Richard McCully

I'm starting to enjoy edutainment

Edutainment is the idea that teachers should entertain and not just teach students. Teachers should be like game show hosts or performers in the classroom.

Over the past few months I’ve really enjoyed my job. 

Previously I was traveling over an hour each way to get to the school where I worked, compared to my 15-minute commute nowadays - and that certainly makes a difference! The other key point is that I’ve tried to make my classes more fun for the students and myself. I think I’m really getting into edutainment…. 

What is edutainment?

Edutainment is the idea that teachers should entertain and not just teach students. Teachers should be like game show hosts or performers in the classroom. The idea behind this is that students want fun lessons and don’t want to do the same old activities, exams and grammar exercises etc. 

In a lot of Thailand's shopping malls, the section or space that is home to tutoring schools, language centers and other learning facilities is often called the “Edutainment Zone”. 

Teachers don't like edutainment

I’ve not really heard many people stand-up for edutainment. A look online, and probably even in the comments section for this article, will show you that “professional teachers” shouldn’t be concerned with edutainment and it is offensive for schools to ask teachers to be performers. 

Supposedly edutainment means that students don’t learn as much and only really switch on for games and other fun activities. It also affects the self worth of teachers who feel they aren’t progressing or aren’t taken seriously. 

On a more serious note it can lead to a sharp increase in Teacher Talk Time (TTT) if the teacher does decide to become some sort of lively presenter during class. TTT is something that should be kept down, but is useful sometimes to help motivate a class and create a better atmosphere. 

The middle ground

In all honesty, schools don’t expect a class to be 100% full of games and fun. They know that learning has to take place, however, the idea that lessons can be fun and entertaining doesn’t mean that learning aims and goals wont be achieved. This is the point that a lot of anti-edutainment teachers don’t get. 

In my experience, a lot of teachers aren’t prepared to have a little fun in the classroom. So many teachers here are miserable and boring. In the end you don’t have to be a clown or an MC but just need to focus on making your classes interesting and fun for everyone there. 

My time teaching Prathom and adult students in Thailand has shown me that they love to play a few games but are also prepared to study.  I also know that if you have a serious class without something fun or entertaining then some students will switch off. In reality classes need a mix of education and edutainment to help reach their goals. 

Teaching kids

My current job was the first one where I had to teach young kids (5-12 year-olds). I was pretty nervous and was scared about how I could get them to enjoy classes. What I did to help me was observe other teachers. 

On my first day I watched a teacher conduct a great lesson with a class of 6 year-olds. He showed me his lesson plan and I thought it was ambitious but he delivered it in a way where the kids were invested in their learning and were always active. By the end of the class I had picked up so many great tips and ideas. In the end simple activities were made fun - and class routines helped everything flow. 

The teacher used slapstick humor, sound effects and a lot of letting the students draw on the interactive whiteboard. Sure these things might not be appropriate for all age levels, but they are ways of providing edutainment for younger kids whilst still learning.  

Teaching adults

Adults are usually more focused on the reasons that they are learning English. Most of them will have a goal they want to reach. Sure they want to learn the grammar or vocabulary but classes should still have a splash of edutainment in them. 

I’ve taught CEOs, doctors and politicians - all people with serious jobs - and often after a day at work, they want something entertaining when it comes to learning English. Don’t feel you need to abolish fun in adult classes because they probably enjoy the games just as much as the kids! 

One of my colleagues did a class based around space travel where the students were split into astronauts and aliens. They then had to ask each other questions about life on their planet whilst “space walking” on the moon. It made a pretty simple Q&A activity into something more memorable, which all of the students got into. 

18 months in the job

Now, 18 months after starting my current job, I feel comfortable in the role. I know how things work and what I should be doing. This second year in the job means I’m covering the syllabus for the second time and I decided to charge up my lessons to stop myself becoming bored and stale. 

