Is your class boring you to death with rote memorization and grammar drills? Are your students sleeping, passing notes or singing songs to themselves without really caring what’s happening in class? Are the holes in the wall, drafts and sounds driving you insane and making you want to fall asleep in the back of the classroom? Have all of your lesson plans failed since the kids don’t really find your games that interesting or they end up being too complicated to explain through the teacher as a translator (who knew 20 Questions could be so hard)? Do your lesson plans end up winding the class up too early leaving you to stand around awkwardly with your teaching partner and asking, “What’s next?” even though you know she didn’t have anything planned next since you two did plan the class together?
This American teacher I met in Ukraine would have an answer for you. He used to teach in Saudi Arabia and explained how they disciplined the kids:
I had so many problems with the children in the beginning. But then when the headmaster came in, he gave me a secret. He told me to come to class with a big stick. He didn’t say to do anything with the stick, but just put it visibly on the desk. The kids would get the picture. Then after a month when the kids would get used to you doing nothing with the big stick, go on to the second face. Pick the rowdiest, most obnoxious kid who’s clearly the leader of the circus and give him a thwack on the back of the head. Nothing too hard, but enough to embarrass him in front of everyone else. Then you’ll have discipline for the rest of the year.
The American was pretty proud of learning this method from his Arabian brethren. His eyes seemed to gloss up at the idea of brandishing a big stick around school, thinking himself something of a Teddy Roosevelt of teachers. But my own American leanings – clearly much softer than his own – didn’t at all care for his method. I preferred other methods – like making class fun and interesting enough to keep the kids attention. You see, kids aren’t rowdy because their little running nightmares, they’re rowdy because they’re kids being forced to sit in one spot for six hours a day at nearly constant mental occupation. Not even adults care do that. So education, rather than seem forceful – nobody likes being forced – must seem at the very least interesting, and at the best, fun.
Well, good news for the reader. I have proven answers for you. I wanted to offer these breakthrough illuminations of education for the low price of $10.99 but, as TLG is a charitable effort, I decided to release them here, on the TLG blog site for free.
1. The origami solution
For the first solution, just follow these ten easy steps to a simple origami-inspired answer:
1. Take out five pieces of paper. Or four, or eight – the amount doesn’t really matter.
2. Fold them carefully in half.
3. Unfold them.
4. Crumple them.
5. Tighten them.
6. Continue to tighten them together, so they don’t fall apart when you let go.
7. Show your new “Origami Boulder” to the class.
8. Ask a question.
9. Throw the ball.
10. Tell the kid who caught the ball and answered to throw the ball and ask a question.
It’s that simple. You can play this game over and over and it never seems to get old with the children. They raise their hands and make gurgling noises, mixed in with the sweet sounds of “me, me, me!” or “mas, mas, mas!” or “teacher, teacher!” With all those eager hands raised, they every time remind me of a school of carp, swarming to the surface, fighting each other for the very last bread crumb of knowledge floating next to the docks. And the ball is thrown and thrown, back across the room, for a good thirty minutes until finally, you wanted to add another grammar concept. What’s good about this easy game is that you can cement in them the grammar concepts you want with such questions like:
Question: “What do you enjoy doing on the weekend?”
Answer: “I enjoy relaxing and reading.”
Keep them with those -ing endings!
Question: “What did you do last weekend?”
Answer: “I went to the park.”
Past simple becomes a past problem!
Question: “What are you going to do after school?”
Answer: “I’m going to study English.”
You’re going to have them understand “going to” is not always a verb of motion in no time!
Of course, my trademarked “Origami Boulder” solution is useful in other ways, too. When a student isn’t paying attention or is behaving badly, you can always throw the ball at him while he’s not paying attention. The whole class laughs and he even thinks it’s fun and funny, so he joins in.
2. The race
Kids love anything that might resemble a competition, even if there’s nothing really at stake. When you tell one kid to go to the board and do something, he feels sluggish and humiliated, worrying about failing in front of all his peers. But you send two to the board, and it suddenly becomes a race. It doesn’t matter what they’re writing – be it the latest vocab, numbers, or an explanation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity in their own words – just as long as it’s a race. And to make it even more fun, make it a round robin. The winner stays and the loser goes back to his desk, allowed to rejoin the competition and encouraged now to unseat the victor and so the child begins to study some at his seat. Even kids who haven’t even done their homework jump in to get involved.
This game, like the origami boulder game, can go on nearly all class period; the kids will never get tired of it. They’ll only get more into the game, shouting the answers and chanting the names of the victors.
3. Board games
Here I don’t mean those boring games that you lay out on a table and move around little pieces in a method of training for corporate takeovers and making your friends go onto welfare. Here I mean making the kids get out of their seats and going up to the board and doing something, and this time not in a racing fashion. This best works when you have large cards with different colors or things on them or some sort of pictures that you can prop up on the board. It also works best with the smaller kids. Just put up letters and ask them to point out a letter. They generally start out just yelling the usual, “Mas, mas!” but then they quickly get out of control and start mobbing to the board, like in the picture below.
An easy solution to this is just to stand quietly and wait. The kids want to play so much, that the enforcers emerge and start yelling to the other kids to sit down and you don’t have to raise your voice. Just wait. The kids eventually get it and sit down, or they get just get so excited about learning English that they start, as though linked by the mind, to recite the different letters and colors on their own, or teaching the other kids the letters and numbers. This, of course, can serve it’s own benefit.
These are just three examples, but the ultimate trick is to get the kids interested and having fun. If you can instill them with these two iconic values when learning, then they’ll develop a whole lifetime of enthusiasm for education and hopefully, never stop learning.