Thailand is described as "the land of smiles". The Thai smile is an intriguing and beguiling concept to the uninitiated and has been the subject of countless articles. Undoubtedly linked to this is the Thai fascination with ‘sanook'.
The Thai word, "sanook" roughly translates as ‘fun' but in truth, it means much more to that to Thais. It is a deep-rooted cultural value that has great importance in everyday Thai life.
Throw in some of the finest cuisine the world has to offer, a balmy sub-tropical climate, beautiful landscapes and it is not hard to see why Thailand is still such a popular destination for EFL teachers.
One would think that the Thais' love of ‘sanook' would make the EFL classroom an inviting place for new EFL teachers but one thing that I sometimes hear teachers say here is, "The school just wants me to play games with the kids!" As far as problems in the classroom go, on the face of it, this appears like a very trifling one. However, for a newbie teacher wanting to impart knowledge and language skills to her or his students, the situation can be frustrating.
It can be, in no small part, down to a breakdown in communication with teacher and school (which is one reason why it is useful to have a school coordinator who can communicate effectively with both the school in Thai and the teacher in English. The school is not asking the teacher to be an entertainer in the classroom. Most likely, they are asking the teacher to have activities that the students view as games which improve their acquisition of language.
Why do schools ask teachers to teach using games?
There is a strong body of evidence to suggest that games are effective for learning so there is a very good reason why schools might want their EFL teachers to incorporate them into their teaching. Below are just a couple of the reasons that are given by academics:
1) Games present material in an engaging way
- The more intense and interesting the material is, the more likely it is to be retained. Games that engage learners through effective use of visuals, audio and storyline are more engaging.
2) Games encourage ‘rewards' and ‘mastery'
- Rewards are crucial for motivation but if players receive rewards too frequently without sufficient challenge, the motivation decreases. However, players (learners) are driven to repeatedly practice in games until mastery is achieved. The point at which mastery is achieved is not fixed. This adds an element of randomness to when the reward (mastery of the game) is earned which in turn, increases motivation.
What games can I use in the EFL classroom?
Any good TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course will look at a variety of games to use in the EFL (English as a foreign language) classroom and there are some great resources online too. However, there is an aspect of EFL teaching that is overlooked by resources that you might come across online and this is suitable games for kindergarten (students aged between approximately three years old to five years old) EFL classes.
EFL is taught all around the world but Thailand is one of only a few countries where there is a focus on it from a very young age. Children as young as 3 years old will study EFL with a foreign teacher. This is one of the reasons why effective TEFL courses in Thailand will look at equipping their trainees with skills to teach EFL to kindergarten learners.
Having looked at how games are an effective tool for learning, it is also important to see how we might fit them in to a structured lesson.
The PPP methodology for teaching English as a foreign language
PPP is a well-established methodology for teaching English as a foreign language and I shall borrow from a previous article (the full text along with some videos showing the methodology in action can be found here to give an overview of what it entails.
"The PPP method could be characterized as a common-sense approach to teaching as it consists of 3 stages that most people who have learnt how to do anything will be familiar with.
The first stage is the presentation of an aspect of language in a context that students are familiar with, much the same way that a swimming instructor would demonstrate a stroke outside the pool to beginners.
The second stage is practice, where students will be given an activity that gives them plenty of opportunities to practice the new aspect of language and become familiar with it whilst receiving limited and appropriate assistance from the teacher. To continue with the analogy, the swimming instructor allowing the children to rehearse the stroke in the pool whilst being close enough to give any support required and plenty of encouragement.
The final stage is production where the students will use the language in context, in an activity set up by the teacher who will be giving minimal assistance, like the swimming instructor allowing his young charges to take their first few tentative strokes on their own."
I encourage our trainees to use the same methodology in the kindergarten classroom. Below, are a couple of examples of production stage activities that encourage students to use the language they have acquired during the lesson independently.
Most importantly, the kids see the activities as games and ‘sanook', if you like.
Spin the bottle
I imagine that many of you have played a game like this before but in a slightly more adult setting. The aim of the game in a kindergarten EFL class is to have a student spin a bottle in the middle as other students are arranged in a semi-circle around them and the teacher. The bottle will stop spinning and will point to a flashcard or prop that represents an item of vocabulary that has been taught in the lesson. It could be as simple as a ‘banana' in a lesson on ‘fruits', for example. The student in the middle will be encouraged by the teacher to name the item of vocabulary as will the whole class after that.
Very young learners will lack very advanced motor-skills and it will be a challenge for them to spin the bottle correctly and it can be a lot of fun for them to master this. The material is presented in an engaging way and they feel supported in the activity by both the teacher and their peers who will want to help them identify the item of vocabulary.
The dice game
Young learners would struggle to roll small dice so why not give them a great big dice to roll! You could use a cardboard box that you might find at a grocery store or a supermarket. Have colourful flashcards stuck to each side of the box that represent the vocabulary taught in the lesson. Students roll the dice and have to identify the item of vocabulary that is on the side that lands ‘face-up'.
Unlike the ‘spin the bottle' described above, young learners do not have much difficulty in throwing the dice in this game! Rather, they enjoy the many different ways they can throw it immensely! The challenge for them here is often to throw it in such a way that it lands on the item of vocabulary that they want to identify but this is obviously largely controlled by the laws of probability.
The games described above work well for our trainees in the teaching practices that they have on their 4-week course with us here. This is because they are relatively easy to manage which is important as they will not have met their students before they teach their lesson at one of the local schools that we go to.
When teaching in the real world, you can design more dynamic games that involve a lot more movement for your students as you will have had the benefit of teaching them over a long period of time and will have developed more of a rapport with them.
Years ago when people were looking to teach EFL abroad, they would have been looking at jobs in language schools across the world teaching adults. The landscape is very different now so if designing and playing games with very young learners whilst teaching them EFL sounds like it might be your cup of tea, then teaching in Thailand might be right up your street.
Shouvik Mukherjee TEFL trainer, SEE TEFL, Chiang Mai, Thailand