TEACHING *FUN*DAMENTALS

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, i.e. there is learning and there is fun, and ‘never the twain shall meet’.

Why?

There are a lot of misconceptions about what fun in the classroom actually is, which explains why we are caught up in all these ideas that ‘there’s too much fun in the classroom’, ‘I’m not there to entertain them’ or ‘there’s no time for fun, they are there to learn’. Many of them might stem from poorly planned and executed ‘fun’ in the classrooms, distracting students from learning rather than facilitating it.

*Fun* is an approach to make learning more enjoyable, which may take a lot more time and skill to plan.

Getting your learners to play a ‘fun’ game or do a ‘fun’ activity does not mean that learning will follow. The flowchart below may help you decide if your activity is *fun* or a waste of time.

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GETTING INTO THE FESTIVE SPIRIT

It’s that time of the year again. The time to decorate the Christmas tree, do Christmas quizzes, make Christmas dishes, browse through the history and traditions of Christmas, or do lots of other activities related to the ‘jingle bells’ time of the year has finally come, just as the time to share my favourite tried and tested activities to get students into the festive spirit.

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This year the party will start with a highly engaging oldie but goldie

Draw your Wish or Chinese Whispers on paper.

Materials needed: an A4 sheet of paper per player

Special skills: Drawing skills; the worse, the better

Have everyone write their initials at the bottom of the page and think of a New Year wish they’d wish to themselves or their fellow students.

Language focus: Ways of expressing good wishes (in formal (may, let) and informal contexts), e.g. see different lists of New Year wishes here .

Everyone starts by writing a wish to someone in the room at the top of their paper. Once the players have a sentence at the top of their paper, ask them to pass their paper to the player to their left (or right). Then get the players to draw the wish given to them with a small picture under the sentence. After everyone has finished drawing their wishes, get the players to fold the top part of the paper over so it covers the first sentence. Then again, have the players pass the papers to their left (or right). When the players receive a paper, ask them to write the wish that is illustrated by the drawing.

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Then get the players to fold over their paper so just the last sentence is visible and pass the paper to the player to the left (or right). Continue the game until the players run out of space or until the players get their papers back.

Ask the players to unfold the papers and read the wishes. Much laughter is guaranteed.

Chocolate Confessions

You’ll need an assortment of small chocolate bars, or candies (of different types). Have each student choose a chocolate bar (or a candy) from a variety of chocolates/candies that are displayed on the table. Once they have chosen their favorite, put up the chart for what they should do for each chocolate bar/candy.

Chocolate Confession Chart

Chocolate [1…e.g. Milky Way= tell about an embarrassing experience this year

Chocolate [2] = share any funny or embarrassing experience that you had  this year

Chocolate [3] = tell about a fun experience this year

Chocolate [4] = tell about a wicked person you met this year

Chocolate [5] = tell about something new you learnt this year

Chocolate [6] = tell about a prank you watched or played on somebody

Chocolate [7] = tell about your wish that came true this year

Chocolate [8] = share any funny or embarrassing experience that you had  this year

Chocolate [9] = tell about your achievement this year

Chocolate [10] = share any funny or interesting experience that you had  this year

Give your students some time to eat their chocolates and think about their stories. When students are ready, say that now they will play the Whisper Challenge.

Whisper Challenge

To explain the rules, show the following video with Andrew and Ashley playing the Whisper Challenge.

Pair up or split your students into small teams of 3 persons in each and ask them to wear headphones and listen to some music while the other student (or a story teller in the group) tells a story (ideally, we need sound proof headphones, but if your students listen to some music on their phone, the effect will be the same). The person/persons wearing headphones should try to understand what the other person is saying. Then when they think they understand, they take off the headphones and say what they think the story was about. Much laughter is guaranteed. This activity is a fun way to eat, share and bond.

A White Elephant Gift Exchange or Dirty Santa

A White Elephant Gift Exchange is a popular Christmas event where people vie to walk away with the best present. It also goes by Yankee Swap, Dirty Santa, and a plethora of other names. The White Elephant game is played by a lot of different rules – some dead simple and others confusingly elaborate. You can see the basic rules here.

