How to Make Your Class More Interesting (preamble)

Note: A video version of this article is embedded at the end if you would prefer to watch it.

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Everyone wants their classes to be interesting – both students and teachers alike. And it is, indeed, amazing the different response you can get from an apparently uninterested class when you do something that interests them instead of doing what interests you. Or worse still, just doing whatever comes next in the book.

In this article, I’ll give you a handful of techniques (there are obviously thousands!) that I think work pretty well in most cases. There are certain elements that are not applicable in all situations or may need to be modified depending on your context, circumstances, etc. But these ideas should be enough to get you thinking about your own classes and making some changes for the better – regardless of whether things are languishing or you’re doing a cracking job already.

I’ll also be giving you an A.R.R.O.W Worksheet at the end of this series to help you take this stuff and make good use of it — for both your benefit and that of the students.

So, let’s get to it!

Exciting vs Interesting vs Useful

balloonsFirstly, I need to make clear that there’s a difference between “exciting” and “interesting.” There’s also a big difference between “exciting” (or even genuinely “interesting”) and “useful/valuable” to students.

For example, I’ve given plenty of lessons which have been pretty much silent for a lot of the time, with students either working alone or quietly collaborating on something — lessons that couldn’t be described as “exciting” in any known universe – but were, nevertheless, interesting to the students.

I’ve said it many times: “Not every lesson needs to be — nor should be — ‘Party Time!’ in order for it to be a valuable learning experience.”

Having fun is nice, but it doesn’t magically facilitate learning. It could just be a lot of pissing about and time-wasting.

Where Does the Real Problem Lie?

girl screaming in anger
Next, you need to assess whether discipline is the problem rather than a straight-up lack of interest. If you’re having major discipline problems with a class, then you have to determine whether it’s because the students are not interested in your lessons or whether they just hate being at school, full stop.

If it’s the former (i.e. they don’t like your lessons)… are they not interested in your subject? Or are they not interested in your lessons, specifically? For example, if there are several different teachers who teach them the same subject — or have done in previous terms/semesters/years — and you‘re the only teacher having difficulty engaging them, then maybe yourclasses are the problem.

If the latter (i.e. all the other teachers complain that the students hate the subject and aren’t interested and blah blah blah)… then maybe there’s some other “higher-level”, non-subject-specific problem going on. All the most amazing “interest-ifying” tips’n'tricks in the world will be almost entirely useless to you if the students are at the school more or less under duress (whether that’s because they’re 14 years old or whether the only way for them to live and work in your country is to be on a student visa) and genuinely couldn’t give a shit — about either that subject, or school in general.

There’s also the issue of whether they dislike school, in general, or just dislike that subject specifically. Do teachers in other faculties have the same problem with this particular class (or classes)?

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Chalk’n'Talk Is Good, Mmmmkay???

The point about other teachers having the same experience with a class is tricky, though. That’s because if all the other teachers think the old “chalk’n'talk” approach to teaching is the way to go [Hint: It ain't!], then it will appear as if the students are the source of the problem(!) whereas, in fact, those very same students could be perfectly amenable to a teacher who actually made things interesting and engaging to them.

The thing about THAT, though, is it’s hard to ascertain. Every teacher always bangs on about how “inclusive” and “interesting” and “engaging” and (I love this one!) “interactive” and (I love this one even more!) “student-centred” their classes are, but, frankly, talk is cheap.

teacher droning onEveryone knows that if you drone on at length and lecture your students, they’ll tune out most, if not all, of the time. We all know that doesn’t constitute good teaching. But how many teachers do it day in, day out yet claim to be proponents of “student-centred learning”? That’s like walking around with a box of doughnuts in your hand, suckin’ down on a jumbo thickshake talkin’ about how diets and exercise are, like, really good for you, man!

The only way you’ll know if your colleagues really walk-the-talk or are just bullshitters (or deluding themselves) is to observe their classes. But that’s a can of worms to be discussed another day!

The upshot is that it’s hard to tell.

Or Is It?

Unless you just know.

zombie studentIf you already know that your classes are dull and any discipline problems are precipitated by the tedium, or no discipline problems, but no one’s enjoying them much – not even you — then obviously you need to fix some things. Hopefully I can help.
Some of what this series of articles covers will make all but the most zombified and/or belligerent classrooms “better,” but to actually make your classes “good” or “acceptable” (or better than that, even… genuinely interesting!), you’ll need to uncover and address the root cause of the problem first.

And that might involve a lot more than a few articles like this could (even attempt to) accomplish.

A Comment About This Article Series

article, podcast, video series

Just one last thing before we get to “the good stuff” in Part 1 (this is just the “Prelude” or “Preamble”)…

I have to say I’m not entirely sure how far “back to basics” I should go for these articles. That’s because teachers with wildly different experience levels read this site, meaning I can neither pitch it too simply nor go straight to things that require a good fundamental knowledge of teaching and the skill-set to apply that knowledge.

This is a perennial problem when writing to such a varied audience.

Anyway, with all that said, in the next part, we’ll look at a few ideas to make your class more interesting.

All the best,
Leslie

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Video & Audio Versions

Watch the video version of this article. Nothing flash, just me going through the same points with some slides…


Right-click and download the MP3 version of the video here.

Personal note: This first part isn’t especially interesting, in my opinion (How’s that! For an article about how to make things more interesting… Ha!). However, I think these points need to be laid out before we get to the more specific considerations and techniques to apply.

