Balancing Learning and Fun in the Summer School Classroom

By Neil Root
Neil Root is a writer and London based English Language teacher with 10 years experience.

Balancing Learning and Fun

By D. Sharon Pruitt from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, USA (Sunset Party Dancing Girl Silhouette) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Teenagers need stimulation as they live in their own world, as we once did. Your job as a summer school EFL teacher is to enter their world, but also to invite them into your well-prepared teaching world. This is a difficult balance, and doesn’t always happen automatically, but it’s essential to work at it if you want to get the most out of a teen group and they the best learning experience you can offer.

Focus on key points

Focus on a key grammar point and vocabulary subject area every day, keeping in mind that most schools will give you a framework to follow anyway. Extend this to a debate or focused group work speaking activity, monitor closely. Teens love talking and usually have strong opinions. Intersperse grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening with games, but try to make those games connect to language content you have just covered, or reinforce yesterday’s learning points. Get your students to come up to the board one by one and offer input, put a chair facing the board and get a student to sit there and guess what other students have decided. Or have the chair facing the class with something on the board behind, and the student in the chair guessing with the help of hints from the rest of the class. These are basic activities but create interaction and give some control to your class.

They are there to learn

But remember they are there to learn. Summer schools are more relaxed than normal EFL programmes, but remember that you still get feedback, and you will be surprised at how much some students want to learn. A relaxed learning atmosphere is not a no-learning atmosphere, and both should be aimed for. Present the target language points to be covered that day in the corner of the board – signposting is very important to students, and this itinerary should be ready when the students arrive. After a warm-up, briefly outline what you’ll be covering and invite questions for five minutes. Tell them that there will be a game or fun activity at the end of each language point segment, and this will focus and encourage them. Monitor and praise, point out mistakes gently.

Remember that many teenagers want a cultural experience as well as learning, and try to make your classes culturally interesting and relevant. Try to take your students out on one or two outings a week, to a museum, market or bustling area. Prepare hand-outs with an activity for each outing (gap fills and focused questions work well), reinforcing what they learnt in class.

The biggest compliment you can get from a teacher is that they learnt and had fun.

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