There was a discussion several months back about fun in the ELT classroom. Several people brought up the point this was not the goal of the class and a number of people were happy that this had become part of the public discussion. However, it was not discussed as a by-product of teaching and learning.
Starting my 38th year of teaching English as a foreign language, it is difficult for me to imagine working in this field if it were truly devoid of fun. Just looking at dictionary definitions we see that the noun ‘fun’ is defined as being a pleasure or something that provides enjoyment. The adjective ‘fun’ is described as enjoyable, pleasurable, and agreeable. As these are states many of us look for in our private lives, I feel they can certainly carry over into the classroom.
Using photos and short stories about our childhoods to get to know each other.
In many cases, once we have rapport with our students, learning and teaching becomes more pleasurable. In my work with adults, we laugh together about things we have in common or have discovered about each other, topics ranging from our free time to what we are discussing at the moment in class. At times, issues that may be problematic can be made easier to discuss by finding elements of humour in them or in the language we need to discuss them. Comparing languages can be done in a light-hearted but accurate way and may make the difficulties more accessible to learners. Even when we deal with serious topics, we can get enjoyment from the act of leaning about them.
Adult learners enjoying each other’s stories.
I have found over the years that different elements create a feeling of ‘fun’ in the classroom. Giving out stickers to my adult learners is one example of this. They appreciate them, they find them amusing and they work hard to get them. Telling stories or anecdotes is another way to create a light-hearted atmosphere. We often teach business English students about the importance of this when starting off a presentation or a talk, why not use these ourselves in class as they are a positive way to get everyone’s attention and create a feeling of rapport with the group? Cooperative learning activities which foster interdependence among learners is another way to have fun as are many of the physical activities we can use to break up the routine.
Making a ‘cooperative tent’ which provides room for all.
What I notice in classes with a feeling of ‘fun’ is that the students become so engaged in what we are doing that the time just flies by. I think we would all agree that unpleasant activities seem to last longer than those which are pleasurable and enjoyable. Students leave class more energised and, from my experience, seem to remember well what we did in class because the ‘fun’ they were having kept their attention on what we were doing. It may not be our goal, but as a side product, fun can be seen as a powerful tool in the process of learning.