When teaching beginner students (and here we are generally referring to young, elementary school students), the most effective thing you can do is find ways to make class fun from beginning to end. If your students are constantly begging you to “Play a Game!”, then they are probably bored and need stimulation. However, games should rarely be necessary in class. Instead, all parts of class—from reviewing the lesson in the main textbook, reading a story as a class, and writing assignments, to warm ups at the beginning of class and wrap ups at the end of class—should be constantly injected with lightheartedness and fun. This will keep students engaged, interested, and, most importantly, looking forward to your English class. Here are some tips on how to make this happen.
- Start Strict
Whether it’s your very first class with a new class of students, or simply the start of another day with your regular students, start off by establishing order, making sure all of the students sit calmly, writing names on the board (if applicable), and ensuring that the students know that this is a classroom, not a playground. It is crucial to establish this respectful baseline, as this allows you to create a fun class that will not easily get out of hand.
- Fun, Fast Warm-ups
After everyone is seated and attentive, use the first five minutes of class doing a warm up exercise. This may involve reviewing the past lesson (grammar point, vocabulary, etc.) or simply saying past tense sentences about what they did today (or over the weekend, etc.). This can be a quick, fun activity that puts everyone in a good mood. See the following section (Simple and Classic ESL Games) for a description of several useful time-killers and warm-up games.
- Prepare to be Silly
In the course of teaching a class, stay engaged, stay energetic, and have fun. This will involve being very animated, expressive, and silly. Constantly making jokes helps keep the students attention and turn you into one of their favorite teachers.
- Play pranks and joke around. For example, while teaching young students in Taiwan, I would often try to steal the pencils off of the students’ desks. If they didn’t notice, the other students would start to laugh and snicker. If they did notice, they would inevitably say “Hey!” However, with Taiwanese children, the word “hey” often sounds like the letter “A”, so I would in turn say, “B!”, which would lead to an endless back-and-forth exchange of “C!”, “D!”, “E!”, and so on.
Very, very silly, indeed. And though you might be tempted to say that this is distracting to the students, in reality it only takes about 15 seconds of class time, and it has the benefits of 1) putting a smile on everyone’s face, and 2) encouraging students to pay attention at all times, lest they become the butt of one of my practical jokes.
- Introduce them to the wonderful world of sarcasm. When my students would raise their hand and say, “Teacher, can I go to the bathroom?” I would look at them sternly and, using my most serious voice, reply “Tomorrow.” Inevitably, this would catch everyone’s attention. The student who asked would be shocked and confused, and the other students would start to laugh uncontrollably. I would then smile, say, “Just kidding”, and let the student go. Simple, quick, and hilarious to the kids in the class.
- Telling simple jokes is another good way to get the students’ attention and allow them to rest their minds for a second. Jokes like “Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9!” are always a big hit with kids. Brush off those old, ridiculous jokes from your childhood and try them out.
- Start asking new questions. Are you tired of asking for volunteers and seeing no hands go up? Are you tired of asking “Who wants to read” and getting no volunteers? Try asking the opposite: “Who doesn’t want to read?” If students don’t want to read, they raise their hands. The one or two students who are not paying attention will not raise their hands, and they are the lucky ones who get to read.
I use this in classes ALL the time and it keeps students paying attention and somewhat involved in the classes. You can also ask questions such as “Who doesn’t want to go first?” or “Who doesn’t want to answer a question?” or “Who doesn’t want to spell a word?”
Eventually, the students will get used to this and everyone will raise their hands, in unison, as soon as you ask the question “Who doesn’t...?” (This is thus a good strategy to use when new students come to class, as they will inevitably be puzzled when everyone suddenly raises their hands. They learn quickly, though.) To keep the kids on their toes, try asking “Why doesn’t want to go home?” and watch as the students instinctively raise their hands against their own wills. Or try “Why doesn’t want to sit quietly?” – and those who raise their hands instinctively get to read!
- Wrap Up the Class
It’s always a good idea to do a quick review at the end of class to wrap up the class. If you have an extra five or ten minutes at the end of class, try playing a quick game or review activity. The following section has several good games that can be used to wrap up a class or kill an extra few minutes here or there.