Classroom Management Series:
Do You Over-Complicate Your ESL Activities?

We all want our students to learn and most of us want our students to have fun doing it.

That is why teachers try to come up with activities that are both educational and fun.

Fun, educational activities can be life saving. When they work, the teacher feels great. The students have fun. They are motivated. They are learning. The teacher’s blood pressure goes down.

These activities can also be miserable. When they bomb, the teacher feels miserable. The students groan. They drag their feet and complain. They don’t learn anything. The teacher’s blood pressure goes up.

There are a number of reasons why students lose interest in an activity.

The activity may be boring, or over-complicated, or lack any reward for completion.

When they lose interest for any of these reasons, the activity bombs, and all sorts of behavioral problems arise.

If students are bored of the activity, they find ways to make it interesting.

They start goofing off.

They make a joke out of the activity.

They chat.

They space out.

If students don’t understand the activity, they get frustrated.

They groan and complain and suddenly need to go to the bathroom a lot.

How complicated an activity is can be a very important factor to its success, especially in ELL classrooms.

The more complicated the activity, the harder it is to understand, the more likely it is to bomb.

An activity can be overly-complicated for the following reasons:

  • 1
    ​The activity is actually quite complicated.
  • 2
    ​The teacher’s explanation of the activity is overly complicated.
  • 3
    ​Both the activity and the explanation are too complicated.

What can teachers do to help improve their activities? Here are three steps you can try out when you are planning activities for your classes.

1. Simplify

Simplify. The simpler the game, the easier it is to explain and for the students to enjoy. See if you can both reduce the number of rules and also simplify them without losing the essence of the game.

2. Clarify

The better able you are to explain an activity, the more likely it will go smoothly. Try practicing your explanations on a co-teacher. See if you can explain the activity clearly in under a minute. If the co-teacher looks confused and/or has lots of questions, then your activity is probably too complicated or you need work on simplifying your explanations.

3. Motivate

Find ways to create motivation to complete the activity. Add competition, or rewards, or specific challenges to help create motivation. A little competition can go a long way towards motivating your students. Make it a race. Have them roll dice. Get them to do paper, scissors, stone or Jenga. Just make sure students aren’t waiting around too much (see this article). You can reward them with stickers, candy (I know some people cringe), game time, less homework, etc. Other challenges like, “Write a sentence so funny or scary that I pee my pants” or “Who can make the most sentences in a minute?” can also help create motivation.

Let me know your comments and questions in the comments section below! 

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