For many instructors, the fall is the beginning of a new school year. There is much excitement and anxiety that comes with this time of year from both the instructors and learners. From the side of instructors, we worry about bringing in a jam-packed curriculum into a short amount of time. We worry about the new learners who will be coming into our classroom and the challenges they bring. How will we help them to overcome those challenges? Learners also worry about their new teachers and if they will be able to learn. Will the material be too difficult or impossible to comprehend? With all this worry and anxiety that can come along with the beginning of the school year, don’t forget the fun!
Even with the pressures of performing up to standards and the demanding workload put on teachers, it is crucial to find time for fun in the classroom. Fun should, in fact, be our priority! With intentional lesson planning that tries to bring fun and interest to our learners, teachers have an even better chance of helping their students remember, understand, and use the new material. Instructors might even find themselves having fun too! Anxiety can often create a mental roadblock for many of our learners, but, as they let their guard down and feel at ease with games or activities that peak their interest, those roadblocks can disappear.
Remember that fun does not always equal extra money or extra work. Using resources that you have and always keeping fun as a priority will dramatically change the environment of the classroom and the openness of your learners.
Have you ever considered role-plays where learners play dramatic characters? You can set the tone by being overly dramatic yourself and letting people laugh. People aren’t afraid to make mistakes if they are playing different characters. In the city of Chicago where my learners live, there are interesting people everywhere. We often talk about the bus drivers we encountered or a lady in a store that came to speak to one of the learners. We take on the role of the very energetic, outgoing bus driver, or the inquisitive lady at the supermarket during our role plays. We use whatever we can find in the classroom to create a bus. Chairs are set out as they would be on a bus and we grab a big bowl to make a steering wheel. These simple things bring us a little closer to the real thing.
Have you ever played jeopardy where you divide the class into teams and practice content that you have introduced previously? We take 4 main content areas we have been practicing such as vocabulary, grammar, conversational expressions, and common mistakes and then create 4 questions from easy to difficult and label them 100, 200, 300, and 400 for each category. We create two teams and ask for a rotation of representatives to come up from each team to answer a question. If representatives from both teams do not know the answers, they can return to their team for help in answering the question. This helps keep the whole team engaged.
Another fun activity with little planning and few resources needed is a scavenger hunt around the room. This could be done in so many ways. I have taken content we have been practicing such as health vocabulary and taped a piece of paper with the question on the wall such as, ‘Who is a person that cleans your teeth?’. The answer, ‘dentist’ will be somewhere in the room taped to a wall and when they find it, they will look on the back for the next question leading them to find the answer somewhere around the room. I usually have 10-15 questions with answers taped to the walls around the room. I will divide the class into pairs and have them start all at the same time. I require them to write both the question and answer down and to speak with their partner, saying the question and answer. The first team who completes all of the 10 questions and answers will come to me and read the question and answers as pairs out loud so I can hear to check their answers. They will receive a small prize. This activity has brought even the quietest and most reluctant learners out of their shells just to win a small prize with their partner.
Of course, ground rules are important and keeping things civil and respect is key, but in my 15 years of experience, bringing fun into the classroom has brought the shyest, quietest, most insecure students out of their shells, more confident to learn.