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How to Make Learning Fun for your Students

Henry Stephens

We can’t always promise to deliver a fun class. If we did we would be kidding ourselves, and our students. On the other hand, our job is to motivate, encourage and enthuse. That word – “boring” – all too quickly uttered by junior learners, and occasionally heard from exasperated adults as well, denotes a guaranteed obstacle to effective learning. Classes need to be fun – Sometimes. We may assume this is simply a matter of bringing more ‘games’ or songs into class, but there are many other facets to creating an enjoyable learning atmosphere.

‘Fun’ is not something we can print and sell, and we can’t photocopy it and bring it in with us. If we think of it as a shared state of mind, then we might well start with spending time on ‘atmospherics’. When it’s raining outside, or a Monday morning any variety of quick warm up can wake people up or help ‘change the chip’. I find that just giving students the space to chat about whatever seems relevant on the day is a good way to make them feel involved, embolden them, and forge relationships within the class. This doesn’t need to take too long, and it gives everyone a chance to adjust to the classroom.

We mustn’t expect (or be expected) to be entertainers, but at the same time we aim to make classes enjoyable and motivating.

All learners will enjoy seeing their progress. It’s fun to feel that you are better at the language than last week. Given that that students tend to measure their ability against others in the class, why not foster some healthy competition – i.e. “Who can perform best this week in the test? Can we knock (so and so) off his/her pedestal?” Granted, sometimes students want privacy, but then again getting results out into the open adds an element of urgency and healthy competition. We need to judge what is best. Progress checks might be a sensible alternative. Try asking students to look back through the unit, if you have been using a book, and tick off from a list of statements, either on the board or on a handout, specifying what they can now do in the language, like order a drink, give advice, talk about plans and so on. This may not be very fun in itself, but given that the ultimate aim is to improve in the language (particularly for adult learners), seeing progress is bound to help stave off the dreaded ‘boredom’.

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For younger learners, and for many adults too, movement is an essential component to learning. For business classes and one-to-ones there is perhaps a danger that we avoid any kind of movement, thinking it inappropriate. But movement in class can be the perfect antidote to what may otherwise be another day stuck in meetings, or in front of a computer. Getting students to move around while they learn might be done with running dictations (probably without the ‘running’ for adult learners), milling and mingling, buzz groups, or getting students to write on the whiteboard. In a large space, I find students tend to cluster near to each other, but seating them on different sides of a large room can encourage use of a different tonal range and is another recommendation for creating variety and interest.

Finally, its important not to confuse what you may find fun as a native speaker with what students will find fun. A game of Snakes and Ladders or Battleships, wherein students might have to speak for a minute on diverse topics, may be fun for more able students, but may also be a highly daunting proposition. Having said that, students usually want to put it all together, and use what they know in a practical way. This is both more fun than micro-concentration on language points, and it more closely resembles life outside the classroom. So, fun also means achievable communication tasks – like roll-play, questionnaires and surveys, swapping messages and emails, and the like. And of course, ideally, once students are engaged on such a task we as teachers can observe, and hopefully enjoy too.

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We mustn’t expect (or be expected) to be entertainers, but at the same time we aim to make classes enjoyable and motivating. We have to ask ourselves ‘what would this group find fun?” The answer for many teachers is found through listening to students and letting them guide. More than likely we’ll need to free up: plan easier tasks, plan for movement, plan for competition and highlight progress where possible with quick, open progress tests, with no skimping on free practice. Hopefully your students will say thanks with a sunny smile on the way out of the door! Always appreciated.

About the author

Henry has been working in teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) since 2001. Henry is married with one young son, and he lives in Harrow, London. In his spare time he enjoys playing the piano and practicing his Spanish whenever possible.