What do you think? Please leave your comments or questions below…

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5 Responses to “How to Make Your Class More Interesting (preamble)”

  1. Kevin Hakoda Kevin Hakoda says:

    This is a good start. I'm glad that you're breaking this topic into segments. Perhaps you can streamline your pieces even further. There were many, many, many "examples" and tangents that filled the bulk of the page. The main point you were trying to make here was, "Identifying the differ between discipline problem classrooms vs. boring teaching methods," right?
    While some of your comments and examples are entertaining, perhaps you can trim it up a bit. I did like the milkshake-diet metaphor, though. lol :lol: I'm looking forward to seeing the next section to this piece.

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    •  Leslie says:

      Hi, Kevin

      I appreciate your honest feedback.

      I wasn't overly happy with this piece myself, finding the end result kind of dry and somewhat unfocused. Hence my own comment at the end!

      I posted it anyway, though. I'd spent most of the weekend writing and messing about with image files, video, audio, etc. and I was done with it, basically. It's just an article on my little ole site in a sea of millions of other TEFL sites. It's not a Nobel Prize contending piece of research!

      Not to say I'm ignoring your feedback (because I'm really not — more below), but, essentially, I'll write however I like here. If people don't groove to it, they won't read it and probably won't come back.

      But that doesn't mean I'm doing the best I can do.

      Your having read my work for a number of years now, Kevin, tells me that it can't be all that bad! ;)

      Nevertheless, I do firmly believe that no matter how uncomfortable or downright unpleasant receiving negative feedback is, it's important to have critics — the right kind of critics, that is (an important qualifier) — because, quite simply, our critics make us better. Fans are nice to have; we all like to get positive reinforcement and encouragement. But it's our critics who make us strive for more.

      I've long struggled with the (apparent) diminishing attention span of people, generally, versus my meandering, roundabout, “storyteller” manner of speaking (and on this site I write much like I speak).

      I'm perfectly aware that I go on lots of tangents. And I deliberately give lots of examples.

      And I do think that I could do with a swig from the bottle of brevity, to be sure, to be sure. There's definitely a lesson in here for me.

      So taking all that into consideration, what I find especially frustrating is the (again, apparent) need — or perhaps more accurately, desire — people express to have everything distilled down into just the pithiest pithy pith. "Too busy! Not enough time! Multi-tasking! Boss chewing my butt. Oh no! More email on my smartphone… dogs barking…. children howling… etc."

      Sure, rambling Polonius-style tracts aren't so crash hot. And I don't want to actively waste people's time, willfully or otherwise.

      But "soundbite-education" (as I've referred to it previously) surely can't be a good thing. There's an argument, I think, for being able to follow a discursive thread, consider side-points, roll them into the mix, look at some examples, and then arrive at the "pay-off."

      I find that the degree of (the reader/listener's) understanding increases with this style of presentation — unless it spills over into waffle or turgidity, or gets derailed in some other manner, of course! — because they've been "led," so to speak, to the point.

      Just whipping out the point from your bag of tricks and tossing it on the table makes it "pithy" and "immediate," but I'm inclined to think "not enduring"; superficial versus sinking in.

      Anyway, this very response (itself probably 500 words or more!) could well be another example of your point. *groan*

      I'll try to edit the other articles in this series more tightly and I'll probably break it out into 7 or 8 shorter articles rather than 4 more longer ones. And then intercut them with other things so that, as I said, it doesn't get boring going through so many articles on the same topic, back-to-back.

      Once again, thanks for your honest feedback. It was, in all honesty, a frustrating reminder for me (and somewhat of a sore point, if I’m being really honest!) but… all things considered, is something I need to bear in mind.

      Take care,
      Leslie

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  2. John John says:

    That's a pretty good preamble. Have you got a list of the topics/problems you're going to address?

    One area I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on is classes with different levels of learners. This doesn't lead to any discipline/behaviour problems with my adult classes (although it's a pain to work around sometimes) but with my 7 year old kids it leads to a couple of boys being hyper and a couple of girls being withdrawn/quiet - I'm not used to kids below High School age so any ideas/suggestions would be welcome.

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    •  Leslie says:

      Hey, John

      Nice to hear from you.

      Re: list of topics… kinda. I have a huge list! Almost to the point where I don’t quite know where to start. :smile:

      My problem there is two-fold:

      • being able to separate out the individual points warranting attention and which could help because I find a huge amount of it interconnected (which is why I see teaching as a craft, and why I think I may have to write that book and/or training course people have been badgering me to write for some time now!)
      • writing things that will help readers of this site; which is why I’ve introduced the polls (the latest of which I noticed you voted in, thanks you!). I put up some topics, people choose one, I write something addressing that.

      It’s not an ideal system. I’m trying to carve out some time to put together a proper syllabus-like document. That will make both polling and “splitting off” topics to write about a bit easier, I hope.

      For the last few years on this site (before I deleted a whole bunch of stuff recently) I basically just wrote whatever took my fancy or inspired me. But I’ve outgrown that ad hoc approach and would like to do something a lot more systematic.

      I’m workin’ on it.

       

      Re: mixed-level classes… that is (or, rather, can be) a killer. And a perennial problem for all teachers (of anything).

      I tell you what, I’ll put it into the rotation on one of the upcoming polls and see how it performs. If people are interested, I’ll do something on it.

      Cheers,
      Leslie

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      • Hamidah Hamidah says:

        Mixed-level classes…definitely, please. But do you mind including LARGE, mixed-level classes? I'm eagerly waiting for this one!

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