Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Halfbaked idea - Day 1

I've never been one to shy away from enthusiastically embracing a barely digested idea that I overheard someone talking about...once...a while ago. Considering that I heard both Jeremy Harmer and someone else whose name I can't remember but who looked very knowledgeable about these things talking about the book Breaking Rules by John Fanselow (as well as skimming a synopsis of it here), I can safely consider myself an expert on the subject now!

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As I understood it, the idea is that you try to teach in different ways to how you would normally. So if you normally stand during the class, try sitting and see what happens. If you normally do vocabulary first, do it second.

Considering that we are coming to the end of a very long term, I thought I would give it a try. Before a class, I will think of one typical thing that I do frequently in class and try to do the opposite. (As I write this, I'm struck by how reality TVesque/wacky/awful this sounds - like I'm pitching a story to a dead-eyed Jim Carrey. Apologies if this is the most banal post you read this week, but I'll plough on...)

So the thing that I do in class is make jokes, self deprecating remarks or funny comments. I'm not quite sure what the opposite of that is, but for my lesson last week I decided that I would very consciously not make any jokes in class.

If I think back to when making jokes or funny comments was a conscious decision, my rationale might have been that it would help students relax, that it might make the lesson more enjoyable, and, quite needily, that it might make students like me and my lesson more. Of course, like those learner errors we hear about in CELTA courses, the habit becomes fossilised. Now, I do this simply because that is what I do.

So, in this class, I did none of that. These are my observations (I didn't think to ask students if they had noticed any difference).

  • By being conscious about this one aspect of my teaching, I was also far more conscious of other aspects. I think this made me more attentive to my students and what was happening in the lesson. This might not have been the case if I were trying to change something more challenging. Not making jokes simply required the resisting of a temptation every so often. Perhaps something that required far more attention might have resulted in me being a bit less attentive in class. 
  • I think there is a competitive edge to making jokes. I went to an all boys school, have only brothers and play a lot of football - I'm not sure if it is international, but Irish men compete to be the funniest. I wouldn't like to think that I am taking that into the classroom and also nice to give students the space to be funny or make quirky comments.

That's pretty much it to be honest. I don't think it made a huge difference to the lesson as really this is only a very small element to my teaching. Still, it was very interesting to challenge this one aspect.

Would be very curious to hear if other teachers have similar fossilised habits/rules that might be worth breaking.


  1. Cracking post. I also find myself making jokes. Unfortunately I don't think mine are probably that (at all?) funny. It is a crutch.

    I did something similar with counting my display questions recently and I realised I did it tons with lower levels. I managed to get rid of a lot just by analysing what I would probably say and thinking about what I should say.

    Thanks for this brill post.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting.

      That's really interesting about the display questions. I've never thought to consider my own use of them.

      I teach a writing class so I probably use tons of them.

      I wonder what learners think of them. Do they find them useful? Do they find them patronising/frustrating/phoney?

      Anyway, thanks again for the feedback and sharing your own experience.

  2. "So the thing that I do in class is make jokes, self deprecating remarks or funny comments. I'm not quite sure what the opposite of that is, but for my lesson last week I decided that I would very consciously not make any jokes in class."

    Hmm. Maybe meaningfully praising yourself? ;)

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  4. Sure I make loads of those as well ;) and if I'd thought for more than a second, I'd have realised that the opposite of funny comments are unfunny comments and I'd say I've made plenty of those too. 

    Thanks for reading and commenting Tyson.