Make Teaching English Fun!

Reading workshopAs a kid’s book author I often run storytelling workshops and try to include a variety of creative ideas into my sessions.   I therefore have a reputation of helping children learn how to make reading fun.

Also in my business life, I work as a marketing consultant and thus having good presentation skills and knowing how to get your message home are two important skills I felt I could apply to helping kids learn English.

Living in France, the local French primary schools are now mandated to teach English to all 7 year + pupils and yet they often have no budget to hire “English teachers”. I was alarmed to read that at the end the year, children often have only been taught to say their name in English…

I therefore offered my services, as a volunteer, to join the local primary school teacher and offer some FUN English classes at the end of the school year. I received the syllabus for the year, and thought “I could teach this in one day!”

So with that objective I set about to create a fun English class, that would achieve my boast of teaching the kids the year’s syllabus in one class.

I mapped out my planned agenda and on the evening before my first class, I was delighted to stumble on a YouTube Video by Richard Graham.   Richard is a dynamic English teacher, mainly working in Japan, teaching English to Japanese kids. He has created a wealth of knowledge having taught over 14,000 kids and has many CDs, videos and guides to back it up.  As I designed my agenda, I watched some of his videos and felt I could use some of his fun ideas within my own class format.  His company is called GENKI English (Genki means fun in Japanese) so I felt I shared a common love of offering “fun” to kids. I felt confident that his suggestions should complement my own philosophy on educating children.

I arrived at the school and told the French teacher, get ready for a surprise – I bet your children have never attended such a class.

I started the class by saying hello and then asking all the kids to close their eyes. We then counted down 10,9, 8, 7  etc (good I thought, they know their numbers!).  At zero the kids then opened their eyes. I told them they were now in a special ENGLISH class and we were going to have FUN learning English. We also did this in reverse at the end when I returned them back to FRENCH school! The kids (aged 9,10 and 11) thought this was a little silly but still fun. I had used this idea for younger kids, who still believe in Magic and thought it was rather cool!

The class was straight after lunch and the room was VERY hot. The kids looked tired and sleepy. So nothing like a bit of classroom gym to wake the children into learning mode. I surprised the kids by asking them to stand up, sit down, jump, sit, hop, turnaround etc. This was met by lots of giggling. I’m certain they thought I was mad.  A few boys stood up very slowly, almost wanting to opt out, but peer pressure pushed them to join.

I then immediately kicked off with Richard’s warm up session, “What’s your Name”, exercise. With no explanation, I simply sang “What’s your name” – a few bright kids shouted back their name. I held up my hand and repeated the phrase and followed it with 4 claps. I instructed the kids to join in. We moved on and within 2 minutes the whole class were standing up, Greeting each other, saying their name, how old their were, and how they felt!  I was thankful that my old drama skills were kicking in.  My mime for “I’m cold”, “I’m hot” were identified by the kids, before I had a chance to say the phrase.    I probably looked very silly, but it was important to push away my own shyness and act like a kid!  As Richard reminds teachers, “keep in GENKI – keep in Fun and the kids will love it!”.

I kept the pace fast and ensured that all the kids were involved. Pulling forward the shy or “cool” kids who were trying to hide at the back. Moving around – teaching from the side, back and front of the class. Making the kids sit and listen for a short time, then getting them to stand up to play some games ensuring that ALL the kids participated in the Q & A.  I had the advantage that I knew the kids from previous workshops sessions I had ran at the school.  I was aware of those children who had dyslexia, those kids who spoke 2 + languages, those who were shy, those who found schooling difficult etc.  I therefore made a special effort to involve different children to ensure that they all had a moment to shine and look good.

There were two games they especially loved best:-

1. Chinese Whispers – known in France as Telephone Arab! The class stood in two lines (12 kids per row) Using flash cards I whispered a message to the first two kids by starting with an easy picture of animals, e.g. “A Dog”. Then moving onto funny things like “Owls eat Mice, I hate Mice, A puppy is a baby dog, I drive a red tractor” etc. The card was given to the first child who then had to pass the flash card and message. After the second session they were able to pass the message correctly, which was pretty impressive.

2. We ran through clothing and body parts. Then to test their knowledge we ran this game. I used Richard’s “Line Quiz” idea of having the kids in two lines across the classroom.  I had one kid say “How to do you say “xxx using the French word”. The first kid to respond and say the correct body part (or clothing) won two points for their team and sat down. We wrote the score on the board. The child who did not answer in time also had a chance to win one point for their team. I had a soft ball and they had to throw the ball in the wastepaper basket. However, the loser had to return to back of their team’s line.

The winning team was the group to have all its team sitting down first. But luckily the first team to sit down did not necessarily achieve the highest points. So both teams were winners! Nevertheless, as Richard pointed out in his website, “Losing is not losing – it’s a chance to try again!”

At the end of the game the kids had to total up the score, so that was a quick test on maths!

This was great fun. There was a lot of shouting and cheating – kids not sitting down but going back in the line. The main element was that the kids were having fun, speaking English and time passed very quickly.

The second time I played it, I was more strict to ensure the kids sat down… But the goal was to keep it fast paced and to get the kids to learn English clothing and body part names.

We followed this by singing “One finger, one thumb, keep moving” -with all the movements and that was a BIG hit. Singing fast and slow.

Lots of stand up, sit down, turnaround etc. The kids found it very funny when I sang it very slowly, with the movements and nearly fell over whilst standing on one leg.

I was shocked to be told by a few kids that it was the BEST lesson they had EVER had in their lives.

So that made me feel like I had achieved success and more importantly that the kids had enjoyed their language lesson.  Best of all the teacher was delighted that I had been able to revise the full year content in TWO hour!!   I thank and do indeed acknowledge Richard’s Genki English videos for inspiring me to inject movement and FUN into teaching English.

I hope this post may motive you to re-design you class activities and build FUN into your English classes.




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