We shall play a slightly different version of the game.

We need gifts.

Option 1: You may use small things that students have brought to give to their fellow students. Each gift is opened after chosen and before traded so everyone can see what they’re getting – or giving up!

Option 2: Fill in Christmas stockings. Get them to think of a present they would like to get for this Christmas and fill in their Christmas stocking (see the Christmas Stocking templates designed by Tekhnologic).

2. Now put all the stockings together, show the gifts you have (or get them to tell which gifts they’d like to get and why), shuffle the stockings and get the students to pick one stocking.

3.  Party time. Say they have to follow the instructions and exchange gifts. No. 1 might ask for his/her own stocking or ask for any other stocking from anyone.

* Students can keep using the numbers from the Chocolate Confessions game.

1.  Lucky you, you’re # 1 You get to start all the fun.

So grab a gift and grab it quick.

Cause you’re the one who gets first pick.

2. Number 2 you’re on the way. It’s time for you to have your say. It’s time for you to have your say.

Get your gift and when you’re done,

Swap it off with number 1.

3. Number 3 it’s plain to see. It’s your turn to pick which gift `twill be.

And when your choosing job is through,

Swap with 1 and then with 2.

4. Number 4 must use your head. So grab a gift that has some red.

If it doesn’t suit you to a `T’,

You may swap with 2 or 3.

5. Jump to 5, don’t drag your feet. Take your gift back to your seat.

Wonder of wonders, it’s yours for a spell.

But what comes next, you can never tell.

6. Number 6 it’s your time to go. Grab a gift and don’t be slow.

Now put on a smile so they won’t be sore,

Cause you must swap with #4.

7. Is a lucky number it seems, You choose a gift that has some green.

Poke it, and shake it until you get back.

Now trade with someone wearing black.

8. Number 8 it’s up to you. To get a gift that has some blue.

Now go quietly to your place.

Or trade with someone with a smiling face.

9. Nine, we haven’t forgotten you. So choose your gift and don’t be blue.

Consider well and when all is said.

Trade with someone wearing red.

10. Number 10 come to the front. For yours you shouldn’t have to hunt.

Now hurry back and look alive.

For you get to swap with #5.

If you would like to continue the exchange, or you have more students in your class, just make slight changes to this fun White Elephant poem.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Looking for more ideas?

Check wonderful Christmas resources from Tekhnologic: 2017 Calendar: A Class Calendar in PowerPoint or the Christmas Quiz

A fabulous lesson plan on Christmas from the BBC and British Council

Fun Christmas resources from Larry Ferlazzo

And a set of daily posted Christmas ideas from Theodora Papapanagiotou

1 WORKSHEET – 10 GAMES

Make drilling more meaningful and fun. All you need is a sheet of paper.

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This post shows how the use of game mechanics can help a teacher design better drilling activities and turn repeated practice of target grammar or vocabulary into a cognitively engaging exercise.

  • Focus on the material to be practised and learning outcomes for your group of students: e.g. irregular verbs

It is essential to clearly see the ‘why’ in terms of language learning and use games and game techniques as a means to an end, rather than for their own sake. Bringing a game from the external world, without adapting it to learners’ needs and expected learning outcomes, may be just a waste of time (and money, if the game requires numerous handouts) in terms of learning. Games most certainly add a fun element to the lesson. However, if the main focus is on the game rather than what needs to be practised, it is only logical to expect improvement in engagement or enjoyability, which may or may not lead to improvement in performance.

  • Form of interaction: two or three students alternating between the roles.

Learning irregular verbs requires much memorization, drilling and practice. Ideally, every student should be given an opportunity to see, write, say and hear verb forms again and again. If you teach a large class, the most ideal option would be to have students work in pairs or small teams of 3 students in each.

