Joko MacKenna

Too many games!

Beware of turning your class into gameaholics

"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."




it depends on age of the students, actually. games in general are for kids, in order to get their attention and cooperation. but to do that with 20 something? oh, no! but of course....

By paula, phils (29th June 2015)

As Mark Newman has stereotyped a whole bunch of people, I will do the same to a smaller group. Whenever games are played, there are some students who don't seem as enthusiastic as the rest, and who want to actually study, not play. This group almost always consists of what one could term "good" or "successful" students, and the ones who get excited about the game are "not the first group".

Obviously, there is some crossover, but this has held true throughout my career to date; though, obviously, my career is not as glittering as Mr Newman's. However, maybe when he next plays a game with his students, he could take time out from fellating himself over his apparent success and see if this observation holds true for his classes as well?

(By the way, you know when they say they want a game, they don't mean a game with a learning aspect, right? They mean a computer game or, generally, a time-wasting game. There, another stereotype).

Of course Thais (and Asians) can study hard. Of course they can read books. Of course they don't need more games than the rest of the world. I think it is mostly the lack of ambition and the laziness of their teachers ,and especially the administration, which causes the problem (and it is a problem- you can always find exceptions, but I'm talking about the average student, and how ill-equipped they are after many years of study).

Having read Newman's previous contributions, I know that, if his approach is the one required to be truly successful in Thailand, it is not for me. I prefer to work with the 10% of students who actually try hard and can go without a game for half an hour. If you say I shouldn't, therefore, be working in this environment, point taken; I have already prepared an exit strategy...

By joe, BKK (23rd June 2015)

This seemed like an interesing article and generated several responses. But then........**cue Jaws theme** ............Mr. Mark Know-It All comes along and tears it down along with anyone who dares to have a point of view.

@Mark let me point out some of your shockingly unsubstantiated (and oft-insulting) assertions from your sermon.

-You state that Asians "...take very little seriously...don't like learning things...their attention spans are not optimized for learning stuff." If this has been your personal observation in past experiences, then so be it. But to throw this out as dogma is not only insulting, but racist as well. You speak of them as if they are just genetically dim-witted. Did you read this in a eugenics journal somehwere?

-You insult Aaron as unsuccessful based on his general agreement with the article. Do you know this man? If not, you are in no position to brand him as anything. Why do you feel the need to tell people (most of whom you've never met) that what they think doesn't matter?

Not only do you look down on the learners in this part of the world, you look down on most of the people in the profession. You presuppose that everyone in the profession here whose name isn't Mark Newman is lazy, uninformed, and destined to fail. You must be having one of those "I'm surrounded by fools" moments.

Maybe you've lived here a long time and feel you have a lot of insights that others may not have. That's fair. But your ad hominem running down of everyone and your self-righteousness gets old fast.

By We Don't All Know Everything, Thailand (22nd June 2015)

Games in the classroom.

If students in a classroom roll their eyes when they can't play games and are steered begrudgingly into learning from 'the book', they are doing so because the teacher has failed. The teacher controls the agenda, not the students. The students must be taught this from the very first time you are in front of them.

That said, there are factors that play against the teacher when you try to enforce this.

First off, Asians are a continent of 'game players' whatever age they are. They take very little seriously, so most education of almost any type and at any level must be at least entertaining. Farang teachers had better adapt to this if they want a successful career teaching in Thailand.

Next - Asians simply don't like learning things. Their attention spans are not optimized for learning stuff.

Also - Classes are sometimes just too long and need the break that a light activity will bring.

Finally - Learning from books IS dull. It always has been and always will be. Add to that the relevance and quality of text books available in Asia and that's a recipe for disaster in the classroom. It's a fact that there are NO decent textbooks written for Asians to learn English except one...

(English Grammar In Use - Raymond Murphy. The red one!)

It's 2015 not 1960! Let's get with the program!

Aaron suggests that games have value as a way of rewarding students. He's wrong. He hasn't taught in Asia or he has, but not achieved any level of success at it.

Games are a vital and invaluable part of a teacher's arsenal and shouldn't be used to bribe students into doing dull stuff first! That's poor classroom management. Sensible, well thought out games can be much more instructive and valuable as a teaching tool than chalk and books.

If you have a lot of students in your classroom, the air con is broken and it's pissing down with rain outside, then games can be an effective way to reduce the stress and tedium.

Joko has very long classes. Two and a half hours is just too long for any type of serious academic focus. Games aren't a distraction from the subject you are teaching, they're just another tool. Smart, organised and dedicated teachers won't have any problems finding light-hearted activities to help educate their students.

I realize that this is Thailand and the pay is rubbish and that people reading this don't want to put in the extra hours that it takes to make their classes work well. I get it..

But if you ARE really prepared to invest yourself in your work then you'll quickly find that the activities that you spend all night working on make your teaching hours a lot more fun and educationally of more value to your audience.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (22nd June 2015)

Couldn't agree more, Aaron. I try to make classes engaging through a balance of activities, and even the occasional game. However, all too often, I get the feeling that the students are in fact shocked and disgusted by the idea that I want them to work, or something that might be classed as "not automatically fun". Those dreaded words- "teacha, play game..."

I blame this on many factors, mostly on a general goldfish-like concentration span and an inability to take anything seriously, but also including foreign teachers who act like clowns and just encourage it all. (Before anyone says it, yes, I do look at whether my lesson was just boring as well :) ).

By joe, bkk (22nd June 2015)

Eh, games have a place as a reward or an activity to generate a little bit of a buzz for sure. However, they are (in this field) used far too often. It is very easy when doing learning games to lose sight of the learning. Furthermore, so often it turns the classroom into a competitive environment, which again has it's place but I'm not convinced it should be so on a daily basis.

It also has the extra effect of teaching students that English time is happy-game time, which in turn perpetuates this sort of behavior.

By Aaron, Bangkok (21st June 2015)

If games promote dynamic non-rote conversation, force proper sentence construction, push the line on vocabulary, etc, aren't they just as good if not better than "the book"?

150 minutes classes, wow, what a grind. It can't be all-book.

By UrbanMan, near an aircon (19th June 2015)

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