Children will learn what they want to learn

This is one of my favourite TED talks.  Sugata Mitra talks about his work in India, and gives examples of children doing extraordinary things with computers despite never having access to them before purely because they want to learn how to do something.

While what I am sharing on this blog is very different to the work of Mitra, I think they follow the same sort of idea.  Children will learn what they want to learn.  By motivating students to want to be in your classes, they will in turn learn what you want them to learn.

He is also a very entertaining presenter!  Enjoy.


Why play games? Surely it isn’t teaching!

Why play games?

I must admit that when I first started teaching, my games were probably more for the sake of fun than learning.  The class would cheer as I decided it was time to play hang man or some other childhood activity I could remember.  However, the students would like my classes, and that made me happy!

The more I became immersed in pedagogy, the more my games started evolving. This wasn’t of course purely thanks to me; there have been plenty of people who have shared activities with me that, without my knowing back then, were excellent learning tools.  The more games I played, the more hungry I became for further ways to get students having fun in class, whilst sticking to the lesson aims.

This has led to tricking students into learning!


But are they learning?

The games need to have a learning focus, or need to be refined.  If a way to use them for learning cannot be found, they get dropped from my repertoire.

When I started using these activities more often, I noticed that without a doubt some of the students who used to rarely achieve success had started competing with the top students in certain activities.  It was clear that with the regular review of vocabulary and concepts, and the motivating setting of the classes, these students were willing to put themselves out there and give learning a go.  Again, I don’t think they knew that is what they were doing (tricking them into learning!), but I don’t doubt that is what happened.


Do the students know?

I sometimes would worry that the students would be going into other classes and saying “…but Mr Benton always plays games…” to the despair of other teachers.  I don’t think they did, or do now.  However, after a class gets to know me a little bit, and the way I like to get them learning, we start to have discussions about why we play games and do fun activities.

I ask them why, and they don’t really know.

Then we discuss whether they think they have learnt anything, and with a bit of reflection, they generally assure me that they have.  So i ask them, why not play games?  They cant really answer that one.  We usually come to the conclusion that there are no reasons why we should not play games in the classroom.

And I agree

(Now I do hope that they ask for games in other teachers’ classes, and that it bugs them enough to think about it!)


So, why play games?

It is great to know that the majority of students like (is love too strong?!) coming to your classes.

Students are motivated, and what students are motivated to learn, they will learn.

Every time you play a game (with a learning focus), there is constant formative assessment happening.  You can easily see who has got it, and who has not.

The students have to be in a place for 8 hours a day that they probably don’t want to be in most of the time, so why not let them have a bit of fun?  You might even have fun too!

Using stories in class

Found a great post on TED entitled ‘Hey science teachers, make it fun’.  The speaker, Tyler DeWitt, presents a compelling argument to use story to teach new concepts; and to cut out some of the confusing details, even if it means presenting a few inaccuracies, for the sake of engaging students.

Tyler also has an extensive library of videos on YouTube following the flipped classroom approach (students watch videos at home, then do the ‘homework’ in the classroom), find them here:


I have tried this approach a few times now, and despite one story which unfortunately was really boring, the students have responded very well.  Most students enjoyed the lightness of the story, and the students who occasionally struggle with some content of a more abstract nature grasped the main points in the story.  To check if there was any point to telling a story, I set homework for each class to summarise the main points for the stories.  A high percentage did so very successfully.

I will be using this approach more in future, and intend to look more into DeWitt’s approach and his videos.