This post is a write-up of my workshop Teaching Fun*damentals: 10 Ways to Add Fun to Learning which I gave at the ELTAM Day held by the Montenegrin English Teachers’ Association on May 5, 2018. A huge thank you to the participants and their kind feedback and ideas!
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The other day some new scans of King Tutankhamun’s tomb provided hard evidence that there are no secret rooms or passages hidden inside. How disappointing. Is this the end to years of speculations and excitement over the Secret?
Unlike King Tut’s tomb, fun in the classroom has always been considered something more or less secret-less and uncomplicated, at least on the surface.
Despite many studies suggesting that fun is required for learning, it does not seem to sit right with many teachers (and parents) who continue to stick to their belief that if students are enjoying the class they must not be learning anything.
By and large, all these ideas that “there’s too much fun in the classroom”, “I’m not there to entertain them” and “there’s no time for fun, they are there to learn” might stem from much poorly planned and executed ‘fun’ in the classroom, distracting students from learning rather than facilitating it.
Fun in the classroom is an approach to make learning more enjoyable, which may take a LOT more time and skill to plan.
What fun is NOT:
- Fun is not a break from learning: Ultimately, we are there to teach language so ‘fun’ should have its aim to get learners engaged and keep their interest in language learning
- Finding a fun activity does not mean that learning will follow: All activities should be about, with and through the target language and lead to certain language-related learning outcomes. When the process of creating a poster (drawing and redrawing) takes more time than actual work with the target language, it is highly unrealistic to expect it to bring about any significant improvements in language learning (though the level of enjoyability will most certainly go through the roof)
- Fun does not mean no planning: It actually implies more planning – a) how to reach learning outcomes and b) how to make the process more enjoyable
- Fun is not Santa’s Christmas gift-giving in the classroom: Fun is not something you promise to your kids for ‘good learning’; it’s part and parcel of learning. Otherwise, you send a message to your learners that there is learning and there is fun, and ‘never the twain shall meet’
- Fun is not a time filler: Learning does not happen (or should not happen) from 8:00 to 8:45, as set in your school’s schedule. Learning is an ongoing process. So if your class has finished a task a bit earlier than you planned, say, 5 minutes before the bell, this time can still be used for meaningful (and enjoyable) learning (see No.1 Fun is not a break from learning)
- Fun does not mean a waste of time: If there is an activity that is more learning rich (more time efficient and leads to the same learning outcomes), consider using it instead. If a drawing game is used to introduce or revise 3 words, with drawing taking 80% of time in the classroom, consider a more efficient approach that may fill this 80% of time with language work
- Fun is not a Wimbledon tournament: There should be no audience; all activities should provide for full and active participation of each and every student in the classroom. So if you have just a couple of students playing the game, with the rest of the class watching them, consider all possibilities to make it a learning experience for all the students
How to create a feel-good factor: don’t we know what fun is?
Fun is not about particular activities (She likes coffee but hates tea, i.e. what is fun for one person may not be fun for another) but the experience these activities provide. Fun is a complex phenomenon with many dimensions, or ‘expressions’ as Michael Shore calls them in his talk.
Here are a few ways of adding a feel-good factor based on the key expressions of fun.
The sense of freedom implies an activity with minimum constraints.
One of the easiest ways might be changing instructions and offering more choices to your learners, e.g. if you have a gap-fill activity, you may ask your learners to
- Start wherever you like
- Do at least 5 items. more if you can
- Do as much as you can in [e.g. 4 minutes forty-five seconds]
See more ideas in 10 WAYS TO MAKE GAP-FILLS MORE LEARNING-RICH
With a listening or reading activity, you may try ‘reverse’ reading or listening. Get students to read and write answers to the comprehension questions first and make their own stories based on their answers before they actually read or listen to the text.
This fun expression is connected with a sense of luck, exception or privilege. Among others, you may make them feel special by using an out-of-the-textbook activity or tweaking/building your own activity around texts or sentences or images in their course book.
This does not necessarily mean a lot of printouts (board games, extra worksheets, etc.). For example, pick out or ask your learners to pick out a sentence/paragraph from their textbook and read it faster, slower, whisper, or read it like a president reading their speech, or like a parent trying to convince their kid to eat broccoli, or make it sound creepy (this is most popular with teenagers; watch this video for more inspiration), etc.
I stand out
It’s about self-expression, telling people who you are.
Personalisation is one of the ways to get your learners to ‘stand out’.
Pair up your students and ask them to describe a few pictures starting with
This is me when I …
You may introduce other structures (choose which tense you’d like to focus on), or set a particular number of sentences (e.g. 3 sentences), or a time limit (20 seconds).
* Photo manipulations are a great resource for such activities.
Nothing triggers imagination more than powerful images that get learners to ask questions.
For example, to teach describing things using sense verbs and adjectives,
ask your learners to look at the images and answer the following questions
What does it taste like?
(A grain of sugar. Source: Pyanek)
What does it smell like?
(A cigarette. Source: Pyanek)
Getting learners to laugh is a guaranteed way to enliven learning.
That does not mean you should act as a stand-up comedian. There are amusing activities that might help generate laughter in the classroom.
Mad Libs is an activity where one student prompts others for words to substitute for blank spaces in a story, such as a noun, verb or adjective, before reading the story aloud. Quite often, it leads to creating a highly nonsensical and often hilarious story.
See more in the article Mad Libs.
[These are just a few practical ideas we discussed at the workshop. If there was an activity you’d like to learn more about, please get in touch with me or leave a comment.]
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Fun is multidimensional; it is not just about games.
Adding fun to learning is an essential part of planning for better learning, not at the expense of learning, but as a means of creating more meaningful and enjoyable learning experiences.
Ultimately, the choice is not between fun and no fun in the classroom; it’s the choice between learning and better learning.
It’s your choice.