The World We Live in and the Lessons We Teach

Or how to teach through real-life situations

How often have you heard “Teacher, why do we have to learn this?” and how have you reacted? We are certain that sometimes teachers also ask this question and can’t always find satisfactory answers. 

The dynamic times we live in make it very easy for content to get old fast or to be irrelevant to the interests and daily challenges of our students or the important messages that we want to relate to them. 

This is why we decided to explore how real-life situations can help us make students look at the big picture and relate the most important messages which will help them not only throughout the school year but also in life. 

We have compiled some examples provided by alumni and participants in Teach For Bulgaria’s program “A New Way to Teaching”.

Financial literacy and budgeting

Financial literacy (link in Bulgarian) is exceptionally useful not only for the students but also for many of their parents. From the youngest age students deal with money, but are rarely exposed to the best examples of practical family budgeting. Bilyana Asenovska who teaches primary school students at Primary School “Hristo Botev” in the village of Brestnitsa is aware of this. She decided to organize a workshop and have her students teach their parents how to create a monthly family budget.

Bilyana with some of her students at the Gramotko initiative

“I was teaching a mixed-age group of students, some of them were first graders. They taught their parents that income is determined by the hours that you work and that you have to take into account the number of children you have, the amount of social benefits you get, whether you live with your parents and whether they receive pensions,” Bilyana shared.

Her students also explained to their parents that expenses have to be prioritized. This prioritization is crucial because Bilyana says that the mindset of the community has to shift when it comes to expenses as people in the village tend to go into debt. The financial literacy workshop helped develop the financial literacy of the entire community, but Bilyana’s initiative also created an opportunity for the school community to have more touchpoints with their students’ parents, to engage them in the learning process and to build relationships based on trust and mutual support. 

While she was a teacher Radostina Boycheva provided her students with the opportunity to compare the credit terms and conditions of different banks. Her students had to find relevant information on the websites of the banks, analyze the terms and conditions, and choose the best loan options for their specific needs. The students presented their findings at a special training which they organized called “How to Identify the Best Loan Option”.

Business communication, management, and career orientation

Marin Marinov, who is currently a Teacher Support Coordinator at Teach For Bulgaria and who taught at “Hristo Botev” School in the village of Dalgo pole for two years prior to that, shared that his students had to start their own business for how business communication classes and to hold general assemblies and fulfill orders during class. They also created their own company badges, a stamp, logo, filled out paperwork, and received mail.

“We had a consultancy business and created products for our clients. Some of them were handbooks on how to start a business, how to fill out paperwork or posters on how to write a CV and how to communicate professionally on the phone,” Marin explained.

Marin’s goal was to help his students build teamwork skills and agency. The fact that his students were engaged in actual business endeavors also made them more motivated to learn more about the subject matter which would have otherwise been too abstract for them. 

Take a look at some photos of Marin and his students working on their business in class:

Elitsa Geneva who taught English to high school students decided to include career orientation in her classes.

“A lot of the content that I had to teach fell under career orientation anyway – meet and greet, jobs, hobbies. I also decided to focus on presentation skills so we watched videos on body language, discussed different topics, and gave each other feedback. My students also wrote CVs, cover letters, and then we conducted job interviews,” Elitsa shared.

For the job interview stimulation her students had to draw their roles from a hat to find out whether they were going to be employers or candidates. They worked in pairs while their classmates observed and gave feedback by filling out a rubric which had been discussed with everyone before the role play. Ekaterina Vasileva who also taught high school students used the same idea, but she also invited actual people from the business sector who came to her classes and talked about what hiring looks like in the real world.

Radoslava Georgieva who taught primary school students in Kostinbrod also invited people who practiced different professions to visit her classroom so that her students could ask them questions about each profession. This sparked her students’ interest for each profession and the skills they had to learn to practice it one day. Find out more about her career show for the end of the school year here (link in Bulgarian).

Some of the most popular jobs among Radoslava’s students were musician, veterinarian, telephone technician, footballer, actress, psychologist, fire fighter, military pilot, officer, and teacher.

Evgeniy Lazarov who taught biology at Secondary School “Hristo Botev” in Kubrat had his students research popular local crops, find funding for seeds, plant, and cultivate them. Even though their harvest was not as bountiful as expected, Evgeniy was convinced that his project helped his students understand why they needed to have a strategy, learn how to plan, and account for external factors outside of their control – skills which they would need later in life as well. You can find more ideas on how to teach science in creative ways here (link in Bulgarian).

