How to Bore Your Class to Death

Students reading comic books in class. Texting on their phones. Chatting. Doodling. Dozing off. Students being bored. Actually, I do not think I really need to write too much on how to bore students because most teachers realize how to do this, albeit unintentionally, without very much classroom experience being required. What every teacher wants to do is avoid boring their students. You may quickly think that the answer to this problem is obvious, but I think that as the new school term approaches, it is good to revisit and reflect on how to avoid boring our students to death – how to keep them attentive and engaged in language learning rather than counting the minutes until the bell rings.

Who’s Doing the Talking?
Just like English, Korean has distinct terms for “classroom” and “lecture hall.” The latter is intended for one-way, speaker-to-audience communication. The former is not – not in today’s EFL world. We know that students learn best through interaction, engagement, learning by doing. We need to have our students working on tasks, projects, and talking. It is through inquiry, negotiation, and practice that language learning takes place.

Students need comprehensible L1 input, too, and this can come from the teacher. But we need to be very mindful of the quality of our input. Are we speaking in a monotone? Are we speaking too softly? Are we speaking disinterestedly? These are sure-fire boredom-builders. We need to speak loudly and clearly with feeling in our voice, and very importantly, we need to speak at their level of English proficiency, not at our own. The classroom is not the place for the teacher to be showcasing their speaking skills, but rather showcasing their teaching skills.

Do Your Activities Activate?
It is generally accepted that language-skills classes should contain a lot of student activities: worksheets, pattern practice, role plays, discussions, tasks, skits, songs, games, etc. They are to activate, to motivate the students, rather than have them sit passively in their seats. The construction of an activity, though, can make a world of difference in how engaging it is. Let us take, as an example, something as simple as a pattern-practice question: “What color is your _____?” It is so easy for us to make display questions for such an exercise that we all already know the answer to: “What color is your shirt/hair/pencil?” Boring! Ask referential questions, questions that you do not already know the answer to, and encourage your students to do the same. “What color is your dream-house?” “What color is your dream-car?” Such questions get the students thinking, engaged, and give them a feeling of success in conveying a real message. The same is true of more involved activities: set tasks that involve the students’ lives, their real-life situations, or future aspirations.

Does Your Technology Reflect Methodology?
We tend to think of the use of technology as a fail-safe way to liven up a lesson. Power-point presentations and video clips may be a diversion from the traditional lesson plan, but listening activities that involve long video clips and routine power-point presentation lessons tend to become . . . Boring! Ensure that your technology-based activities and lessons are based on the same ELT methodology that your no-technology lessons are. Have you been one of those who has thought, “I will show a movie – that will take care of the last class period!” Integrating technology into our lessons is great, but we must be vigilant to make sure that we use it as a learning tool rather than as just an enlivening tool. And the use of technology should not be limited to the teacher’s domain. Almost every student has a smartphone that has Internet access and apps for language learning. Many of these apps (e.g., Socrative) can be employed by students in the classroom to great effect.

How Are You “Performing”?
A teacher, pretty much by definition, needs to be a performer. But it is very important for the teacher to decide what type of teacher they choose to be. Some will adopt an authoritarian character, keeping the class under control, but also under a spell of boredom. Some will slip into the teacher-preacher style, hogging valuable class time, talking away at KTX speeds. Still others will take on the court-jester persona, belittle himself with clownish acts to make the class have fun, but learn little language.

What the Korean student is looking for, though, is an authority figure – one who exhibits professionalism as a teacher and at the same time projects empathy toward the students in the class. Students care whether their teacher seems to care. The teacher who shows their students that they truly care about them and whether they learn is the teacher who needs not worry about boring their class to death.

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