The Fun Theory in Language Learning

This morning, a friend shared this video on facebook. It’s one of the entries for the Fun Theory award, which recognizes ideas and inventions that prove that fun is the easiest way to change behavior for the better. Wouldn’t you want to take the stairs if they were this much fun?

Of course, I immediately shared the video with my friends on Facebook and Twitter 🙂

I wasn’t the only one who thought about what the Fun Theory could do for English class.

Just think. No matter how you package it, it’s hard to gain much fluency in a foreign language without a lot of repetition, which students often see as the learning equivalent of taking the stairs. Given the chance, students will choose the escalator every time. But, if repetition were fun, would students beg for more? Probably.

Of course, in the back of my mind I was thinking that applying the Fun Theory to learning tasks could mean a lot more work for already busy teachers.

Kim Takeda came up with a wonderful solution:

What a brilliant idea! Let the students solve their own problems! The process itself could be an excellent language task. Students can identify which tasks they dislike, and suggest ways to make them more fun (but still as effective). It would be interesting to see how students and teachers see the same tasks.

Do you think your students would change anything? If so, what?

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14 Responses

  1. Anne Hodgson says:

    Dear Barbara,
    What a great idea! Will have to try it out. – I watched this video with students last summer, and what they did was think about what motivates them to do better at work. Certainly fun played into it (“We’re not just in it for the money”), and for them “fun” was connected to meeting a challenge which contained an element of surprise, and being able to share their achievement with others. Also, they said, they liked a bit of recognition for a job well done from their boss. Translates well to teaching, don’t you think?
    🙂 Anne

  2. Hey Barb,

    I also used this video with my students in the summer – I teach adults – their task was to a) watch several of the different videos and discuss whether or not this was an effective ad campaign for Volkswagen and then to evaluate the merit of each of the potential new products (there are many more). In the end they decided that it was a good media strategy (it brought site visitors) however as it wasn’t connected to cars not so good for actually selling cars and just having had a quick look back at the discussion forum, one of the said, at first the novelty of climbing piano stairs would be fun but after all it would get annoying!

    xx Hope that’s useful – personally I love ’em


    • Barbara says:

      Interesting lesson, Karenne! Thanks for sharing it.

      I guess the moral of the story might be that ultimately stairs are still stairs, no matter how fun 🙂

  3. Aaron says:

    Hey Barbara,
    Great post! I think fun should be a basic ingredient in each class. But I wonder as I think about the piano stairs “annoying” issue: aren’t fun things usually wrapped in unpredictable packaging? When you know what’s going to happen next, every single time you do it, I would say that first time fun would ware off pretty quick. If an activity you do turns out to be fun the first time, you shouldn’t expect students to have the same amount of fun the second, third and fourth time around. (Same students. Same activity.) I would say to make the stairs issue work better: find a way to change the sound every day or every few hours even. Instead of piano sound, you get dogs barking at different pitches, or kids laughter. Go for unusual. People will keep going up those steps just because they don’t know what sound will come out each time they do. (And changing the sound wouldn’t be all to difficult if you did it digitally.) My two cents.

    • Barbara says:

      You make a great point, Aaron! Even fun activities lose their appeal when the novelty wears off. I like your idea of changing the sound on the stairs! That would be a simple way to keep the activity fresh, longer.

      I loved the blog post you did related to this:

      Thanks for taking this idea even further!


      • Aaron says:

        Thanks Barb, I appreciate your kind feedback and the link. Truly teachers have many hats to wear – one of the most important is that of the marketer/entertainer. If you can’t capture your student’s interest in what you’re trying to teach…you might as well pack up. Nothing worse than a boring teacher. (Except maybe a boring teacher teaching material in a boring way.)

  4. Marisa Pavan says:

    Dear Barb,

    What a brilliant idea! Making students participate in the learning process is highly motivational. Thanks for sharing your views!
    Hugs from Argentina!
    Marisa (@Mtranslator)

    • Barbara says:

      I’m glad you liked it, Marisa! I always like getting students invested in their learning. It increases the odds that they’ll feel like they they got something out of class 🙂


  5. Tefl Jobs says:

    Hi Barbara,

    What a great idea! I always thought fun was one of the keys to better learning and your video demonstrates this nicely.


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