In my first year I did most things by the book as it was easy to do and I thought it was my only option. This year I’m adding my own touches and improving lessons that either didn’t work or were boring first time around. One of the key ways I’m changing classes is to make them more fun and interesting for my students.

Adding competitions, races and time limits makes a lot of difference to almost any task. Previously students read texts from their books and now I use running dictations, speed reading and pair reading tasks which the students love. 

For some adult classes I occasionally add an arts and crafts element such as drawing posters, making a model or creating a collage. These are all tied to the lesson and learning aims but have proved popular too.

I have also enjoyed the change and feel it helps keep my job interesting when repeating what I’ve already taught. It’s something you could try if you’ve been in your job a while. 

Your school

I’ve worked at a couple of language schools and one of the key points put forward by management is that classes should be fun. One particular school I worked at would have theme days every month where teachers would dress up in costumes, do shows and go on activities with students. 

It was great fun and that was the school where I saw most progress from my learners. The most important aspect of the edutainment at this school was that it created a bond between students and teachers which led to improved learning and overall English skills. 

I also worked at a Thai high school where fun was deemed more important than grammar. I worked there from October to January and during that time most focus was put on the students making posters for Halloween and Christmas handcrafts. The school were happy that the kids learned some vocab and spoke in English but really wanted them to enjoy the time with their foreign teacher. I felt the students at this school were confident to use English as they had very grammar focused lessons with their Thai teachers and they appreciated the chance to be more relaxed in my class. 

I imagine working at an international school would be somewhat different. You probably have more pressure to deliver exam results but still there are ways to make classes fun. 

Education v edutainment

Overall I guess the issue with the word “edutainment” is that most people believe it’s just about turning classes into sideshows where learning takes a back seat. In all honesty I feel you need a bit of entertainment to make a class successful. I’m not saying you need to be a performer but should try and plan lessons where there are entertaining activities built around the learning aims. 

There will be some who will point to teaching theory and other such things who will try and say that fun for fun’s sake is not the key point in teaching. The problem is that your employer here in Thailand will probably put some pressure on you to add some edutainment to help them keep students and get good reviews. If you can’t do this then you’ll probably be looking for a new job pretty soon.  

 If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country  

Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

Planning your new life in Thailand isn’t easy. There are many hurdles to jump and potential frustrations galore. From practicalities through to cultural issues, from finances to fitting in and making friends, there is so much to learn. Luckily, you will find all the basics explained in this 282 page book. 

Settling in Thailand takes a broad, insightful and balanced approach – neither too cynical nor evangelical, this book sets a precedent in terms of presenting a positive but realistic and non-judgemental description of Thailand life for foreign residents. 

Written by two British expats in Thailand, and with interviews with another 13 expats from around the world, you will get first-hand experience, advice and explanations of expat life in Thailand. With a combined 150 years of Thai experience this book is the ultimate guide to making sure your move and settling in Thailand goes smoothly.

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Haha ! Having been in the edutainment game for most of the last 17 years, I can relate to everything you mention here.

The key, I find, is find a good balance in the middle. You have to find appropriate activities that stimulate enjoyment amongst the students AND reach a focussed end grammar, listening, and/or conversational goal for the class.

One of the things I love to do is bring as much realia into my classes as possible. There is no point just entertaining for entertainment sake. If you are talking about food in class, get the students to show you how to make their own recipe - better still, get them up in front of the class to do it !! Once they have done that, set up a class menu on the board and then .... restaurant time !!! Get students to play waiter and customers, and set up real restaurant situations !

Its all in how YOU make it - be it food or class haha !

By James Dooney, China (4th January 2021)

Fact is website owner Phil. Richard is asking it to be a cabaret show. Often thats all government schools want anyway, as well as dream up some easy end of term test which all the students can pass.

By Mark, Sathon BKK (14th December 2020)

At the end of the day what did the students learn?

How will it help them on their IELTS, SATs, GAT, entry into university...

