar with the target language, the activities which supports children’s understanding and acquiring of underlying concepts and finally become fluent in the use of English.

As in every method there are its pros and cons.


  • There’s a good balance between child-led and teacher-led activities which may have a positive impact on learner’s development and autonomy.
  • The teacher can see the strong and weak points of the student and concentrate more on the areas for development. It’s a kind of TTT approach which helps the teacher focus on necessary things.


  • Lots of “turn-taking: child-led, then teacher-led, then child-led can make learners confused and as a result, some activities that are supposed to be “child-led” may not be fully “child-led”.
  • The tasks are usually quite time-consuming and most of the children cannot concentrate for such a long period of time, they lose interest.


Try this approach in your lessons and share how it works!

Наринэ Егорова

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