In Defense Of TEFL Games

“Are your students there to have fun, or are they there to learn?”

I’ve heard this criticism leveled against TEFL games more than once, and in addition to my post on Is TEFL Just Entertainment, would like to have another shot at countering it. The fact is, learning and having fun are not mutually exclusive, and I suspect there is a great deal of research showing that having fun, or incorporating appropriate games, is connected to positive learning results. (See my Top 10 TEFL Games for some of my own suggestions).

It’s just common sense to me that people are more receptive to new content when they are engaged and enjoying themselves…rather than when they are serious, somber and quite likely nervous. There are games that waste time and teachers who waste time, and I’m not about to stand up for these, but in my experience it is a mistake to overestimate the earnestness of students by taking an approach which hinges on some altruistic love of knowledge. Even people studying fields which they have actively chosen don’t always want to learn for the sake of learning…they want to learn to get their degree or pass the course. I aced both introductory and symbolic logic as well as couple of courses in statistics – and I’m don’t take myself too seriously to say that I think we’d all have been better off had we had a few board races, played pictionary, or thrown a beanbag around to learn each others’ names.

Of course – you need to take into account your students’ expectations and wishes, and not compel them to participate in activities they find useless or patronizing. But to some extent they take their lead from you, and I think it’s not correct to assume that something which aims to be enjoyable is necessarily the opposite of learning.