It’s (not) all fun and games.
by Christina Nipper
You may have heard the saying, “It’s all fun and games until somebody pokes an eye out!” The educational version could go something like this: “It’s all fun and games until somebody fails a standardized test!” Or until an administrator observes the class. Or until a student acts like the class is a waste of time. Or________; and you fill in the blank. As educators, most of us desire to bless our students with purposeful and beneficial instructional time. However, under the right circumstances, games and other equally “fun” activities can also serve a purpose.
First of all, having fun, or enjoying something, IS a purpose. A “theology of play” isn’t ridiculous when a teacher’s perspective is founded on the Master Teacher’s provision to supply and solve every lack, difficulty, and heart problem His people could or will ever face. Looking at the classroom, there are also times when fun is an entirely appropriate secondary purpose for a learning activity. In managing a class, I should be aware of things like motivational factors, and the affective filter or stress level. There are times when a class can benefit from a short emotional “break” from learning new, hard things, and move into something easier and more enjoyably structured. A quick game can shift the mood of a class, or even provide a little mental rest which will allow more effective instruction later. (This is not to say these “breaks” have no learning purpose. Instead, they provide a lighthearted reinforcement of lesson objectives.)
In addition to using games as an occasional classroom management strategy, well-designed activities can be used for a variety of educational functions. Reviewing previously learned content, practicing skills that were already taught, reinforcing memorized content, or providing an opportunity to recycle content or language structures are some of the functions activities can fill. Personally, ones that are focused on material that has already been presented are the most common type I’ve used. Most recently, I’ve created a quiz-show type game for a culture class I’m teaching. The questions cover information that could possibly be tested, and the students compete in teams for a reward that matters to that particular class. The game is a more interesting way to review for the exam than a lecture, and the students like the competition against their classmates.
Using engaging activities can also provide an opportunity for a teacher to find out what students already know, assess gaps in their learning, or provide time for teachable moments. If the activity requires communication, the teacher can monitor what language is being used to accomplish the task and determine if alternate phrasing is needed or should be taught. Activities like “Find someone who…” or “Star Power” require a lot of student-to-student communication that a teacher can “eavesdrop” on to assess level, ability, and/or whether or not objectives are being reached. Activities, especially with teacher participation, can also allow opportunities for a moment to speak into a student’s learning or life circumstances. A word of caution, sometimes that teachable moment may not include teaching what you expected. For example, once I expected to correct spoken English grammar; instead I explained why profanity should not be spoken in class.
In summary, engaging activities can and should serve a purpose in the classroom setting by giving students an opportunity to learn in enjoyable ways. If a teacher plans and designs those activities well, there can be tangible benefits to his or her students.
Jefferis Kent Peterson, “Play and the Purposes of the Lord,” Scholars Corner, https://www.scholarscorner.com/play-and-the-purposes-of-the-lord-a-theology-of-play/.
What’s your perspective?
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
- What factors or experiences influence your view of how fun a class should be?
- What principles guide your selection of activities to meet your lesson objectives and manage class time well?
- How could you develop an appropriate “theology of play” for your teaching?
Christina Nipper is from Missouri. She started by teaching elementary school, but has been teaching university-level English in China for over 10 years. Christina currently lives in Nanjing, China where she has directed professional development for several other foreign teachers in the area for 5 years.
Photo by Ryan Thomas Ang on Unsplash