Math and social acceptance classes

Every math teacher will tell you that the practical application of this science is ubiquitous. Georgi Stoev who teaches at Secondary School “Lyuben Karavelov”, however, decided to combine his math classes with life lessons about social acceptance and empathy. During distance learning back in March he and his fifth-graders designed refugee camps for children and families in Africa. The feedback from the children and their parents was very positive, but Georgi got the feeling that his students were not entirely able to recognize the refugee problem as something which affects their lives, despite his attempts to build their empathy and understanding. This was why he decided to change his idea a little this school year and introduce his students to problems more relevant to their lives. Georgi and seven of his colleagues at school assumed the roles of experts and encouraged the students to turn to them for guidance and advice.

Georgi Stoev during Teach For Bulgaria’s Summer Academy

Take a look at one of the models created by one of Georgi’s students here.

“We posed a guiding question: “How can I, as a student, improve the quality of life of the people in a certain town or village?”. The guiding question provoked our students to focus on some type of injustice which personally affects them personally in some way. Then they filled out a rubric to state their idea. This week they deepened their understanding with the help of a tree chart and realized how many causes and consequences stem from the problem they had picked,” Georgi shared.

The long-term goal of the teachers is for every student to work individually or in a team in order to create a project addressing the chosen problem. The children can decide which expert to address their questions to, depending on what subject matter they need to use in their projects. This initiative is part of the concept for a Leadership Academy at the school. Georgi said that this approach could also help them address the latest PISA results which indicate that Bulgarian students have a very limited mastery of global competences and knowledge of the real world compared to their peers from other countries in the survey.

History, ancient tourism, elections, and role plays

Maria and some of her students

Maria Yordanova, who is currently supporting second-year teachers in teach For Bulgaria’s program “A New Way to Teaching” and who used to teach history and civilization at Primary School “Vasil Levski” in Kremikovtsi, shared that she was constantly looking for ways to make history feel “closer” to her students’ lives. One of the activities she tried was to create an authentic ancient tourism experience for her students in 5th and 7th grade.

“The fifth-graders were split into groups, they made posters and flyers about why people should visit the respective ancient country. The seventh-graders visited each group and had the opportunity to cast a secret vote for the country they’d like to visit. There was also an electoral committee who counted the votes and announced the results publicly. The committee also presented an award to the winners,” Maria shared.

The gamification of ancient history allows students to learn more about the characteristics of each government and to work on their civic literacy skills. Older students can tell younger students why it’s so important to vote and to discuss whether the elections for most popular ancient destination have been fair. What made this activity even more relevant was that there were actual elections in Bulgaria at that time.

Human rights, social acceptance, and responsibility

Vasilena Filomonova, who used to teach English at the vocational high school in Kostinbrod and who now works at 164 High School with Advanced Studies in Spanish Language “Miguel de Cervantes” in Sofia, shared that one of her biggest goals was to develop her students’ social awareness. She made time to read and discuss information about our basic human rights with her students. The classroom procedures were also adopted in a democratic way which allowed every student to vote. Vasilena also gave her students the opportunity to participate in different role plays where they had to assume the role of someone who was discriminated against.

“I put stickers on their backs (Roma, refugee, Chinese, Black, gay) and others had to demonstrate their attitute towards them with their body language. Then we talked about how they felt when they were discriminated against for reasons that were unknown to them,” Vasilena shared.

Another activity which Vasilena used was to give more privileges to the blue-eyed children for a day and then to the brown-eyed children for a day. Then she talked to her students about how they felt during this experiment. This was her way of getting them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, to empathize with people who go through similar situations in real life. Vasilena also encouraged and required her students to defend the position they disagreed with during debates. 

Grades and feedback

Student assessment is one of the most responsible and controversial aspects of teaching. This is why Tsvetomira Tsvetanova, former primary school teacher and Teach For Bulgaria alumna, who is currently working on her PhD and teaching part-time at her university in the UK, includes her students in the assessment process. She holds workshops for her students where she has them assess assignments written by their peers from the previous semester.

Tsvetomira Yotova

“We talk about the rubric in advance. Then I share the assessment form which their professors use and I ask them to assess their peers’ assignments by using the rubric and to write detailed arguments about their decisions,” Tsvetomira shared.

Tsveti and her students discuss their assessment work during the workshops and at the end everyone shares their final decision and argumentation.

“I always give them a variety of styles and levels to work on. This helps them deepen their understanding of what an active verb is and the logic of each assessment – content, structure, etc.,” Tsveti added and said that she had been doing this for several semesters now with great results and was confident it would work at school as well. 

These are just some of the ways you can engage your students in real-life situations. Many of these ideas can be adapted to online learning because they involve a lot of independent work and preparation while teachers provide feedback in real-time. We’d be interested to know if you’ve tried some of these ideas and if they’ve worked for you. You can also send us your best practices at

Find more best practices at

If you need more ideas and inspiration about distance learning, visit this webpage.

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