Stop to be silly!

I’ve written lots of conference workshop abstracts over the years but this is probably my favourite ..

The Communicative Approach has emphasised the need for realistic and authentic models of language, and for meaningful language use. But is this always the best way of making language accessible, interesting and memorable? Come along if you’d like to experience a range of activities which focus on the meaningless, the absurd, and the downright silly. This workshop may contain nuts.

I first ran this workshop at IATEFL about 10 years ago and then also at various other conferences around the world. It looked at practical classroom based ways of what I saw as implementing Guy Cook’s ideas from “Language Play, Language Learning” This book in many ways is critical of the communicative approach and its obsession with natural, authentic models of language, calling instead for an increased emphasis on playful, creative language use. I’d say it’s one of the books I’ve read which has had most influence on me as a materials writer.

But there’s also another side to being playful, or silly of course. That is going with the flow, doing things which break from the monotony of planned exercises from the coursebook, being spontaneous, having fun..

My feeling is that these are the moments in classes which are often the most engaging and memorable – for students and teachers.

Yesterday afternoon was a case in point.

I was doing a very quick zoom link up with one of our longest standing volunteers, Sahar Salha in Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza. We were basically doing it to test whether the internet was fast enough to start doing sessions again, but some of her students were around and they wanted to talk to me. We chatted and then I suddenly decided to do something a bit silly. I showed them two eggs – one real and one made of plastic and asked them to tell me which one they thought was not a real egg. I promised to balance what they said was a plastic egg on my head.

Unfortunately I only started recording the session at that point but here’s what happened next…

What about you? Anything spontaneous or silly ever happened in your English classes that you’re willing to share in the comments below?

8 thoughts on “Stop to be silly!

  1. Thanks for sharing this lovely moment! ( I don’t like eggs , by the way😁)
    I can’t agree more , Nick! The real classroom in which the students and the teacher are really immersed, must have such silly unplanned moments.
    Here my remarkable moment:
    I was running a real Mantle of Expert workshop two weeks ago for students and teachers . Before we statrted the role play , I assign the rules .I was telling the students that I am going to be the owner of the park and what are you going to be ( they should say rangers to.protect animals ) , but what happened?! They say we ARE the ANIMALS , teacher😁 Everyone laughed a lot and I think this would be in my mind and theire forever .
    approach your students , make your teaching unique🙂


    1. Ha Ha! Love it Haneen. Yes, isn’t it interesting how misunderstandings in class can lead to a lot of fun and laughter.


  2. Haha! First of all, I have a question, would you have balanced the egg if you knew they had chosen the real one?

    This reminds me of a friend of my parents who juggled for us with real eggs! We were laughing and terrified (and maybe hopeful) that the eggs would fall onto the floor in the lounge! Memorable moment, as it was silly and emotional.

    I love this, and it makes total sense to me. Children learn their own mother tongue doing silly things, imagining ‘unreal’ situations, etc. So why not do the same when learning a foreign language? Once, there was a chameleon in the text book for my six year olds. I asked them if they knew what that was, and before anyone could answer, one of the kids wearing a beige T-shirt jumped up, ran to the front of the classroom, pressed himself against my beige bag that was hanging on my chair and said: “Look, I’m a chameleon on Rebecca’s bag”! Instead of telling him to go back to his place, I said: ‘Yes, who else is a chameleon?’, and the kids jumped up, ran to something of the same colour as their clothes and shouted: ‘Look, I’m a chameleon on…’. The best was the kid in the blue shirt who ran to the window, did star jumps and shouted: ‘Look, I’m a chameleon in the sky!’. The kids then drew pictures about their brief chameleon moment, and wrote one sentence. I get most of my silly ideas listening to the kids 🙂


      1. Yes – scary! If they’d chosen the real egg I would have had to break an egg over my computer, ruining a £1000 worth of equipment and spoiling my breakfast. That would have been a step too far in silliness!


    1. I love your chameleon story Rebecca. It’s great that you were able to go with it. I guess a lot of teachers in that situation would have said ‘Go back to your seats and stop being silly! ‘ but you acted spontaneously and turned it into a learning opportunity. I wonder whether being silly is actually a natural learning strategy for kids to keep themselves interested in the material and prevent boredom setting in? I remember watching my son’s judo class a few years ago when the teacher was trying to teach the kids certain Judo terms in Japanese. Each time the kids repeated the terms they said them in really silly voices, giggling hysterically as they did this. I guess this could be annoying for the teacher but it might have helped the words to stick in their minds. Now there’s an idea – what about using silly drills in our classes?


  3. A student came up to me asking about the meaning of a word “catastrophe”. I wrote the word on the board, then I asked students to guess which part of speech it is. Then I asked them to imagine what meaning the word suggested to them, and accordingly try to make a sentence using it. They created their own sentences, I gave them the meaning of the word, then I asked them to read out their own sentences. You could hear sentences like,” Catastrophe is very important to live”, “ I go to school with catastrophe”, “ Mum is really catastrophe”, “I have catastrophe every day” It was quite funny and it’s one of my favourite warmups now.


    1. Ha Ha Amal! I love your idea of getting students to invent the meanings of words they don’t know. This is really in the spirit of being playful with language.


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