"I'm really starting to take a dislike to this class," my colleague complained in the teachers' room. "All they want to do is play games, and it's not even like they're a bunch of kids. They're mostly in their late-twenties and thirties."
One of several interesting things I thought of when hearing this teacher complain was that I had never heard this particular colleague complain about his students before, so this was a bit of surprise coming from him.
"Whenever we do anything out of the book," he continued, "they roll their eyes, look tired and lose all their energy, but the moment I mention 'game', they perk back up again and are ready to go."
Having shared adjacent classrooms with this teacher on several occasions in the past, I can report that his classes have never sounded 'low energy' from the laughter and shouting that reverberates through the whiteboard (the walls between the classrooms at my school aren't very thick).
What's going on with his class then? Could it be too much of a good thing?
Keep in mind that this is happening at a private language school; these students are spending significant amounts of their own money ostensibly to be learning English. These aren't government schoolkids for whom English is a dreaded chore.
Our students are, on the whole, quite motivated and serious about getting the most they can out of our instruction. Again, they're paying for it. What's turned these students into a bunch of eye-rolling adolescents who are more interested in fun-time than learning?
I've not observed this class personally, but with no disrespect to my colleague, I think the students have become 'game addicted'. When not playing games in class, they're thinking about playing games. Their mood is adversely affected when they aren't getting their fix of playtime.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a person displaying even just these two symptoms (out of a list of several) is enough to diagnose them with a dependency disorder.
They've become gameaholics. Maybe the teacher is facilitating them as their bartender.
As for myself, I think games are important, and not just as fillers or warmers. Particularly when one teaches long stretches of material with which the students are struggling, to use a term d'arte, learning outcomes are very much dependent on how engaged the students are in the lesson.
Maintaining engagement: that's what fun and games can do. The students get to know that it is possible to have fun in your class.
I've read that 50 minutes is the amount of time that the average human brain is capable of intensive learning at any one sitting. I teach 150 minute classes; my students need a break. Games do that. Games alter the quantity and makeup of the neurotransmitters in the brain. They provide that needed cognitive break after skills and language lessons to let the brain recover and be ready for more.
As I've mentioned, games are usually used as warmers or fillers. They are ways to get your students engaged at the start or as ways to finish a lesson on a fun note and fill time. Methinks they're best used in the middle of a lesson. They're a way to refresh the brain.
However games are used, it seems obvious that they don't get overused. Play too many games, get the students too used to their English language training being about funtime - and you'll end up with a bunch of gameaholics.
"Hi. My name is Abdul, and it's been 6 weeks since my last game of hangman."