  • Work less: Engage learners in the process of preparation for the game

Teachers typically carry the full load of preparation. Do less to achieve more. The preparation for the game might significantly maximise learning. Hand out a sheet of A4 paper to each student. They have to fold it in half 4 times to get a 4 by 4 grid (16 squares). Choose the form of filling in the squares with verbs: dictate the verbs and have students give their forms and write the verbs in spaces on the grid (offer to choose squares – choice); or give a second form and ask them to write down the verb (challenge); or give a list of verbs and get students to fill in one verb at a time and rotate their grids until all the grids have been filled in with verbs (novelty).

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  • Think of the game elements to add: points, levels, goals, competition, uncertainty, taking turns, specific rules, time limit, game pieces, etc.

There are different game mechanics you can apply to one and the same worksheet. For example:

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This is not an exhaustive list of games we can play. Instead of points, you may use money (e.g. 10 cents per word guessed) and turn the process into a truly enriching exercise for your students.

Every game has certain unique features or basic game elements that may help you create gameplay with a particular worksheet or particular area of language in focus. Again, what you want to achieve will define the rules of the game. If, apart from memorization of the forms, you target fluency and more meaningful production – use of verb forms in speech – in addition to giving forms, have students make sentences with these verbs. For example, instead of calling out words in Bingo, set the following rules:

Bingo: To play the game, pick a certain verb and ask the other student a question. If they answer it with the verb (e.g. in its second form), cross it off the bingo sheet. 

– What did you write first in your sheet?

– I wrote “to write”.

With a 4 x 4 grid, this will provide a maximum asking and answering run of 32 questions with the target language.

Change the interaction pattern of the game, e.g. have students move in the classroom and approach and ask other students, and you’ll get a more interesting form of bingo.

You can play any game in the classroom. You don’t need glossy cards and expensive boards. All you need is one worksheet that your students will create themselves.

‘It ain’t what you use, it’s the way that you use it, and that’s what gets results’.

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This post is part of my workshops for busy teachers working in low-resource conditions. If you’re interested in more ideas or games, please check my other posts:

IT AIN’T WHAT YOU USE

PLAY & LEARN

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And more ideas are yet to come – watch this space!

Happy holidays!

ART IN THE CLASSROOM: THE TOPSY-TURVY WORLD

“Art is all around us”.

My today’s post is a lesson plan built around Netherlandish Proverbs (Nederlandse Spreekwoorden), a 1559 painting with literal illustrations of 200 Dutch proverbs and idioms by the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, offering an engaging way of working with art and language.

Level: B2+.

Step 1.

Tell your students that these are pieces/details of the 1559 painting by the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel. Have them study and describe what they see. (Click the following link to download the ppt. for the classroom netherlandish-proverbs). Based on the details, get them sharing ideas what this painting might depict.

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Language focus: seems to/looks like; modal verbs of deduction

Show the whole painting and ask the students to find the details on the painting.

*Students can zoom in on particular scenes of the painting in the Google Art Project here.

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Ask the students if they have seen this painting before. What does it depict? Which scenes do they find particularly interesting?

Language focus: in the foreground/background; in the middle/center; at the top/bottom; on the left/right; behind/in front of.

Step 2.

Play the video and ask the students to note down what the four pieces mean.

 

Click the following link to download the worksheet – handout.

Language focus:

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Get the students to pick a piece they find interesting and find what stands behind in the Expressions Featured in the Painting here. Have the students describe the scene and their impressions (use the worksheet as a scaffold).

Step 3. 

Ask your students to think of proverbs/sayings in their language that describe human behaviour (or get them to pick a few scenes from the painting and compare the sayings in their language) and their equivalents in English (iDiom Corner may be handy). Hand out post-it notes and ask the students to draw the proverb/saying they chose and put all their post-its together – their Topsy-Turvy World is ready.

Happy teaching!

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Image: Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for more ideas? Check The Best Resources For Using Art As A Way To Teach & Learn English from Larry Ferlazzo.