Nothing wrong with light-hearted lessons, sharing a laugh, a fun kahoot once in awhile.

Far, far too much messing about in K12 classrooms. I'd terminate 90% of teachers I work with.

I'm absolutely pressed grades against time and here you are doing essentially nothing in class. Nope, not having it.

Doesn't matter really all public instruction will be online in ten years and you'll all be out of jobs. Try and sell the clown suit then.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (5th December 2020)

In the best of situations, what is taught should be engaging. If it can be fun, all the better.

If the purpose of the class is to have fun then there's most likely little learning going on.

There must be a learning objective to each class. If not, you are clearly wasting students time.

One huge issue for me is not given enough time to plan lessons. My lessons could be so much better. What I've done in each school has been radically different. Now in this school, I've no idea one term to next. Will i be given more responsibility to cover my slacker co-workers? Will they change the book? So even if I want to plan, I can only do so much

It's ok to have a wasted class, given to purely fun English activities every so often. Especially if you're tasked with teaching heavier content.

You can have fun without being a clown.

I've read a number of your posts now. We seem to fundamentally disagree on most everything.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (12th October 2018)

Our choice of words frame how we view an action. Two people can watch the same behavior, one describes it as confident while another describes the exact same behavior as arrogant, which version we read or hear will frame our opinion.

The phrase “edutainment” seems to have been invented to carry a negative connotation, but if we used terms such as engaging and interesting, I think we would find most educational researchers, school administrators and experienced teachers would all agree this type of “entertaining” teaching is preferable to bland, dull rote learning or teacher lectures. Obvious the “entertainment” needs to be adjusted for the objectives, age and level of motivation of the students.

But if it is done somewhere at sometimes in Thailand, some of the grumpy old men will object.

But in general it is easy to agree with your basic message.

By Jack, Here and there (8th October 2018)

Provided you have a healthy mix of serious lesson work, combined with a bunch of fun stuff, then you'll be OK. Don't become known as the farang pet monkey,who acts like a clown.

By Martin Steeman, Christchurch, New Zealand (15th August 2018)

Interesting article. The writer did not clarify which teaching qualifications, if any, that he may have. This would help in developing any credibility.

By Joseph, Bangkok (15th August 2018)

John Doe, I think we've got the gist of how you feel about teaching in Thailand. We get it. But that doesn't mean teachers want their noses constantly rubbed in it.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (15th August 2018)

Being a teacher in Thailand isn't a serious profession so I suggest a clown outfit.
It's funny that Thai teachers don't have to entertain but foreign teacher should make fools out of themselves. If I was a student I would rather watch some foreign jackass try to make me laugh than to have a teacher actually teach me something.
Foreign teachers get paid more so they should have to entertain to justify their higher salaries. Thai teachers should also be entertained by foriegn teachers to make them feel better and laugh more.
And the funniest part of it all is
English won't be used outside the classroom so why not make a joke of it?

By john doe, Bangkok (15th August 2018)

So called teachers in Thailand are not teachers at all. You are babysitters that are afraid to admit what your real position is. Edutainment hahaha

By Freemo, Bangkok (14th August 2018)

I thought this article might provide a balance to the above article:

By Chad, Thailand (14th August 2018)

I'm with you all the way, Richard. No one waved the flag in support of edutainment more than I did. And as you say, the teachers who most moaned about being an 'edutainer' were usually the ones who couldn't change their dour personalities to save their lives.

As I used to say to teachers, you might by nature be rather boring or dour or what the Thais label as 'serious' - and that's fine! - but when you step into the classroom, you have to leave that personality at the door.

Think back to your own schooldays. We never learned much or anything at all from teachers we disliked because they were boring and clearly just didn't want to be there.

As you say Richard, no one is asking you to turn the lesson into a cabaret but you need to keep things upbeat and uptempo. Not only will the students enjoy the lesson more, but the teacher as well!

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (13th August 2018)

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