OODA(L)s of Fun: Maneuver Warfare, Innovation, and the EFL Classroom, Pt II. A prototype class

Think of your students as reluctant allies

Part II. Designing a class based on OODA loops.

Okay, I realize many of you are impatient to get started, so I am going to cut to the chase.  You will find a simple OODA loop diagram and Boyd’s complete OODA loop drawing in the article as .  In this article I refer mainly back to Boyd’s model.  

I am going to be using this course at a local high school here in Guadalajara. The students  have mixed abilities with English. Some are CEFR A1 while others are at B1.  A few are what might be considered A0, and still others are false beginners.  

Here’s an example of a simple OODA Loop:

Retrieved 19/11/21 from: https://expertprogrammanagement.com/2020/10/the-ooda-loop/

The particulars: A prototype class based on OODA loops.

Method to be used: OODA loops for teaching a class in English, among others

Pilot Level: Basic English

Objective(s): Students will learn to use OODA loops to construct meaning from a given situation and language usage. Students will then create their own logical, purposeful, and meaningful dialog that reflects their cultural views, pragmatic language use, and typical social norms for their age group within their society.  

Product: Students will create a learning object reflective of the learning that has taken place.

Materials: writing,drawing material, whiteboard, markers, printouts (optional)

I tend to have my courses blend into one another, so I haven’t included time that might be needed as a factor. That being said, this example would be for 2-3 classes depending on the size of the cohort.

For your reference: A more complex OODA loop.  I will refer to aspects of this diagram throughout this article. 

Retrieved 24/11/21 from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/John-Boyds-OODA-Loop-Diagram-8_fig1_266557385

Boyd’s process starts with “observe”, and so shall we begin the class.  

  1. Have students form into groups or pairs.  
  2. Project the image below onto the whiteboard or pass out copies that students can see and handle (or both).  
  3. In the more complex OODA loop diagram you might have noticed that implicit guidance and control influence observation.  
  4. You will be guiding your students where to look, though not necessarily what to see.  As the lesson expands observation will take into account the unfolding circumstances. From observation to speculation based on additional information or evidence.

Here’s the outline for the activity

A. Situational observation based on a picture

B. Unfolding circumstances (fluid situation). Prompts to discover details they may not have thought of

C. Situational observation based on a picture, now with new information. 1)Unfolding circumstances (fluid situation) 2)  Competing narratives based on other groups (also new information)

D.  Situational observation (still fluid).  A dialog that follows an observable pattern 1)  An agreed upon narrative based on all information available

Note: “The observe ” step is, in combat anyway, based on tangible, visible facts only. Speculation is for the orientation phase.  That being said, this is not combat, and student interest must be maintained, so for the purposes of this exercise it needs to be allowed and encouraged. 

Photo for class use: 

From: Richards, Jack. Full Contact Interchange.  Cambridge UP, 2005.

Part A.  Observe

Students should find this to be a familiar setting.  I would start by asking them to speculate in their own language what’s happening in the picture.  No rush here, give them time.  

B. As a follow on, ask them to look a little deeper with some very short prompts also in the students own language.  A vocabulary lesson about items in the picture might help those with mixed language background students.

  1. Write the following prompts on the whiteboard

Nice classroom?

When is it?

Who’s here?

From where?


What country?

Customary or usual? (very important as it leads to the next part about orientation)

The prompts shouldn’t give away too much information. It’s the student’s interpretation that’s important, for the moment.

Listen in, help with language issues, or prompt where necessary.  

C. Report back to class: Have students offer their assessment of the things they saw or understood from the scene above. What dialog played out in their heads, if any?  Could they present that to the class? (This could make an interesting activity in its own right) If presentations are impractical at the moment have students piece together a dialog using the white board.


Teacher asks: What’s the girl’s name, do you think? Students will shout out a million options. Just use the first one that ‘s said. Write the name on the board.

Now the boy? Put the name on the board

How old are they? Are they boys and girls? Women and men? Teenagers? The teacher can add the information to the board, or have students keep track on their own paper.

D. Take the characters names and write them in an AB or XY dialog format on the board

Y…! ….? 

X…. ….?



Y….! ….?

and then what…?

Listen to what students come up with. Let them write the dialog in their own language or in the target language where possible on the board. As we are still in the “observe mode” you may wish to point out the exclamation points and question marks.  The dialog should be reasonable, make sense, and be agreeable to all parties.  It’s important that general consensus be agreed upon because, since the students aren’t working with facts, they must all agree to suspend disbelief for the sake of consistency and for the next steps in the OODA loop.


