If you’re like most people, you didn’t enjoy learning when you were pressured to do so. Accountability and pressure is, to some extent, an inevitable part of school. The problem is, after so many years of associating learning with school, we forget how fun it can be.
Children are naturally curious. They’re constantly asking questions. Why is the sky blue? How many sequins are on that dress? Why do bears sleep all winter? Most importantly, why do I have to learn this? They may like to learn, but they don’t always want to learn what we want them to know. There are two ways to respond.
1. Force them. As parents and teachers, we are in charge. We can force them into a classroom. We can call on them when their hands are down. We can force feed them English grammar and a resentment of the language all in one bitter spoonful. There’s a better way.
2. Make them laugh. It is possible for students to have fun in class. Most students like anything competitive. (Think spelling bee versus spelling test.) Young students love doing anything that allows them to move around. Even boring classroom routines can be funny.
Start class in the lobby. When students are lining up for class, don’t stare at the clock. Say, “Amy is a trash can.” “Toilet” and “potato” are also quite popular insults among my students. A particularly creative student once informed me that I’m a three-headed chicken. The students love calling the teacher names without getting into trouble. Choose “insults” from the current unit. They’ll recall vocabulary words for fun and enter class already warmed up.
Tip: If you’re not sure how your students will respond, start by name calling fellow teachers. The students will pick up on the game quickly.
Use silly examples
Even something as simple as presenting new grammar points with funny sentences can brighten up a class. My class practiced using “prefer to” with sentences like “Would you prefer to eat a zombie or drink pee-pee?” Zombie eating has been a meme in the class ever since.
Stress and learning often go together in school, but truth be told, they aren’t very good partners. Stress actually interferes with memory and makes it harder to learn. Dopamine, however, improves our memory. Not only is it more pleasant to learn when we’re happy, it’s easier.
I’ve been teaching English to kids and teens for a year and a half now, and I’m going to tell you a secret. The students that speak English the best aren’t necessarily the students who focus hard in class, who memorize all the words perfectly, and who study at home. The best English learners are the ones who have fun. They’ve found a reason to like English, and they don’t study; they play.
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Aly is an avid reader and language learner. She spends her free time devouring books at her favourite coffee shop, puzzling out Chinese, and stuffing her hard drive full of pictures of China.