Educator or Entertainer?

In some countries, teachers of English as a Foreign Language are expected to be half EDUcators and half enterTAINERS—or edutainers.  The is the intersection of education and fun

“Edutainment” is the term the industry has coined to explain the situation when your employer and your students are looking for games and laughter to go along with the English taught in the classroom.

Edutainment is a Cultural Thing

Now, if you’ve got a posting in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Middle East, it’s unlikely that you’ll be asked to fit many games into your lesson planning. In fact, too much frivolity in the classroom will be frowned on by your boss and dismissed as silliness by your students.

But if you’re in Asia, for example Thailand or Korea, you’ll find that your funny bone is in demand, especially if you have a job teaching kids.  The entertainment portion of these lessons could be as much as fifty percent of your allotted classroom time (especially in Thailand – even for older students), so it’s something you need to think about carefully in order to do well.

Is Edutainment a Bad Idea?

You may hear some teachers who have edutainment-heavy jobs complaining that they are nothing but “dancing bears” or “comic relief.”  And yes, if you are teaching at a school that expects you to provide a degree of edutainment, then, yes, students will probably laugh at you as well as with you. But, the big picture is that edutainment makes English less scary. If you laugh in your class, then the whole concept of learning becomes less frustrating, worrying and stressful. Less stress is usually a good idea for everyone.

But, there is a spectrum to edutainment and you need to figure out where you as a teacher, are willing to fit in it.  Are you able to go all-out as an entertainer in the classroom or are you naturally a little more reserved?

For myself, I’ve always loved theater and viewing entertainment. But I’m not usually excited about leaping on stage myself as an entertainer in the classroom. I do, however, like it when my students enjoy themselves and play games—as long as the activities we’re doing are fun AND educational. I always tie the lesson’s target language into the games we play.

How to Know How Much Edutainment is Expected?

When you interview for a new job, defining the boss’ expectations for entertainment in class is important.  Ask your prospective managers what strategies the school encourages to promote student motivation. Do they expect the teachers to dance and sing? (No, I’m not joking!) Do they expect students to have fun and laugh it up? Or do they swing toward emphasizing education over entertainment?

Asking these questions straight up will help you know up front if your personal teaching style will be a match with what the school expects.

Find Games and Activities Online

If you haven’t taught using classroom games before, there are plenty of online resources to help you, for example DavesESLCafe.com. On that site, there’s a huge Idea Cookbook where you can browse through plenty of teacher-submitted games to find ones that will fit your needs. I find it helpful to look at any new games I find with an eye to adapting them to fit my particular job or batch of students.

Experienced teachers usually have a go-to list of six or eight games they know by heart and can whip out as soon as the situation warrants it in class. This is especially a good thing if you’re meeting a new group of students and your lesson plan has fallen through or if your students finish earlier than expected and you have a spare five minutes before the official ending time of the class.

Adults Like Games Too

Edutainment can also be used in adult classes, especially if you need an ice-breaker to get the students to loosen up a little.  Even if the culture of the country or institution where you’re working is more focused on education rather than entertainment, there are often times when it helps to throw in a light-hearted game or activity to counterbalance the rest of the heavy material. You don’t have to be frown-faced and serious all the time, but do be sure connect the game with the day’s language lesson.

In addition, games are a good reinforcement activity for the end of a class session. If you can adapt a fun activity so that the students practice that day’s target language and play a game at the same time, everyone will leave the class feeling like they had a good time and learned something.

Likewise, a game at the beginning of class can be a great review that leaves students with a smile on their faces for the rest of the lesson, no matter how hard you get them to work later.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Find out before you take a job how much ‘edutainment’ will be expected and decide if you’re capable of adapting to it.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Games can be a good ice-breaker at the beginning of class or a way to end with a laugh.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  My secret to success?  A language-focused game at the beginning of class and another game using the target language of today’s lesson at the end of class can make you a very popular teacher.  What happens is that students enter the room happy, expecting an enjoyable time and they leave the room smiling having just finished a wonderful lesson.  In between the two games (let’s call them “fun activities”), you can work the students very hard and they won’t mind at all.

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