The next part of the loop is ” Orient”.  Many people will disagree with my opinion, but this is probably the most difficult part of the OODA.  I base my thoughts on what Boyd and subsequently the US Marine Corps have to say about orientation and the consequences of failing to orient one’s views about the enemy (i.e. failure in Afghanistan, Vietnam) and one’s own strategies vis-a-vis the ongoing conflict and the cultures of both the enemy and the aggressor.

Reluctant Allies: Your students aren’t your enemy and the OODA loop in this case is not about bringing about their demise. It may be helpful to think of your students as  reluctant allies.  They want to help with your cause (the subject matter) and they want to believe in you, but they aren’t sure they want to make a commitment to you, or your methods just yet.  The orient stage is just as much for you to  orient yourself as it is for your allies.  

A quick glance at Boyd’s more complex loop reveals that orientation requires a lot of analysis, some introspection maybe, and consideration of new material or information.  Remember, there is already some basic information available, but the OODA process requires a bit more.  Maybe reflection on the situation and the student’s own behaviors will provide the catalyst toward the decision phase.

Getting to know you : Knowing the enemy has to be the most ignored lesson in warfare.  Knowing your students has to be the most ignored lesson in education.  Our reluctant allies, as we all know, never seem to learn that learning should be just as much about self discovery against the backdrop of the subject matter they are being taught.  A hard thing to do, to be sure, but not impossible.  Thankfully the “Orient” part of the loop can help.

If your students are like mine, they never greet each other in class with a handshake and introduction.  

  1. Know yourself

A. Ask students to describe when they might greet somebody this way.  Chances are they will say they don’t greet their fellow students that way….ever, even if there is a new student in class.  (See Boyd’s diagram above. This is cultural tradition)

B. Refer them back to the conversation they created.  Do they feel the people in the photo and/or dialog are genuine?  Do they feel that the situation is realistic?  How could they make their dialog correct for their cultural milieu and still obtain the same basic information?  (Diagram: Analysis and synthesis=> previous experience)

  1. Show who you really are.  

A.  Students can either edit the dialog they wrote or create a  new one.  My guess is that  consensus will be met quickly on the points covered in the new dialog. (new  information=> Genetic heritage).  A note about genetic heritage: It can be a bit of a hot button issue because while it has value in a war setting, it may not be so important or germane to the activities at hand). For our purposes we are skipping over it.

At this point  the students  have new information based on what has been observed and filtered that information through the orientation process.  Next comes the “Decide” phase. 


The “decide” phase simply asks what to do with the new information.  This phase provides a great opportunity for teachers to explore task or project-based teaching.  While it might be better for students to come up with their own ideas (and they will as they get used to doing OODA loops), for the purposes of this article, I am going to add a few suggestions here.  Teachers may also participate in the OODA loop flow because several steps including this one call for implicit guidance and control, so don’t feel that you can’t add your own suggestions.

  • Students create a video guide for new foreign students that tells them how they will be received by their fellow students.
  • A guide book for teachers to understand some aspects of their students’ behaviors
  • A video about what not to do when talking to a student or teenager
  • A presentation about what English classes get wrong about student communication
  • Explore the differences between the ‘idealized’ English classroom and how it really appears to the student.

So these ideas have a few things in common.  They all will require students to revisit the OODA loop up based on their own feedback and that of their teacher.  Boyd’s diagram suggests the students return to the observation phase based on unfolding events (the assignment) and whatever new information they have.  They also require a slight adjustment to the students orientation toward the context of the task as well as reflection.  

Finally the “Act” phase is where students realize their projects.  


During this phase students work to complete their project. The teacher should encourage students to seek out opinions of others in and outside the class to add to the feedback they will need to create the best possible product.  

Assessment of Activities:  Presentation of the project or task with specific examples of feedback students received  and the actions students took toward completing the loop should be part of whatever assessment scheme a teacher might want to use.  It might also be advisable to include the assessment plan during the decide phase to give students the sensation of the ‘unfolding interaction with the environment’.   An interested teacher might include the assessment plan as a separate OODA loop.


The prototype here was built to illustrate that an OODA loop structure could be used to conduct classes on a basic subject.  The loop system could be applied to almost any subject matter where collaboration, student-centered learning and communication are desired. For task and project based learning, I think the loops might provide students better access to their own creativity and , in turn, result in better quality tasks and projects.  If the OODA loop process were implemented and used consistently, students might adapt the process on their own and at a much faster pace for their own decision making purposes.


I think basing a class on OODA loops is feasible, though it might take some practice to become routine for the teacher as well as for the students.   There are, of course, drawbacks to my prototype that would have to be ironed out over the course of the semester.  Time management issues come to mind, as well as student participation problems may arise. Too much student-centered activity can be draining for the students, and given the general disdain teens have for school in general, there is a risk that they might sabotage the process through misbehavior, malaise, or non-participation.  

What do you think? Leave me a comment!

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