Tips For First Time Origami Teachers

Pakistan Origami Society
Image courtesy of Pakistan Origami Society

If you enjoy paper folding, eventually someone is going to ask you if you do any origami teaching. Many people are fascinated by origami but want the benefit of in-person instruction before attempting to make a model on their own.

Teaching origami for the first time can be a bit intimidating, but this is a wonderful way to make new friends. You might even meet enough paper folders to be able to form your own origami club!

Identifying Your Students

Ideally, you want a group of students who are roughly at the same skill level. When you have beginners and experienced paper folders in the same class, the novices end up confused and the skilled folders are bored. If you are teaching a class that people will be registering for, write a description that clearly identifies the type of student who will be best served by taking the class.

It is best to have separate classes for children and adults, although children over the age of 12 could likely handle a class for adult beginners.

Deciding What Model to Teach

It takes much longer to teach a model than it does to fold it, so pick a model that has as few steps as possible for your first teaching experience. Simple models also help your students keep from feeling frustrated by the experience.

Do not attempt to teach a model unless you can easily fold it without looking at any sort of printed directions.

It's easy to get flustered when you're talking as you're folding, so you need to be teaching a project that you know very well.

It is best to orient your sample model so it is the facing the same direction that the students are folding. Depending on the size of the group, this means you might have to fold the model upside down.

Create a Handout for Your Students

Most beginners won't be familiar with the symbols used in origami diagrams but having printed diagrams to follow as they listen to your instructions can be very helpful. The book Follow-the-Directions: Easy Origami from Scholastic has reproducible worksheets for teaching very young children origami. OrigamiUSA has a selection of diagrams for adult folders that are free for non-profit and/or educational use.

In addition to providing diagrams, it may also be helpful to provide definitions of common origami terms that you are using. Unless you are teaching a group of experienced paper folders, do not assume that they will know the difference between blintzing and making a kite base.

If you think your students might appreciate the information, consider including recommendations for some of your favorite books and websites so they know where to go to learn more about origami.

Set Up Your Classroom Effectively

If you are teaching a large group of students, it's very important to set up your classroom effectively. Unless you have a naturally loud voice, you will likely need a microphone so everyone can hear your instructions.

Noisy rooms are distracting, so try to keep your teaching space as quiet as possible.

The paper that you are folding should be large enough to be seen from the back row, but not so large that you can't fold it easily. Pretty patterns are fun to look at, but a solid colored paper that has a nice contrast with the back side makes for the clearest instructions.

Guiding Your Students Through the Process

If possible, check to make sure that your students have performed each step correctly before moving on with your instructions. As you well know, small mistakes in the beginning of a model can easily ruin the entire project. If you do not have time to personally check each model, have several folded models demonstrating what each step should look like that you can pass around the room so the students can check their own work.

Observe the body language of your students as you are speaking.

If they seem hesitant or are staring at you blankly, repeat your explanation in slightly different way.

Be generous with your encouragement! Even if a model is not folded perfectly, praise the student's effort while stressing that origami is a skill that people learn through regular practice.

Allow Time for Questions

If you're teaching a workshop that has a defined time limit, allow yourself time at the end for the students to ask questions. Allowing 10 or 15 minutes for questions also gives you a bit of "wiggle room" in case your lesson takes longer than expected.