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How to Influence Students to Entertain Themselves

Giving your students choices whenever possible, even in a country where students are expected to follow the teacher, is not a bad idea. Actually, my experience in Korea, despite it being known for a country that respects elders, has been somewhat the reverse of what people typically say about it.

Most of my students have never had a problem arguing with me and telling me I’m wrong. They have ranted and raved and objected to many of the activities that I have given them. They have openly requested to self-study during my class and some days they even asked me if they could go use the bathroom, to which I have conceded, only to see them toward the tail-end of the class to which they explained that they had actually spent all of class on the toilet and could not come back because their legs went numb. Which in itself is a reward for me.

Some students have even had the audacity to request to leave class and go play video games in the computer room.

Sometimes I had to put my foot down and tell the students how I felt about their behavior. These times were the absolute worst for me because it meant that I had lost the trust in the students and they would eventually resent me for making them do things they don’t want to do (not to mention stress and strain over fruitlessly trying to change people, which I concede I can never do).

The administration will LOVE to see you stress and strain to try to change people, and that’s one of the outward signs for the decision maker to know they are doing their jobs (even if it is a fruitless one). Don’t grant them this pleasure. Let them get concerned that you’re too relaxed and at peace with yourself. It’s the best sort of vengeance I know of.

Back in the days when I tried to tell the students about how I was stressing myself out over their behavior, it usually backfired and the students ended up resenting me. Which just caused me to resent them. It was a vicious cycle.

This was not a fun experience for me or the students. Typically, it took me more than a few weeks to win them back to my side and show them that I did care about how they felt, but a compromise was needed in order for the both of us to move forward with our respective roles. Therefore, these days, I am usually not willing to fight my students on classroom policy, wherever possible. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in a community where students obey whatever the teacher says, then this conversation is moot and you can consider doing virtually anything you want. If you are like me and have my experience, then you must resort to strategies that will persuade the students to comply with the lesson. Like almost anything in life, you will never convince anyone to follow you unless you explain things in terms of their worldview, their perspective. Meet your students where they are and reason with them from their angle or else the battle is completely lost.

“Because I said so,” just never flew with me and my students, so I had to give them choices. Once students perceived themselves as having some choice in the matter of their education, then I could reason with them, first by saying that they had chosen their lesson and then reasoning with them further with yet more compromise: “Okay, so you wanted to do this activity and now you’re not interested in doing this. Let’s finish it anyway and then I will give you another selection.”

When students were being rebellious, I truly had to reason at their level and be direct with them.

“Look, there are plenty of things that I do not want to do,” I told one student in my class one time. “I didn’t want to go to school either but I went. I did not want to do many of the activities. I would have much rather played video games, just like you, and not have gone to school.” I continued. “But in life, you can’t always do what you want to do. Sometimes, you have to do what other people want you to do. Don’t forget this,” I nearly warned. I mean if I wasn’t an example of what not to do, then I don’t know how else they would get it.
“You have to be able to please other people first before you can please yourself.” Please bear in mind that this was an English conversation class. I never thought in a million years that I would have this conversation with a student. But here I was, acting like a little student and trying to show him I knew how he felt. I had to show this student that I still remembered being a student too and that I had similar emotions he had.

By the time I had finished, the student was convinced that I was right and we continued. It was stressful and energy-draining to have to go through this type of conversation and in hindsight, I could have saved myself a lot of effort by just letting them practice their English with Rosetta Stone and called it a day.

And this is the lesson that I really want to drive home for you. If your country and school community are anything like what mine was like, with this level of freedom but with the expectation that you will entertain and be conversational and have fun with your students, then you’re going to want to maximize on your students’ ability to choose.

Also get comfortable with this phrase: “Here are some of our options!”

Go to your class with a series of choices for the kids and have them vote on the activity they want to do. This gives them the illusion of choice and makes them feel like if they aren’t having a good time, it’s all their fault. Which is a better feeling than the one where you constantly feel like a failure.

A great activity book that will provide you with a wide selection of choices is Penny Ur’s Discussions that Work. This book has many activities. My favorites are the “Arranging” games where you have students categorize words or concepts in a sequence, almost like a puzzle game.

One game, which is taken from the Ur book, is arranging the guests. In this scenario, students are at a dinner party and they are given profiles of several of the guests. Students are told what their personalities are like and what they do for a living. In this game, there’s normally a cross-section of characters, from a judge to a schoolteacher to a little brat who complains to her mommy all the time. The student’s job is to arrange these guests at a dinner a party to ensure that everyone gets along and there is not a lot of fighting. This usually gets the students very busy, especially if they have an above-average level of fluency.

I used so many games from this book, I can’t even count them. Check this book out and use it to give your students the options that they need.

Bottom line? Give your students choices. Don’t force yourself to force them to enjoy your class. Make them decide. And then they will have to have a good time.

Written by Todd Persaud for TEFL.net September 2018
Todd Squitieri holds a BFA from New School University. He has taught in over 5 countries, & currently resides in DaNang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences. www.ToddSquitieri.com

One Comment

  • Liliane Ramos says:

    It was a kind of text I really needed to read today, to start my day. Thank you so much!!!!

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TEFL.net : TEFL Articles : Teaching : How to Influence Students to Entertain Themselves