STORY CUPS

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My today’s post continues the series of posts on crafts and low-cost ideas for the classroom (See CREATIVE LOW-COST TEACHING/LEARNING AIDS to learn how to make low-cost flip cards, small books, vocabulary organizers, puppets and game fields out of a sheet of paper).

Today we will try to make a reusable alternative for cut-and-paste worksheets. You will not need to print out worksheets for kids, and they will need neither scissors nor glue.

Materials:

You will need 3 water cups (make sure they’re transparent) and a permanent black marker (or several coloured markers).

Take the first cup and draw a face, or a face with a body.

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Now take the second cup, stack it onto the first one and draw trousers with shoes. Rotate the cup and draw shorts, or trousers, or skirts on the cup.

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Take the third cup, stack it onto the second cup and add shirts or t-shirts.

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The three cups will be enough to play. Get learners to rotate the cups, dress up and describe their stickmen.

You can also use a fourth cup to add different hair styles. Stack the fourth cup onto the third cup and draw different hair styles.

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And the fifth cup can be used for accessories.

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Now the cups are ready to play.

Get kids to rotate the cups, dress up and describe their stickmen.

Tips:

  • Use wet napkins to remove permanent marker from the cup.
  • Instead of a stickman, get kids to create different monsters.

Happy teaching!

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Images: Special thanks go to my daughter Pauline for the cups and creative ideas.

HOW TO BE A BORING TEACHER

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Recent research suggests that boredom might have many benefits, including increased creativity. A researcher from the University of Central Lancashire carried out the following experiment. She split students into two groups and had one group carry out a humdrum task of copying phone numbers from a phone book and then asked both groups to come up with as many creative uses for two plastic cups as possible…Do you have any doubts as to who got their creative juices flowing at the speed of light?

What the researcher calls an ‘experiment’ is everyday classroom experience for many teachers. Whenever our students get bored, their creativity levels go through the roof, and they come up with a million creative uses for their pens, pencils, books, classmates, the floor and the ceiling in the classroom. However, we’d never plan a boring task. Never. It’s the topic, which is boring.

Asserting that we have boring topics (texts, language aspects, etc.) to teach is probably the best excuse for our students’ low level of interest and engagement, and, ultimately, performance. I’ve heard it many times, coming from a horde of experienced teachers (usually added with ‘o tempora, o mores, these modern kids, they just don’t care anymore!) and young teachers who are fired up with enthusiasm but have fewer strategies to draw from.

There’s a well-known mantra in teaching – “explore your students’ interests”. This, however, doesn’t mean that their interests should define the topics we introduce. This defines the first step in my NO-JOKE GUIDE: HOW TO BE A BORING TEACHER

Step 1. Wave good-bye to Shakespeare, poetry, art, spacecrafts, secret lives of butterflies, etc. and focus entirely on the topics your students are interested in at the moment. It’s ‘Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen’ly easy.

Welcome to the world of Pepe the Frog, teachers!

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Potential risks and opportunities: becoming a ‘Yo Audrey’ teacher

John Dewey wrote that interest operates by a process of “catch” and “hold”. First, we catch someone’s interest, and then we should try to maintain it.

To make sure your students don’t ‘catch’ it right away, keep a stiff upper lip and repeat to them again and again that

Step 2. It’s a dull topic (I know, right?) but you have to learn it because a) it’s in the course book; b) it’s in the test; c) it’s in the curriculum; d) your school insists on it; e) any other no-choice option.

No choice coupled with teachers’ beliefs (or previous learning traces) might be a winning combination. This managed to create quite an off-putting image of grammar, evoking associations of something that can be either “right” or “wrong”.

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The approach required to catch someone’s interest is different from the one that is required to hold it. If your students still show a spark of interest (despite Step 1 and Step 2 actions),

Step 3. Overcomplicate it

The research of Paul Silvia suggests that to be interesting, the subject matter must be novel and comprehensible. That means introducing either entirely new things or novel aspects of familiar things and calibrating their complexity so that these things are neither too hard nor too easy to understand. The minute people feel unable to comprehend them and master the challenges that they pose, they lose interest.

