Monday, 11 August 2014



A while back I was joking around with a young adult class, and one of the students said, “Gee, Mr Don, you are so childish!”

I was chuffed, to say the least.

Lashings of childishness will serve you well in an EFL class. Think about the average classroom 100 or so years ago. The teacher was God, and his or her every order was to be followed slavishly. No slacking off. No fooling around. No muttering to your fellow students. Follow the instructions, or feel the wrath of an irate teacher descend upon your head. Classrooms are places of serious study, not jesting, day dreaming, or getting off-task. Such unclassroom-like behavior would invariably land you a caning, or at the very least an hour’s detention.

So, as well-meaning as those good teachers of yore were, why not a bit of fooling around… joking… laughter… silliness? As long as it doesn’t take over the lesson entirely, what’s the harm? Or more to the point, what are the benefits? There are plenty in my view.

A student with a relaxed mind is more receptive to new information, rather than one whose mind on its best behavior fearful of invoking a teacher’s wrath. Silliness brightens up a lesson and keeps your students alert and on their toes. The time seems to pass quicker. Students leave the classroom with smiles on their faces, looking forward to tomorrow’s lesson. I rest my case.

What kinds of silliness sit well in the EFL environment? Here are some examples. We all know the “Stop the Bus” activity. Now if students were required to say “Teacher, I’ve finished” at the end of each round, the important ingredient of silliness will have been stripped from the activity. Another example. You’re doing an activity that requires each student to write a sentence on a piece of paper, then exchange it with another student who must answer the question. A very straightforward (and rather predictably boring) reading and writing activity. So how about this: instead of merely passing the question slip to another student at random, tell the students to crumple their slips into balls, and to lob the balls into a box on the floor? When all the balls are in the box, students pull out one each. The throwing of the paper balls becomes one of the highlights of the lesson, with students either cheering or jeering each other’s throwing accuracy. Another: Students are required to perform tasks one by one in succession. OK, how do we select whose turn it is? The teacher points at the next student? Nah, you’re passing over a good chance for an injection of childishness there. Give a student a balloon or a ping pong ball, and tell him or her to throw it to a student of choice. Fun, laughter, hilarity. Music to my ears. 

I won’t give any more examples; I’m sure you’ve experimented with a few yourself, and found them very successful. But what I will urge is this. Make silliness a regular ingredient of your lessons. You won’t be disappointed. And neither will your students.


You won’t find the teaching hints contained in EFL Minus the B.S. in any other book, journal, or EFL training course. They are the result of my own 40 years of trial and error (lots of error, plus the occasional EUREKA moment). They’re 100% original, and 95% infallible. Don’t believe it? Read the book and find out for yourself.

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