It often happens that I’m on my way to the classroom, excited and eager to teach, because I have prepared an amazing activity and I can’t wait to present it to my students. I automatically assume that my students will get infected by my enthusiasm. But as soon as I open the door I feel disappointed. All I can see is students sitting on radiators, playing with their mobile phones, some reluctantly shuffling to their seats when they spot me. It’s like hitting a wall, a wall of opposition to whatever comes next. My expectations are shattered. I get slightly irritated even before the lesson starts.
It sometimes happens that I’m on my way to the classroom, tired and unmotivated, because I’ve had a long day or something went wrong in the previous lesson and I can’t wait for the end of the day. But as soon as I enter the classroom I forget about all my worries, strife and fatigue and I start smiling for no particular reason. The students are sitting at their desks, preparing for the lesson, looking eager to learn.
The fact is that our students (or rather classes) are independent entities who live their own lives so our overwhelming eagerness or doldrums may remain totally unnoticed. But we do influence each other, of course – our emotions blend and a lot of chemistry is going on between us and our students. But, if we let ourselves get infected by our students’ bad mood, we can’t achieve our goals. Nor can we when we inadvertently or intentionally pass our ennui on to the students.
A couple of days ago, I felt exhausted after a long day at school and I was headed to my private lesson that takes place twice a week after lunch. I assumed that the second scenario would happen, but to my surprise, something worse happened; I was tired and the students looked reluctant to do anything at all. I told them they looked like zombies and that we should get down to work immediately, even though this was an optional lesson. That didn’t help very much. At that moment I realized it was not their fault that they felt unmotivated. So I changed my plan and decided to introduce a game. Luckily, I always have my teacher survival kit at my disposal, for example a pile of blank A4 sheets, a bunch of sticky post-it notes, a set of dice, various images, etc.
At first I handed out the A4 sheets – one per each student. I asked the students to make a question starting with What…. When they finished I asked them to make another question starting with When….. Then I let Ss come up with their own examples of interrogative words for their questions. We went on till they had about 8 questions. Then I crumpled my A4 sheet into a ball and asked the students to do the same with their sheets. The snowball fight could start (see the pictures above). After some time I stopped the fight and got each student to pick up a ball closest to them and unfold it. I made sure everybody had somebody else’s set of questions. They went back to their seats and discussed the questions in pairs. This was an unplanned activity and another idea sprang to mind while I went round the class monitoring. I thought it would be a good idea to draw Ss’ attention to grammar – in a playful, competitive way. So after the speaking activity, I asked each student to look at the first question on the sheet and try to spot any grammatical errors. If they thought it was correct, they stood up. Then we quickly went through the correct questions one by one and providing we agreed that the question was correct, the student recorded a point. If not, we tried to figure out the correct version together. Finally, the sheets were returned to their authors, who could see the number of points they had received. The activity was a huge success and I felt it was meaningful and useful, as well as entertaining.
Another kinaesthetic activity which helped me cheer the students up and liven up the atmosphere in the class was this one. I’m sure most EFL teachers know it; it has many variations and you can expand on it, depending on the matter you are teaching. You simply place sticky post-it notes with various words on your students’ backs. Naturally, the students can’t see their words. Their task is to guess the word by asking appropriate questions. This is a mingling activity and everyone can only ask one question (or a limited number of questions) at a time before going on to the next partner. If the activity seems to be going on for too long, you can stop it, even before Ss guess their words, and ask them to continue in pairs, now their partners helping them by giving definitions or various clues. Again, this game got the students off their seats and as it was an information-gap sort of activity, it encouraged them to communicate meaningfully (though with a limited amount of L2 at the beginning and with ocassional L1 remarks).