When I used to ask my Turkish students how something was they would often reply "I was bored." even when it seemed to me there was no possible way that could have been boring. I would correct them and say it was frustrating or challenging. Without thinking too much about it, boredom seems to be only one, fairly straight-forward feeling. I have come to find out however that there are different kinds of boredom and in order to get them out of our classrooms, we need to better understand what they are and what causes them.
1. Monotony of Mind
This is how we feel when we are required to do repetitive tasks that we have already mastered or required to wait around and suffer through an under-stimulating atmosphere. In an English classroom, when students are experiencing “monotony of mind”, they start to misbehave, fall asleep or simply stare into space. I know that this happens to me when I am in a language class that requires me to fill out endless grammar worksheets, play hangman over and over again, watch long presentations or listen to a long monologue by the teacher.
I love classroom routines because it saves a lot of instruction time when students already know what to do but too much routine can suck the joy out of learning. After establishing routines, make sure you shake them up so class doesn't become to predictable. Students should sometimes enter class thinking, "I can't wait to find out what we are going to do today!". You can do this by creating fascinating hooks at the beginning of each unit.
When I started a unit on food for example, I split my students into small groups and blindfolded them. I then gave each group a bag of fruits and vegetables. I asked them to pass one item at a time around the group to everyone except one person, that person had to ask questions like "How big is it?", "How does it feel?", or "What color is it?". The people who are blindfolded can't see the color of course but they could make a guess. Make sure you include some items that will surprise them like a purple carrot. The person asking questions has to guess what the item is. Continue with this activity changing the person who asks the question until they have described all of the items in the bag.
Make sure when you plan your lessons, you keep things from being repetitive by mixing what students are expected to do. If you have a reading activity that requires a lot of focus and individual work, follow it with a game in which need to get up and talk. If they have been doing a lot of discussion work, follow it with a short, engaging video that enables them to use a different skill. Finally, if you must do a grammar worksheet, don't follow it up with another grammar worksheet, ask students to get up and use that grammar in as active a way as you can.
2. Lack of Flow
Flow is that wonderful state you get into when you are focused and engaged in an activity. I usually find this flow when I am printing photographs in a darkroom because it is challenging to get the contrast and timing just right but I know how to do it and if I work at it I can succeed. Lack of flow is the opposite. If there is no challenge and I am just doing something to get it done, I get bored. On the other hand, if I don’t know how to do something and I can’t figure it out, I just get frustrated and just as my Turkish students pointed out, frustration is one form of boredom. Finding that flow for all of the students in any given class can seem daunting to an ESL/EFL teacher, I know I found it daunting. It often seems that every single student has totally different needs and is at a different language level.
Make sure that you differentiate your classroom. Don’t expect all of your students to do the exact same work in the exact same way. Some students are ready to write a 5 page essay with a well developed thesis statements while others need to work on creating a coherent paragraph. That is OK! There are lots of ways to differentiate a classroom; check out this post by Teacher Mom entitled How I Differentiate Like a Pro Using Cornell Notes. Another way to differentiate is to use Learning Menus in which Students can choose what and how many activities they would like to do. For instructions on how to create learning menus, Teachhub.com has created this post: Use Activity Menus to Differentiate and Maximize Student Engagement. However you choose to differentiate, it is important for students to be able to do work that puts them in that flow state.
3. Need for Novelty
Some people need more external stimulation than others. The Psychology Today article claimed that extroverts tend to need more external stimulation than introverts. Being aware of this can help us plan lessons that are effective for both our extroverted and our introverted students.
Make sure that you plan at least one surprising/unexpected thing into each day. This could be anything from changing the seat arrangement, inviting a guest speaker, introduce a new game, put an interesting picture or quote up on the board or screen, getting up and dancing to a song, give students a quick scavenger hunt, blindfold students and ask them to feel objects in order to describe them instead of looking at them, or challenge them to solve a problem. After a few days this can become challenging, I encourage you to talk to other teachers and find out what their favorite little surprises are, or better yet, observe them. I always come away with lots of new ideas when I observe other teachers and it pulls me out of the ruts I get into.
Hi, I'm Kia.
Teaching is my passion, I have been teaching for over 20 years in 4 different continents. One of the things I have learned over the years is that I am never done learning about teaching. Both teaching and learning should be fun and inspiring.
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