Creating a Playful Environment
We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
– George Bernard Shaw
I believe that learners of all ages are curious, spontaneous, and confident when they are engaged in playing while learning. Students that have enjoyed learning English through play will certainly be able to do something remarkable which is to play with language. Play is one of those things that we take for granted until we are asked what it really is and how we do it. In order to do so, students and teachers should learn how to play. Here are some tips on how to create your very unique playful environment. The ideas I share on the accompanying downloadable activity sheet take all of this further and help you decide on how you will create a more playful environment in your classroom.
Welcome and greet our students with a smile and saying their names when they arrive. Being totally present when greeting learners makes them feel valued and cared as well as it allows us to be aware of how they feel, what they are talking about, and why have come to class. In this intersection of care, trust, and interest we find the fertile ground for play.
Receive your students with music, with a joyful quote on the board, with something they will be puzzled about, or with something they will manipulate in order to awaken their senses and to foster curiosity.
Prepare short success-oriented warm-up activities that allow students to contribute with their insights, originality and humor as a way of setting the tone and showing that their whole person is valued in the classroom.
Design semi-structured activities that allow you and your learners to be spontaneous, make decisions, and to create. Have lots of small group work where students do not feel exposed.
Incorporate role-play repetition in which students can play with meaning and intonation. Invite characters to be young, old, sleepy, drunk, and late in different places. Validate their originality.
Let students build their own games, stories, and puppets and use these frequently throughout the course. Give them the language they need to make and play with them!
Make learning enjoyable and memorable by using technology to take pictures, record, and share your students’ playing. Ask them about which apps they already use to have fun with their friends and use them. Get them to teach you and other students.
Give feedback about students’ mood and performance while playing and reflect together about the benefits of having play in the course. Think together about new ways of playing while learning.
Having a playful approach is much more than telling jokes or including some fun moments during class. It is really living play as a means of learning. Please see the activity sheet for more ideas and always: Enjoy your learners playing while learning!