Bang for your buck learning

my opinion
A short video that asks the question about ‘fun’ activities...
Some things we do in the classroom (and in planning) have relatively low learning outcomes.... this is my little reminder to be aware of this and make sure that your learners are getting the full 'bang for their buck'!

I was talking to somebody recently about a game called Wordshake. It's an online game where you try to make as many words as possible from a set of letters in a given time. And it got me thinking about some of the activities that we do as English teachers, whether that's face to face or online, that have rather little bang for the buck.

Hi, if we're meeting for the first time, I'm Jo Gakonga. I'm an English teacher, a CELTA trainer and assessor, and I have a website at ELT, where I make video based material to support you, whether you're just starting out on your CELTA course, or if you've got a bit more experience, and you're looking for some new ideas.

So what do I mean, bang for your buck in this context? Well, get ready, this might be a bit of a rant. For me, it all comes back to aims and efficiency. My belief is that learners only have a limited amount of time in class. So as teachers, we have a moral obligation to use that time as efficiently and effectively as possible. That doesn't mean that they can't enjoy the class. They definitely should. But I think it's important to look at every activity that you do to make sure that you've got a sound pedagogical reason for doing it. When you do CELTA, and you plan lessons, you have to write an aim for every stage of your lesson. And this is good training, I think it makes you really consider why you're doing a particular activity, what the purpose of it is, in terms of language learning.

So let's go back to Wordshake. Learners look at the letters, and they try to make words. So what's the aim? I guess it would be argued that it encourages recall of vocabulary in English. Okay. But will this help me to make meaning with those words? No? Will it help me to communicate? No?  I understand that this is just a bit of fun for a short period of time, and if you're doing it to motivate younger learners, for example, then this might well be an aim in itself. But I think that we should be really careful about spending time on activities that have relatively low learning value.

Another techy example I feel the same about is random name pickers like this one. I've seen teachers use this kind of thing to choose which person to ask the next question to. Again, maybe it's a bit of fun and with a sense of anticipation as the wheel spins, but for me, it makes the process of choosing someone unnecessarily long. Why not just nominate and have more time to ask follow up questions that actually promote learning.

It's not only in the classroom that this applies either. Efficiency and consideration of aims are also important when you're planning your lessons. Please don't ask me how much time I spent over a laminator and cutting up bits of paper in the early stages of my career. If it takes you an hour to make the materials for an activity that only takes your learners five minutes to do in class, this is not a good use of your time. The only exception to this is if you're able to reuse the materials (but remember that small pieces of paper tend to get lost) or if you really enjoy using scissors.

I realize that I probably sound like a rather grumpy old woman (and feel free to comment below and tell me that I'm wrong) but the next time you're looking at some shiny new tech tool, or an activity that's overly complicated and involves lots of small pieces of paper, then you might just want to consider how much bang you and your learners are getting for that buck. Thanks for watching.

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