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If you find it hard to overcomplicate your topic, resort to the opposite

Step 4. Oversimplify it

Keeping up one’s interest requires some challenging activities. Give them an easy path to the feeling that they understand something when what they understand is not complete, and they will spiral downward into the abyss of boredom.

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Step 5. Avoid variety 

Stick to your course book. Follow it religiously, page after page. The minute you use something that may build in surprises, be it a worksheet you designed or a new game you’d like to try, you lose it all. They get interested.

Step 6. All work and no fun  

Review your topic/course book thoroughly to eliminate any element of fun  (jokes, games, etc.) and, for heaven’s sake, wipe the smile off your face – we mean hard work here.

Step 7. Talk too much

It’s your stage. It’s your time. Talking too much is especially effective in getting their eyes glaze over. The more verbose you are, the less attentive your students will be.

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Step 8. No personal relevance

People remember and get curious about things that move them. Make sure you use nothing they might relate to or nothing that might move them – no images, no music, no videos, and

Step 9. No motion

Get them to sit up straight and still “in time of books”. Try to avoid using activities that involve moving around the classroom; use “pair up and ask questions” instead of an opinion poll or gallery walk. To strengthen the effect, make sure the questions have no personal relevance to your students.

Step 10. No enthusiasm

Some studies suggest that teacher’s enthusiasm has a significant influence on student engagement in the classroom. The more enthusiastic and dynamic teachers are, the more engaged students become, behaviorally, cognitively and emotionally. Enthusiastic teachers rub off their enthusiasm on students, so if you want your students to be bored, let yourself be crushed by boredom.

There are no boring topics, there are boring ________. 

It’s your choice.

 

Image: woodleywonderworks, Flickr.com, Creative Commons

SPELLING MATTERS

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English spelling might seem very illogical but it

can be learnt

through

tough

thorough

thought, though.

Only about 12% of words in English are spelt the way they sound. With 26 letters, there are around 44 sounds (this is not precise as different accents produce different sounds) and several hundred ways to write those sounds. As a result, many learners (especially learners whose first language is phonetic, i.e. what you see is what you say) struggle with their spelling of English words.

There have been many attempts to “fix” the language and make words easier to spell (See the initiative of the English Spelling Society in the UK, proposing spellings like “wensday”, “crum”, “cof”, “distres” and “milenium”). But before they “kik the ‘c’ out of the sirkle and the ‘ph’ out of the telefones”, we’ll have to think of ways to make our learners’ life a little bit easier.

Spelling has much to do with how we remember things. One of the ways to help learners recall some tricky words is to use mnemonic strategies.

Mnemonics (/nəˈmɒniks/) are short devices (sayings, poems, etc) used to remember complex ideas.

Here are a few activities that you may try with your students to introduce them to mnemonics and improve their spelling.

STEP 1.

Dictate the following words to your students (B1-B2):

1) Wednesday

2) Rhythm

3) Separate

4) Currants (berries)

5) Quiet

6) Because

7) Necessary

8) Accommodation

9) Said (as in “he said something”)

10) Hear (as in “I don’t hear you”)

11) Caught

12) Ghost

Ask them to share their lists with their partners and try and spot any mistakes.

STEP 2.

Ask your students to guess the day:

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(Answer: Wednesday)

Get your students to check the spelling of the words you dictated in Step 1 using the following mnemonics:

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This will work more effectively if your students create their own mnemonics.

STEP 3.

Have you students think of tricky words for spelling (they surely have their ‘most favourite words ever’) (or introduce a few words that are often misspelled by your students) and create their own mnemonics for these words.

E.g. Here are a few mnemonics from my students:

“career” – car and beer

“habit” – a habit is not a rabbit

“island” – is land

“lose” – uh-oh, I’ve lost an ‘o’

I would love to hear your students’ mnemonics!

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Check out Luke’s English Podcast to learn more about mnemonics, memory training and learning English here.

(Image: John Lillis, Flickr.com, creative commons)